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By Ryan Dahlem

The concept of entrepreneurship has certainly evolved as it applies to young people in recent years. For many parents, entrepreneurship evokes memories of running a neighborhood lemonade stand with the thrill of tending a cash box while learning the basics of a balance sheet. Today, however, the barriers of entry to starting a business are so low that a young person with access to the internet and a desire to change the world can set out to do just that.

Children and teens should be encouraged to develop an entrepreneurial mindset that can be applied not only in the alluring world of start-ups, but more importantly, in how they approach bringing ideas into reality, whether it be a new app or considering where they may attend college. Here are five areas of focus for developing an entrepreneurial mindset:

  1. Be a “need finder,” not a “problem solver.”  While it is tempting to begin by developing a solution to an assumed problem, the best entrepreneurs are experts at finding true needs. To identify needs, talk to people. Conduct ethnographic interviews with them about their daily experiences and listen for true needs that would make their lives better if solved. That is the beginning of a compelling product or solution.
  1. Learn the design thinking process (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test). Innovators have been implementing this process for years and it has yielded a variety of game-changing inventions, from the computer mouse to the stand-up toothpaste tube. Empathizing with your potential “end-user,” defining needs from their point of view, “ideating” solutions through brainstorming, prototyping rough versions of your solutions to test with your end-users for feedback, and then iterating your prototype based on feedback accelerates the design process and moves you toward innovative solutions more quickly. This method is best described by the Stanford d.school where you can take a free design thinking workshop.
  1. Don’t go it alone. Entrepreneurs know the value of networking within an ecosystem and the creative power of “radical collaboration,” as described by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, Stanford University d.school professors and authors of “Designing Your Life.” Creativity is contagious and idea sharing breeds better ideas. Young people should connect with one another about their creative ideas and seek mentors who can share valuable lessons from paths already traveled and provide inspiration to take new risks.
  1. Failure is part of the process. Thinking like an entrepreneur means acting on an idea that often involves taking risks. Things rarely succeed on the first try. That’s okay! Think back to the design process—it’s time to iterate and test again. “Failure is not the opposite of success,” said Jason Goldberg, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School alumnus ‘13 and entrepreneur. Jason is the founder and president of VYRL, an exchange-based ecosystem for influencers and brands, and has partnered with St. Margaret’s on a high school entrepreneurship course. “Failure is a means of learning important lessons to be applied later.” This can be difficult for young people who have been insulated from failure in other aspects of their lives. A helpful mantra used by many entrepreneurs is to “fail forward.”
  1. Start with your passion! Young people sometimes have a difficult time identifying a passion. Instead, ask them, “If you had an extra hour each day, what would you do with it?”  Entrepreneurs invest an incredible amount of time in their projects, and your passion is a good place to start need-finding through research and talking to people. “I had a passion for video games growing up,” Goldberg said. “So, my first companies were in that space. That’s when I realized I could own the servers the players were playing on.”

Encouraging young people to develop an entrepreneurial mindset has benefits that extend far beyond founding the next big invention or start-up. Believing one can bring an idea into reality, and possessing the skills to do so, will not only affect the way they see the world, but also their outlook on themselves and what is possible in their futures.

Ryan Dahlem. Photo: Courtesy
Ryan Dahlem. Photo: Courtesy

Ryan Dahlem is the Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives withSt. Margaret’s Episcopal School and is leading the development of an entrepreneurship program based in innovation and design thinking methodology. Mr. Dahlem has participated in design thinking workshops including the Educator’s Workshop for Entrepreneurial Studies and Innovative Learning Conference, and teaches an entrepreneurial studies course at St. Margaret’s. 

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