How to teach children to be entrepreneurs when most schools won’t?

In the book Disrupting Class, the authors talk about multiple types of intelligence not just IQ, which only measures one type of intelligence.  The book goes onto to say that most public schools “have a very interdependent architecture, which mandates standardization.”  Standardization that it is not going to be applicable to all student’s learning styles.

In the past, getting a college degree and getting a good job was the way to go until retirement.  Now, with the advent of technology and the Internet, the sky’s the limit.  Knowing that most of our children will be taught to think inside the box within most school systems, how does one teach their child to be an independent thinker and or how to think like an entrepreneur to allow this as an option for future career choices?

This has been weighing on my mind so much so that I decided to ask 4 independent thinkers who are paving the way in their fields and on the blogosphere to help answer this question:

How will you teach your child (to have the ability) to be an entrepreneur?


Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion says:

For me, in terms of teaching my kids to be entrepreneurs, I think it comes down to the fact that they’re so heavily involved in my work as it is.

In other words, when I travel, I try to take them (at least one) with me. I try to have conversations about what I do, how it makes (or loses) money, how I’m able to get ahead, and what I envision for the future.

For me, because my family is so tied to everything I do, I want them all to be aware of the state of my business. It is a major topic of conversation in our home. My daughter reads my blog posts. She is the only one old enough to really understand them, but the others will follow suit.

Also, we talk a lot in the home about money. Not about ‘getting rich’, but how it truly works. How banks work. How credit is good and bad. How hard work is critical, but smart work is even more important. And we also discuss mortgages, payments, etc.

I didn’t get that stuff growing up, and it was a little foreign to me once I left home. I want my kids to be prepared. I want them to know exactly what it took me to succeed. I want them to experience the journey with me.

And by so doing, if they elect to embrace entrepreneurship, then awesome. :)


Gini Dietrich’s  of Spin Sucks says:

I’m not a parent. I do, however, have 14 nieces and nephews. And I’m an entrepreneur (twice over now).

Surely that makes me qualified to talk about why I think kids should think about entrepreneurship as a career.

Don’t get me wrong. Young professionals need some experience, especially if they’re going into a field that already exists (PR, in my case).

Every once in a while a Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates comes along. Not only did these guys not have any work experience before starting their companies, they didn’t finish college.

All-in-all it’s important to get a degree and some experience before going out to start the next big company.

When I started Arment Dietrich, I had a good 10 years of experience. But I had PR experience. I didn’t have business experience. And the lack of business experience really hurt me as we weathered the worst economy our country has seen since the Great Depression.

I didn’t know what a P&L was. I didn’t understand a balance sheet. I had no idea about the difference between accrual and cash flow.

I ran the business like I did my checking account: Some money went into savings, some money was spent on employee perks and client gifts, and the rest went into investment in the growth of the business. But I also made a very grave mistake. I allowed the bank heydays of 2006 and 2007 to suck me in and I borrowed more money than I knew I could afford.

We had a great time. Breakfast was brought in every morning. Employees had the best furniture. Wine:thirty every Friday.

And then the bottom fell out and the bank called the line. We’re still paying down that debt.

So my advice for children thinking about a career? Decide what you want to do, get a job and learn everything you can, about the industry, your particular specialty, and the business. Find a mentor outside of your company, but within an area where you know you’ll need extra advice. And then do it.

Take the risk. Start your own business. It’ll be the hardest, and most rewarding, thing you’ll ever do.


Erica Allison of Spot On says: 

 As the child, grandchild and great grandchild of many an entrepreneur, I can honestly say that I think being an entrepreneur is in my blood.  It’s not that I was born into it, but rather it was born in me.  My grandfather and my great grandfather were both farmers, you might say the original entrepreneur. My parents have been life-long business adventurers, beginning their lives together by running the family farm, and ultimately starting at least five more businesses in their 45 years as partners in crime.

Entrepreneurs are loosely defined as someone willing to start, organize and run any business or enterprise, usually with considerable risk and initiative. The outcome of their chosen enterprise rests squarely on their shoulders.  Yep, that sounds familiar.

Does that mean my children will have that same ‘entrepreneurial’ gene? The odds are certainly in their favor, but is there anything that I can do to help it along?

Can entrepreneur skills be taught? Entrepreneur Magazine gives us a list of the top 25 of Undergraduate and Graduate Entrepreneurship programs. These are not new fads; Babson College goes back to 1967 with their program and earned the #1 spot on the list. So, yes, I think certain skills can be taught. The more important question to ask is “to whom are we teaching?”

Take my brother and me; we were raised in the same environment by the same parents.  We both saw what it was like to run your own business and to be an entrepreneur; it was all around us.  My brother chose to work in the family business for my parents; I chose to have my own business. I’ve had offers to work for other companies, but always go back to the entrepreneur path. Why?

It’s because, in my opinion, you’re either wired for it or you’re not.  For some, the risk taking is an adventure and one that we see as being entirely possible and within the realm of reality. For others, that risk is far too great and well, just not worth it.  Can we teach that second group to be an entrepreneur? I do not think we can. Can we teach the first one? I think we just enhance what they have – they’re already going to do what they’re going to do.

When I look at my children, I like to think I know what paths they’ll take when they grow up. I know as sure I’m sitting here, I can’t possibly know; I can only dream. Do I start the tutelage now? Do I wait to see more concrete examples of their personalities? What I do is exactly what my parents did with me.

I show them how it is – exactly how it is. I show them how to make do on the money in hand. I show them how to go for it if they have a dream. I show them the joys of doing what you love and the hard times when those things you love don’t always go as planned. I show them what it means to be responsible for your actions. But the most important thing of all that I can do for my little entrepreneurs?  I can encourage them – in whatever path they choose.


John Falchetto says: 

 I want my daughter to stay curious. She is reaching an age where she is asking Why, what, how and I never want that to die in her.

Most of us quickly learn at school that teachers expect answers not questions. As a serial entrepreneur I believe the most important quality to develop is asking questions, because it forces us to dig deeper and discover new paths.


Your Turn

There you have it four of the blogosphere’s best. Now, how will you teach your children to be entrepreneurs?


Marcus Sheridan passionately writes about business and life on his blog, The Sales Lion. Make sure to download his FREE, 230-page eBook, Inbound and Content Marketing Made Easy.





Gini Dietrich is CEO of Arment Dietrich and blogs at Spin Sucks.






Erica Allison blogs at  Spot On and is the founder of Allison Development Group, a PR and Marketing firm in NC.






John Falchetto is a life coach and blogs at his self named blog.






Photo credit: emilyonasunday

6 years ago by in Entrepreneurship , My Projects | You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
20 Comments to How to teach children to be entrepreneurs when most schools won’t?
    • Expat Doctor Mom
    • Wow, a whole hearted thanks to @thesaleslion:twitter @ericaallison:twitter @Ginidietrich:twitter and @JohnFalchetto:twitter  for contributing.  As a child of immigrants who were not “wired” to take risk, I am hoping to allow for exposure of entrepreneurship to my own children and like Erica “encourage them in whatever path they choose”.

      I will close with this definition by Howard Gardner which was referenced in the book “Disrupting Class” Howard was a Harvard psychologist who posited the idea of many types of intelligence in the early 1980’s. His definition of intelligence is “The ability to solve problems that one encounters in real life. The ability to generate new problems to solve. The ability to make something or offer a service that is valued within one’s culture.” 

      I think his definition of intelligence defines entrepreneurship quite nicely!

      • Erica Allison
      • Rajka, thank YOU for the honor of including my views on this topic. I seem to have waxed on and on about the topic, but I appreciate the opportunity to do it! 

        I am fascinated to read the others’ responses and think we’re all in agreement: keep it real and share the experiences we have with the children in our lives. I also agree that encouraging curiosity and hard work go a long way in helping our children become independent adults.  Here’s to our little thinkers and do-ers!

      • Gini Dietrich
      • Isn’t it funny how we mirror our parents? It never occurred to me to go out on my own. Not until a friend and former client suggested it. But, without that, I’d be running an office or region for a global PR firm…never knowing what it’s like to take the risk to build your own destiny. I hope your readers think about what they can teach their kids, if not about entrepreneurship, about taking risk.

    • Billy Delaney
    • Billy from Akron.
      Nice I appreciate this as I have sent my daughter and granddaughter to Rudolph Steiner schools: one in Ireland the other in Ohio. Creating the groundwork for better thinking.
      Also, my kids see me working at being a person who works for himself.

    • Keyuri Joshi
    • What a wonderful topic.  The points made are excellent.  I’d add an emotional intelligence spin.  Entrepreneurship involves excitement and hope as well as fear and frustration and so many more emotions.  Getting through these with realism and can assist an individual not to call it quits.  Of course, emotional intelligence tell us to identify our emotion, embrace it (even if it is negative) and then figure out what we are going to do with it.  An EI toolbox is a huge asset for any entrepreneur.

    • THannonMD
    • My comments mirror many of those above. 1) I have formally employed my kids during summer breaks, after school, weekends from the beginning.  Believe me, I am harder on them than my other employees with regards to expectations, so there is no nepotism here. 2) I regularly bring up “real world” examples with the kids when we are out shopping, having dinner, etc. regarding employees, pricing decisions, market segments, service expectations, etc. 3) I have required all my kids to at least get a business minor in college, even though their majors have been science or music.

    • PragmaticMom
    • I’m an entrepreneur too and I love this post. I try to follow my kids’ lead to talk about business and money. When one of my children was 5 or 6, we had long discussions on interest (simple versus compound) and why her new savings account yields but a penny a quarter. I think talking the language of business helps them a lot! 

      • Expat Doctor Mom
      • Wow simple and compund interest talks! Love it! 

        BTW, have been meaning to ask you when you match your kids saving, do you have a requirement as to how long they have to keep their money in savings. Or if they withdraw any money do you withdraw the match as well? We need to add this to our current plan with our oldest.

    • Life, for instance
    • Hi Rajka! This is great! I’m checking out the book which looks very interesting!
      My father was in business for himself and so when I started my business after university, it felt right. Our children were raised within a family business, given small jobs when they were old enough to do them. When we started our Terra Cotta Pendant business, they were very involved and remain involved today, though they are both in university away from home. I think the experience of being involved with the start of a business was invaluable for them. I won’t be at all surprised if both of them move into some sort of business of their own down the road.
      There’s no education like immersion.  They saw the best and worst of being self-employed and I’m sure they will capitalize on the best while making plans to minimize the worst!

      • Expat Doctor Mom
      •  Hi Lori!  Thanks for your personal account of being taught and teaching entrepreneurship!  I feared this… that it is easier learned if it surrounds you as you grow up. I guess I just have to surround my children with the possibility and then they can choose :)

        Great site by the way and great work with your children. I will aspire to do the same with my children.

    • Anonymous
    • I love your posts for making me think and then take action!  I don’t have much experience in entrepreneurial endeavors, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help teach my daughter these fantastic skills.  You are right to think about how best to give your children skills that will benefit them throughout life.  

      Your post inspired me to recognize that I could start with some baby-steps.  At school, my daughter’s class (1st grade) is working this month to raise funds for a local pregnancy resource center.  They were given a baby bottle to collect loose change and other contributions. The parents were supposed to help their children brainstorm ways they could do additional things around the house or for friends and neighbors to fill their bottle for the charity.  

      After reading your post, I was inspired to help my daughter use her skills and talents to fulfill her commitment.  I asked her if she had any ideas about how she would fill her bottle.  She shook her head morosely.  I could tell she was as daunted by the task as I had been when I first read about the assignment.  I mentioned to her that we were going to be going to a family get together in a couple days and maybe she could make some art to sell to her relatives. 

      The transformation was incredible.  From that spark of an idea on, she carried the idea through execution with determination and purpose!  I was surprised and delighted with her enthusiasm and positive outlook.  I did not need to encourage her any more than provide that initial brainstorming session. She successfully sold out her work that night and filled the bottle!  

      Thanks for sparking me to action with your post!  I have loaded an image of her sales table for your enjoyment. 

      • Expat Doctor Mom
      •  Dear Mary Ann

        Wow, that was some powerful action!  I loved reading your story and your daughter’s enthusiasm to sell her artwork. I think she is an entrepreneur in the making! 

        I loved that you took a photo to share her art work: LOVE, not like!

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