Promoting college and career readiness through entrepreneurship

Horizons students in Rettner Hall

The risks and rewards associated with mentoring young people for entrepreneurship are attracting growing attention among policymakers, development organizations and scholars.

Companies, organizations and communities have found themselves needing to step up to help solve these problems and finding ways to support student success.

“Entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking are essential for economic survival as innovation and technological advancements continue to replace basic, entry-level employment opportunities. The global economy as a whole will benefit from the development of entrepreneurial skills in youth to address such critical issues as the nearly 75 million unemployed youth around the world (ILO, Global Employment Trends for Youth, 2012), and the oft-noted misalignment between education and employers’ needs (UNESCO, Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work, 2012). Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinkers are seen as the critical components to jump-start local and national economies and to generate the jobs that will stimulate growth (The EY G20 Entrepreneurship Barometer, 2013). An entrepreneurial citizenry will have wide impacts on communities and the global economy by fostering business creation and developing a strong, engaged workforce, more fiscally responsible citizens and more committed individuals who take ownership in solving community challenges.”



Every two years, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) conducts a study of alumni—students who have completed one or more NFTE courses—to analyze their paths beyond high school and college. In 2016, WestEd, a research and development agency, conducted the alumni study and discovered a couple of interesting data points:

  • 91% of NFTE students who graduated from college completed a four-year degree
  • 89% of NFTE students reported that NFTE contributed to their career- readiness, including 33% who directly stated that they gained the “knowledge, technical skills and/or competence required for a job/career”
  • 25% of NFTE students started a business, with 9% employing six or more people

This data offers indicators of the impact that entrepreneurship education can have on high school students from underserved communities. These students can learn entrepreneurial skills and behaviors that are highly applicable and can contribute to their future success.

So why isn’t the teaching of entrepreneurship embedded in the core of middle and high school education? The challenge—besides the focus on core reading and mathematics—is that entrepreneurship is traditionally considered to be a gift possessed by a few rather than an empowering, broad-based skill set that can be cultivated in all students. The reality is that every student possesses innate entrepreneurial skills. The current limitation on entrepreneurship in schools constricts the potential for youth to develop a powerful portfolio of career-ready skills which NFTE calls the Entrepreneurial Mindset.



NFTE’s eight domains of the Entrepreneurial Mindset:

FUTURE ORIENTATION – An optimistic disposition with a focus on obtaining the skills and knowledge required to transition into a career.

OPPORTUNITY RECOGNITION – The practice of seeing and experiencing problems as opportunities to create solutions.

COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION – The ability to clearly express ideas to an intended audience, including persuading others to work toward a common goal.

CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING – The capacity to apply higher-level, process- oriented thinking, consider an issue from a range of possible perspectives, and use that reasoning to make decisions.

COMFORT WITH RISK – The capacity to move forward with a decision despite inevitable uncertainty and challenges.

INITIATIVE AND SELF-RELIANCE – The power to take ownership of a project without input or guidance and work through obstacles independently.

CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION – The ability to think of ideas and create solutions to problems without clearly defined structures.

FLEXIBILITY AND ADAPTABILITY – The ability and willingness to change actions and plans to overcome present and future challenges.

Research shows that:

  • An entrepreneurial mindset is valued by employers. Entrepreneurial skills are employment skills, especially in today’s innovation economy.
  • An entrepreneurial mindset boosts educational attainment and performance. Entrepreneurial skills help students engage and succeed in school.
  • An entrepreneurial mindset is crucial for creating new businesses, which trigger a wave of benefits—including job creation, tax revenue and market efficiency. Helping young people develop the mindset to successfully start and run businesses is vital for economic growth

Over the past four years, NFTE has worked with the Educational Testing Service to conduct research on our Entrepreneurial Mindset Index and Assessment— a pre-post survey that NFTE has administered to more than 10,000 students annually for the past four years. The research effort has focused on developing and testing assessment items that are designed as indicators of awareness and growth of non-cognitive skills. Although the testing and validation process is not yet completed, NFTE has aggregated data sets that indicate students emerging with increased capacity for problem solving, critical thinking and opportunity recognition.

The key takeaway is that through continued exposure to experiences and activities focused on activating the Entrepreneurial Mindset, even the most disengaged students can develop skills that increase their self-confidence and capacity for problem solving.

Where the impact is seen most strikingly is in high-poverty urban school districts that struggle with offering a high-quality engaging educational experience to a disenfranchised population of students. NFTE focuses on reaching and empowering these students who are natively more entrepreneurial than most students. Entrepreneurship directs the grit, hustle and raw life experiences of students in high-poverty environments towards development of their own creativity, comfort with smart risks and problem-solving skills with the goal of bringing their ideas to life.

This article examines entrepreneurship mentoring relationships from the perspective of young people. Based on the model of youth mentoring, it explores how entrepreneurship mentoring can influence the entrepreneurial intentions of young people. Findings from the review of the literature show that mentoring relationships are beneficial whether they are formal or informal. The implications of mentoring relationships for the promotion of youth entrepreneurship are discussed.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman advocates for inspiring young people to create the companies that will provide long-lasting employment for the country’s citizens. Because the jobs on which 61-year-old Friedman’s own generation relied are no longer available, he advocates for having students graduate high school “innovation ready” — meaning that along with their mortarboards, they receive the critical-thinking, communication and collaboration skills that will help them invent their own careers.

Entrepreneurship education benefits students from all socioeconomic backgrounds because it teaches kids to think outside the box and nurtures unconventional talents and skills. Furthermore, it creates opportunity, ensures social justice, instills confidence and stimulates the economy.

Because entrepreneurship can, and should, promote economic opportunity, it can serve as an agent of social justice. Julian Young, 29, was a drug dealer facing a 15-year prison term when a mentor told him he was an entrepreneur. Years later, Young is the founder and executive director of The Start Center for Entrepreneurship, an Omaha-based organization that helps women and minorities launch businesses.

Just as Young’s entrepreneurial instinct helped him escape the school-to-prison pipeline to become a successful business owner, so too can it help other young people at risk tap into their own unrealized talents.The nonprofit Prison Entrepreneurship Program pairs prisoners with top-level mentors in a curriculum that makes them entrepreneurs. The program’s less-than-10 percent recidivism rate lends credence to the argument that gaining business savvy reduces the likelihood that prisoners will end up back in jail.

Furthermore, entrepreneurship has historically spurred minorities, women and immigrants to create better lives for themselves and their families. Currently, minorities own 15 percent of all U.S. businesses, accounting for $591 billion in revenues. Women are starting businesses at one-and-a-half times the national average and currently own 40 percent of all businesses, producing nearly $1.3 trillion in revenues.

Additionally, many business students are choosing social entrepreneurship — doing well by doing good. According to the nonprofit Bridgespan Group, between 2003 and 2009 the number of social-benefit course offerings at top business schools more than doubled, on average. Matthew Paisner, who founded Altru-Help, a website that connects users with local volunteer opportunities, says he’s noticed growing “philanthropic virtue” among Millennials. Millennials, Paisner says, tend to favor working for socially responsible companies and don’t see profit and purpose as mutually exclusive.



The University of Rochester Student Incubator at NextCorps advances student-run businesses and emphasizes a broad definition of entrepreneurship. Whether technology-based, not-for-profit, products, or services, all types of enterprises are welcome to apply.

The Student Incubator provides a collaborative, interdisciplinary environment and interaction with mentors and local entrepreneurs. There is no application fee. If accepted into the program, the student company does not pay any fees nor gives up any equity.

The incubator provides students with:

  • Free furnished space within the Student Incubator.
  • Each student business will be assigned a mentor, who will provide coaching and guidance, and will help their teams establish quarterly milestone targets.
  • Student Incubator companies will also have access to all client amenities within The Incubator at Sibley Square – this includes access to wireless internet, shared conference rooms, the multi-media center, shared copiers, printers, etc., as well as access to NextCorps’ Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, who can provide additional coaching, mentoring, and connections.
  • Student Incubator companies will receive a copy of the Incubator at Sibley Square Handbook, which further explains the services and benefits of NextCorps, upon entering the Incubator.


At RIT, the Simone Center’s Student Incubator initiative is an intensive program designed to assist students with a desire to start a business or commercialize their innovations. This initiative differs from other non-RIT university programs in that it is holistic in nature—the program focuses on both product (technology) and business development.

While the Simone Center provides innovation and business development coaches to most students seeking assistance, the Student Incubator program is more intricate and deliberate. Students accepted into the program get weekly coaching by an experienced coach (typically an entrepreneur or a product developer). Simone Center coaches assist students in all dimensions of advancing their business ideas or innovation projects including:

  • Voice of the Customer: What customer problem is being solved? What are potential customer needs?
  • Competitive Analysis: How are you (significantly) better than other options?
  • Product Development: What is the path to developing a “proof of concept”? When should a prototype be developed?
  • Timelines, Milestones, and Road Maps: What is the path forward for both the product development and the business development
  • Team Development and Management: What are the skills required for your team to be successful? Do your team members have them? How can you get them?
  • Business/Project Funding and Finance: What types and sources of funding are available to successfully advance your project/business?

In conjunction with the Student Incubator Program, students can get access to other RIT resources, such as labs, technical advisors, etc. When sufficiently advanced, students may apply for admission to the RIT Student Incubator in Venture Creations.

The Student Incubator Program is team-oriented. Individual students, typically, do not enter the program. High potential projects require high potential teams and the Simone Center will assist lead innovators and entrepreneurs on how to network to find the right team.


Founded in 2004 at the University of Rochester with support from the Kauffman Foundation, the Young Entrepreneurs Academy today serves thousands of students ages 11 to 18 in communities across America. In 2011, the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation became a national sponsor and partner of the Academy to help celebrate the spirit of enterprise among today’s youth and tomorrow’s future leaders.

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy aims to teach students about business, and to build confident leaders with values. In viewing themselves as an instrument to unify the business and educational communities, YEA! continues to expand across the country to fulfill our mission of teaching more students how to make a job, not just take a job.