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5 Tips for Teens to Develop Their Entrepreneurial Mindset

By Rich Sedmak, Executive Director of the Social Innovators Program


Sujatha, Reboot Jewelry

Recently, on my way to a meeting in Philadelphia, a stylishly dressed young professional woman caught my attention as she crossed the street. My eyes were drawn to the strange objects dangling from her ears. Initially, I couldn’t figure out what they were. But as she drew closer, I realized they were pieces of a Dell Dimension 8300 graphics card. The woman was wearing Sujatha’s Reboot Jewelry!

Three years ago, as the Executive Director of the Social Innovators Program, I worked with a high school junior named Sujatha. Sujatha had many interests when she began the Social Innovators Program (SIP). Working through the SIP curriculum, which provided mentorship guidance, she developed a project that allowed her to address two of her main interests -- the environmental problems caused by tech waste and STEM education access for low-income girls. After meeting with experts, non-profits groups, and conducting market research, Sujatha decided to address these two problems by launching one single venture. And just like that, Reboot Jewelry was born. Reboot’s goal is to take otherwise discarded electronics, break them down into pieces and refashion them as accessories for men and women, the proceeds of which are donated to local non-profits that teach low-income girls coding skills. It was a mission that Sujatha was excited about and one which the Philadelphia tech community also quickly embraced. The project launched with a donation of several old Dell Dimension computers from a local school district and eventually grew into over ten thousand dollars in donations to non-profit causes.

Seeing Sujatha’s innovative creation out “in the wild” demonstrates the impact of providing students the opportunity and guidance to explore their social concerns through entrepreneurial projects.

SIP has helped hundreds of high school students like Sujatha successfully launch their own social impact businesses and non-profits. From these experiences and achievements, we offer five pieces of advice for other young aspiring social entrepreneurs.

1. You don’t need to wait until you have the ‘perfect’ idea to get started. There is no such thing as a perfect idea – successful businesses and non-profits are created through trial and error by interfacing with customers and reality. By starting off small and solving problems that people around you care about, you can practice creating value for people in your communities and you can organically grow both your skills and your project to serve more people. “Sometimes little steps don’t feel significant at the time, but when everything comes together at the end, you recognize their importance,” said Morgan Marant (age 17), founder, Uniquely Me. Uniquely Me is a nonprofit that helps teenage girls develop a sense of identity and self-esteem.


2. Focus. With so many things you can be working on, sometimes it’s easy to fall victim to Parkinson’s Law– focusing on things that are easy to do but inconsequential, instead of focusing on harder things that will actually help you make progress. “Stay focused; figure out what’s important and ignore the rest,” said Marina Musgrove-Pyfrom (age 17), founder, Full Plate, a nonprofit brings fresh foods, and awareness of food inequities, to areas where there is no access to fresh foods. Often procrastination can be a symptom of your mind trying to pull away from working on difficult but consequential problems. Take notice of when this happens and consider breaking difficult seeming tasks down into smaller more manageable chunks.


3. Know your Customer. It’s cliché to say but understanding your customer – and the problem that you are solving for them via your business or non-profit – is what will determine the success or failure of your venture. Being able to see the world through your customer’s eyes, understand their constraints, goals, fears, interests, (what are sometimes called psychographics) is important for two reasons: 1) It improves your odds of solving your customers’ problem, and 2) It helps you understand how and where to communicate with your customer so that you can make them aware of your solution.


4. Take yourself seriously. Many students come into our program concerned that they will not be taken seriously by adults because of their age. However, we have found quite the opposite – people are much more likely to help young people, especially young people who are working on social impact projects. However, the first step is to take yourself seriously. Nick Mares, founder of Kettle and Fire Bone Broth, had to reach out to suppliers, contract manufactures and bankers to grow his business. Despite his young age, Nick was successfully able to set up the meetings, which he prepared for by planning to ask lots of good questions. Not only did Nick build these relationships, but he also got a free education from others who were willing to help him learn.


5. Solve a real problem. All great businesses and non-profits have one thing in common – they became successful by solving a compelling problem. So many talented aspiring entrepreneurs focus on what is possible for them to build through advances in technology, yet they fail to ask how or why these advances are relevant to fulfilling a need in the market. This is why we recommend that instead of starting with a solution and working backward to find a problem, start with truly understanding a problem deeply – and then search for all the ways in which one might solve that problem (including some solutions that might involve technology!). This will ensure that you are taking a problem-centric and customer-centric approach to your venture.

The Social Innovators Program is a 12- week virtual social entrepreneurship program run in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania. Students participate in small classes of six students and receive personalized guidance and support as they explore, develop, and launch projects with intrinsic value. To learn more, visit: www.schoolyardventures.com/winter

Rich can be reached via rich@schoolyardventures.com

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