Why High School Students Can Start Companies
This article first appeared in Under30CEO on January 18, 2013 here.
Before our engineering degrees and Harvard Business School MBA’s, we were ambitious, bright-eyed, high-achieving high school students. Despite our relentless curiosity and limitless potential, it was hard to be taken seriously as real contributors to the world at that age. We felt that age, just like any other demographic indicator, does not limit one’s ability to achieve magnificent feats. Just like anyone else, we needed the confidence, training, and opportunities that were deserving of our high potential.
Is age just a number?
As adults making our way through the business world, we came across a jolting realization: we could have channeled our potential to become entrepreneurs earlier in life. We could have achieved even more if only we had gotten some business education earlier in life, and we feel that the same is true about high school students today. We believe high school students, now more than ever, can become some of the world’s best entrepreneurs. Not after college. Not after a couple of jobs. Now.
Part of the reason younger people make better entrepreneurs is because of their higher propensity towards modern technology. Today’s students have grown up having information at their fingertips through smart phones, dancing in front of a television and gaming device that records their movements, and networking through social media sites. Who remembers when the Nokia mobile phone, the Nintendo Super Mario games, and dial-up Internet were new and exciting innovations? We do—but not today’s generation. Their acceptance and understanding of cutting edge technologies makes them better positioned to push beyond what is currently possible, unconstrained by the boundaries of past realities.
High school students can also dream and achieve outside the realm of what adults have come to think is possible. Every adult has seen friends and work colleagues become disengaged and frustrated by the limitations of their environment. Their creativity is stifled by imagined constraints, motivation is curtailed by expectations of disappointment, and visionary aspirations are overwhelmed by the day to day shuffle. High school students haven’t yet allowed all of the potential hurdles of their ideas to keep them from dreaming ever bigger.
There is already some proof of the innovative capability of this new generation. The face of entrepreneurship has become younger and younger, with 20-somethings starting to get more credibility as innovators (Brock Blake makes the case in a Forbes article for why they are the most successful entrepreneurs). Articles in Entrepreneur magazine, Inc.com, and other entrepreneurial publications point to the need for further encouragement of young entrepreneurs. We need to seize their untapped potential for creativity, motivation, and visionary aspirations.
How can we better cultivate this new age of innovators?
We need to believe in them, let their creativity remain unconstrained, and give them high caliber training and resources. Believing in them doesn’t mean simply believing in their future potential once they have college degrees and work experience, but recognizing and encouraging their capability to achieve great things now. Their creativity should be encouraged by teaching them to discover answers for themselves, instead of teaching them to memorize facts and learn one way of doing things. And finally, entrepreneurship training and resources provided in top tier MBA programs should be in the hands of students willing to dream big.
Organizations like YEF, YEC, and NFTE believe in high school students, and so do we. That’s why we are holding Launch, a four-week entrepreneurship summer program held at MIT that will provide high school students with the tools and resources that we weren’t exposed to until well after our high school years. We believe that high school students can and will be the entrepreneurs that will shape our economy and show the world that business education is valuable early in life. We can’t wait to help bring their game-changing innovations to life.
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