Could EntrepreneurShip Investigation Help Keep Your Youth at Home?

by Joanne Steele on February 28, 2012

Today I’m going to take a break from my introduction of my newly opened membership site, Take Control of Your Internet Marketing and talk about an impressive youth entrepreneurship program I learned about in Nebraska last week.

four students working together

Young entrepreneurs collaborating on the design of their product, the B B Mister


We know we need to do something about the aging of our small towns. We talk about creating jobs that will allow our children to stay home. But most of us realize that that just isn’t going to happen. Manufacturing has drifted overseas and there just isn’t any deus ex machina to save small town jobs anymore.

We all want our kids to get that college education that will set them up for a better life. We push them out of the nest and hope that somehow they’ll figure out a way to come back home.

University of Nebraska has been leading the way in creating systems to give kids the skills they need to stay home and create a successful life for themselves. It’s called EntrepreneurShip Investigation.

I would never suggest that rural kids NOT get post high school education. But this entrepreneurship training program helps them create the road map that shows them how they can lead a successful, prosperous life in their hometown, or what they can aspire to do when they return.

I saw it in action last week at the Biz Idea Summit held the day before MarketPlace 2012 in Kearney, Nebraska.

I had intended to “observe,” but was kindly asked by coordinator, Nancy Eberle, to be a guide for one of the youth teams.

I sat down at a table with four young men from four different high schools with a certain sense of dread. Nancy had instructed me that my job was to guide, not lead. The boys were as clueless as I was, and I had a strong feeling that we were on our way to nowhere with me as their “guide!”

Nancy Eberle is amazing. As one of the original designers and trainers of the full EntreprenerShip program through University of Nebraska, Lincoln extension, she exuded confidence. She explained that in the next hour and a half each team would design a product inspired by an odd shaped widget she held up for all to see.

Each team was to design their product, create a business plan for the product, create a jingle to sell the product and build a Powerpoint to present their business to the group.

My guys sat with their arms folded eyeing each other, and I wondered just what a guide was expected to do to get them to talk to each other. I suggested that they name a leader which resulted in everyone folding their arms more tightly around their chests, and their eyes to drop to the tabletop.

Thanks to a forced choice tool I learned from a trainer expert friend of mine, Doug Carter, a leader was picked. How? (Remember this little tool – it always works!) I asked the guys to raise their hands… then point at their leader. Three of the four pointed to the same person and we had the exactly perfect leader.

With one more suggestion that they go through the handout step by step, our leader got his team to work.

Nancy Eberle’s system for inspiring high school kids was nearly a complete success.

The team presenting their product, a bird mister to enhance a senior citizen's experience of their garden

My guys designed a perfectly sensible product, identified their market, figured out how and where they would sell it, what they would make it out of, what it would sell for and what message would appeal to their market.

They created a short but effective Powerpoint presentation although they strongly resisted creating a jingle – something that probably cost them the competition. And they had fun!

They accomplished everything in slightly less than an hour and a half!

When I asked them what they learned from this exercise their answers reflected what Nancy had promised when I talked to her about why this type of activity was important.

After an hour and a half, these boys thought a little differently about whether they might be able to start their own business. One young man wants to become a diesel mechanic. He came away wondering if he really needed to work for someone else after completing  his training.

Another said he was clearer about the steps one needs to take to start a business.

Clearly, one morning long program won’t keep kids from permanently moving away, but the comprehensive training programs created over the past 10 years by UNL extension just might.

Entrepreneurs are not born, they are made. Until entrepreneurship becomes an integral part of rural school’s curriculums, we will watch our kids leave home with little chance that we’ll ever see them come back.

Share the link to EntrepreneurShip Investigation with your school principal and school board. It’s time that the business community in small towns take the bull by the horns and stand up for youth entrepreneurship training to save our towns.

Several links to share with young people you know:

Are you Ready? Watch this yourself. It will make your hair curl!

High School Financial Planning Program


1 Amy Schulz March 3, 2012 at 7:50 am

Thank you, Joanne, for sharing this innovative activity and the concept for youth entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneurship educator at Feather River College in rural Plumas County, CA, I work with high school teachers in five high schools to build an entrepreneurship career pathway. Starting this year all high school seniors from Plumas Unified School District are required to take at least 20 hours of entrepreneurship education to graduate. We have already witnessed success from youth entrepreneurship activities, and rural students have responded to the call to open businesses locally. With the pathway concept, students have the option to articulate entrepreneurship credits at transfer colleges, Fresno State and Feather River College, to continue their education postsecondary and hopefully be inspired to return home. Keeping and bringing our youth home is critical to maintian vibrant rural communities. I have been fortunate to work with proactive high school educators who share the same vision.

2 Joanne Steele March 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Thanks for sharing about your program, Any. You should get in touch with the Nebraska folks too. We need a powerful network of successful projects for new efforts to link to and learn from.

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