Creating the next generation of entrepreneurs
Sit back, clear your mind and visualize this: We begin to train more and more of our children at an earlier and earlier age about being an entrepreneur and what it takes to start and run a successful business. Kids love this kind of education and it encourages them to change the way they think ‑ from complaining about
everything that is wrong around them, to how do I find solutions to all these problems that I see. Then picture our existing local business and community leaders coming together to encourage, support and mentor our new entrepreneurs, thereby diversifying our economy and creating more jobs. What if we also find new ways to create community pride and loyalty so our youth will want to stay here and build a life for themselves instead of taking their training and moving to other parts of the country? And finally, just maybe our state government will take this current opportunity to reform our tax structure so that Michigan is one of the top 10 states in the country for business creation.
Am I dreaming? Five years ago I might have said yes. But now I don't think so. Let's take a look at the positive progress we are making in the area of entrepreneurial training for our children.
I recently had the pleasure of talking with Cheryl Peters, executive director of the Generation E Institute in Battle Creek. Generation E is a program devoted to encouraging entrepreneurship education in schools and aiding students in making real life connections through the education process. Cheryl has traveled around the country and done extensive research on entrepreneurship training programs. She has developed a unique set of middle and high school curricula that is offered to schools and community programs through the Generation E Institute. The only expense is the two‑day training class for the educators and facilitators.
Generation E continues to make huge strides. Starting in 2005, 15 teachers were trained to teach the curriculum in three southwest Michigan counties. Now, five years later, the Institute staff has trained over 125 teachers in 20 counties and over 4,000 students have been through their entrepreneurial programs.
One of those trained instructors is Karen Casey, Program Manager for Marketing, Management and Entrepreneurship at the Branch Area Careers Center (BACC) in Coldwater. I met with Karen recently and got to see first‑hand her students hard at work on creating their businesses and business plans. The students
were proud to tell me about their ideas and you could see their enthusiasm. Karen piloted the Generation E curriculum in 2005. Last year she had 15 Branch County students participate in the semester‑long class
and the hands‑on experience of starting a business. This year her class has 21 students. Karen noted,
"These students are not only learning what it takes to start and run a business, but they are also reshaping the way they think. You can see them start looking for new opportunities and business ideas every day."
Not only are these kids becoming better equipped to develop into future employers, but they also will turn out to be great employees. They now understand a lot more about the employer side of a business.
Successful entrepreneurial companies train their employees to also be entrepreneurial, which eventually spawns additional businesses in the area. There is also a greater sense of community pride when a locally owned business hits it big. These positive attributes are rarely found in factory, warehouse or big‑box retail
environments. Those places create jobs, but they don't fuel the minds of their employees and build a sense of community pride.
Michigan now has over 4,000 students who are much better equipped to be entrepreneurs. At the BACC we have 20% more students participating this year compared to last year. Generation E is continuously improving curriculum and training more and more educators and facilitators in the area. At a minimum, creative new businesses and stimulating new jobs will result from the hard work put in by the people running these programs and by the enthusiastic students participating in them. Our chances of one or more of these students hitting it big are getting better all the time.
You all have an opportunity to witness what I am talking about first hand. Attend the event: The Fifth
Annual Generation E Student Business Showcase from 10:00 A.M. ‑ 3:00 P.M. Tuesday May 18, at
Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. Last year there were 196 students participating in the showcase and this
year there will be approximately 250 students competing for cash and other prizes. Many of these students
will have their products and services for sale at the showcase. The public is invited to shop from 12:00 P.M.
‑ 2:00 P.M.
Keynote speakers will be young‑adult entrepreneurs Michael Simmons and Sheena Lindahl, co‑founders
of Extreme Entrepreneurship, authors of two books and ranked by Business Week as two of the top 25
entrepreneurs under 25 in the nation. They will also be judging competitions and facilitating workshops on
topics including marketing, merchandising and more. The workshops are open to students, teachers,
facilitators, guests and the general public. Admission is free. I encourage all community and business
leaders, as well as the general public, to come see these kids and the businesses they have created. They are
For more information about the showcase, please visit
Joe Chase is president of Ashberry Financial Services (AFS) in
Coldwater. Contact him at 517‑617‑8759 or at email@example.com.