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Whether you’re 8 years old with your first lemonade stand or in your retirement years running a successful franchise business, you can explore entrepreneurship at every age.
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Encouraging teens to find and embrace their inner entrepreneur can sometimes be tricky to figure out — kind of like picking an idea to pursue for a small business. Here are a few strategies parents and mentors can use to help teens discover their inner entrepreneur and support their budding small businesses.
Startups fail and they fail often. In 2021, Harvard Business Review reported more than two-thirds of startups never deliver a positive return to investors.
Few people, least of all teenagers, want to be associated with the word “failure.” Which is what makes it so important to normalize what it means to fail.
Kelly Mosser is a coach and consultant who helps woman-owned small businesses grow. Mosser said teens starting a business will likely see their business journey in black-and-white terms. Success or failure.
This is why it matters to help teens see shades of gray. Most entrepreneurs can tell you things don’t always turn out the way you think they will when you start a business. Even more will tell you few get it right on their very first try. This is where entrepreneurs, especially teens, can start flexing their creative muscle with the support of family and other mentors in their corner.
Okay, so plan A didn’t work out. How about some other options, like plan B, C, D or XYZ? Keep going! Stay flexible! How can they keep innovating and experimenting to get it right?
“If you have a teen who is driven by a sense of purpose and wants to make an impact, you can support their entrepreneurial journey by encouraging them to experiment when things don’t go right and normalize ‘failing’ without making it mean anything about their potential,” said Mosser.
Normalizing the act of failing, and embracing an experimental nature, ultimately works to help teens learn and build mental and emotional resilience. When the going gets tough, they won’t quit. They’ll bounce back and get back on the horse to try again.
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Pick One Idea To Start
A common scenario in and out of entrepreneurship is coming up with an idea. Sometimes you come up with way too many ideas. Often, each idea or passion project has a lot of potential. Where should you start?
Kanin Asva, founder and general Partner of Robust VC, said parents and mentors may let teens know every idea is valid. Then, choose just one idea to focus on exclusively at first. Picking one idea allows teens to better research and understand the kind of business they wish to start.
“Ask them where opportunities exist for their business, and how they will market to this target audience,” said Asva. “Lay out the different phases of their business — from ideation to planning to development — and let them develop the details for each phase.”
This puts teen entrepreneurs in the driver’s seat with their budding business idea and gives them the ability to start working on ways where the business can begin generating revenue. Choosing one idea to work with, in turn, increases a teen’s basic business skills and their overall confidence which serves them for the rest of their lives.
Look For Mentors Who Inspire Your Teen
When Ryan Novak was 15 years old, he walked into a local chocolate shop and got a job washing dishes. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but it kept him next to his passion: chocolate!
“I mopped floors, took out the trash, washed mountains of dishes and loved every minute of being surrounded by chocolate,” said Novak.
Novak made a bold move: he asked the store’s owner to teach him about the business. Surprised by his passion for learning about business at an early age, she made it her mission to mentor Novak in how to work with chocolate and run a business.
“I told her when she wanted to retire I wanted to own her company,” said Novak.
After high school, Novak went on to attend Syracuse University where he majored in Entrepreneurship & Emerging Enterprises. In 2010, Novak bought the business at age 21 and as a senior at SU. Since then, Novak has transformed Chocolate Pizza Company from a small-town chocolate shop to Central New York’s largest chocolate maker.
Without a doubt, Novak said the best way to encourage teens to become entrepreneurs is to find a job in a field that interests them or is right next to your interests, like Novak’s former dishwashing gig adjacent to chocolate. As teens work and learn valuable skills, like trust and teamwork, they (and their parents) can look for mentors who will champion them forward.
“Look for mentors who can inspire you, teach you and celebrate your interests,” said Novak. “Entrepreneurship is hard work — it isn’t unicorns and rainbows — so the sooner young people learn about what it takes to be successful in business, the sooner they will want to turn their passions into the next great thing.”
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