Growing Our Own: Planting Seeds of Entrepreneurship

Mary Pille, Junior Achievement of Central Illinois

Strengthening our entrepreneurial culture starts with the young people in our community.

Using the concept of sequential learning—or as I like to refer to it, planting seeds—it is never too early to start imparting entrepreneurial skills on our youth. Why is it so important? Because thinking entrepreneurially is a 21st-century skill needed to confront global challenges and contribute to rapidly transforming economies. We need to keep young minds open to alternative ways of thinking and allow innovative ideas to spark and grow in order to create an entrepreneurial culture that will grow great people and great communities. We need to grow our region from the inside out to stay competitive in the global economy.

The Importance of Entrepreneurial Skills
Entrepreneurship is fundamentally about the desire to solve problems creatively. The foundation of entrepreneurship—creativity, curiosity, imagination, risk-taking and collaboration—is in our bones and part of our human nature and experience. People are born with the desire and potential to create and innovate, to dream and imagine, and to challenge and improve the status quo. We are also born with the tendency to be social, to communicate and to collaborate. Sadly, in this age of educational accountability through standards and assessments with only one right answer, the notion of creative problem solving and innovation is oftentimes not a priority.

In 1968, George Land, PhD conducted a research study to test the creativity of 1,600 children from three to five years old who were enrolled in a Head Start program. This was the same creativity test he devised for NASA to help select innovative engineers and scientists, and it worked so well that he decided to try it on children. He retested the same children at 10 years of age, and again at 15 years of age, and the results were astounding.

The test results among five-year-olds were 98 percent; among 10-year-olds, 30 percent; 15-year-olds, 12 percent; and the same test given to 280,000 adults: two percent. “What we have concluded,” wrote Land, “is that non-creative behavior is learned.” This study brings home the point that the consideration of entrepreneurial opportunities preserves the innovative and creative thinking skills that exist in the very early grades, but disappear as students move toward high school graduation. There are pathways to entrepreneurial success, and they are accomplished through fostering creative and innovation skills.

Growing an Entrepreneurial Community
Infusing the entrepreneurial framework (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication) as a background for the teaching of academic subjects gives those studies a grounding in the real world. Entrepreneurship can be the answer to, “Why do I need to study this?” Math, science, writing and communication, history, geography, and even the arts can be linked to today’s world through a connection to entrepreneurship. How will a scientist turn a discovery into income? How will an artist turn that talent into a family-supporting career?

Every career and technical student with a skill to sell that meets a need in the marketplace should consider the difference between finding a job and making their own. Every student should have the opportunity to be empowered to own their own economic success.

Communities with an entrepreneurial culture are more stable, financially healthier and more dynamic in creating job growth. Think about any town or city with a healthy, thriving, dynamic business core and you will find an entrepreneurial culture. How better to start strengthening our entrepreneurial culture than with the young people already in our community?

To do our part in growing our own entrepreneurial community, Junior Achievement of Central Illinois has launched the Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative in partnership with several local organizations. The multi-year initiative promotes entrepreneurship and its opportunities to youth, educating and inspiring young people to embrace entrepreneurial thinking to drive innovation and strengthen our economy. With a focus on impacting high school students in central Illinois, the initiative will accelerate the expansion of entrepreneurship education through hands-on experiential programs. To learn more or to get involved, visit centralillinois.ja.org. iBi

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