Future entrepreneurs learn tech skills, too

EntreTech: Sixteen students at four Howard County high schools are immersed in a new entrepreneurship and technology program that lets them learn by doing.

November 10, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Several Howard County high school students will be playing a new game with technology in schools this year and next: "Who Wants to be the Next Bill Gates?"

EntreTech, a new program developed by the county's NeoTech incubator, will introduce 16 students from four area high schools to the world of entrepreneurship and technology the same way the incubator occupants learn it: by building and running their own businesses.

The two-year EntreTech program, one of just a handful across the nation, aims to give students from Atholton, River Hill and Long Reach public high schools and the private Glenelg Country School the skills necessary to run a business, and encourage the county's youngest garage-business innovators to continue with their college education.

The program also puts Howard County at the forefront in Maryland of a growing movement nationally to teach entrepreneurship in schools. Maryland is one of 10 states involved in a national task force to encourage entrepreneurship sponsored by the National Association of Governors and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo.

In studying some of the best practices implemented nationally, task force members have found that education is a key part of encouraging entrepreneurial growth, according to Phillip Singerman, head of Maryland's Technology Development Corp. and a member of the task force. "Entrepreneurship education is one of the priorities that has come out of that process," he said. "We think the state could do a lot more in the area of entrepreneurial education."

So do employers.

In a recent study by the state's Business Roundtable for Education, employers suggested that programs "improving or expanding career and technology education" should be "the top state policy action." Improving links between businesses and schools was another highly ranked policy action employers would like to see, according to the study.

The EntreTech program is a step toward those goals.

The two-year program, which began this month, trains students in creating technology product ideas, writing a business plan, and then carrying out the plan to form a prototype of their product.

This year, the first of the program, students will focus on developing their business ideas and preparing to run a company. Four teams of four students will take courses in writing a business plan, marketing and presentation skills, and by the end of the year, form a corporation. Fellow students from their schools are expected to be their initial employees.

The students will be assisted not only by a team of business advisers, as are all incubator companies, but with free legal advice and ready financiers, which no incubator company enjoys.

Next year, the students will move into the incubator, working there part time to develop their product prototype. They will also continue to refine their business plan, and attend other courses on running a successful business.

If any of the business ideas that result from the two-year program become viable, organizers say they hope to be able to structure the program so that students can continue to run their business while attending a local university.

"It's like using the incubator as a lab," said Michael Haines, director of business development for the incubator. "A lot of these kids that start a business don't realize that only one in eight or one in nine succeed."

Many of today's youths do have an entrepreneurial spirit, according to the Kauffman Foundation, which is leading the push for entrepreneurial education. In a study done by the group, seven of 10 high school students said they would like to own their own business some day, but only one in 10 said they'd received the necessary education to make that goal a reality.

The foundation has teaching strategies it supports that can be included in school curriculum at elementary and secondary levels. Mini Society, a strategy that helps elementary students learn about money and economics, is in thousands of classrooms around the country with an estimated 571,000 children having participated in a course either in school or through a 4-H club. The foundation estimates that another 250,000 will join the ranks next year.

The foundation's secondary school programs range from outreach as simple as magazines and award programs to courses, summer camps and internships. Altogether, the programs reach about 750,000 students annually, said Carol Majors, director of youth programs for the foundation. The numbers are growing steadily.

"We get more and more requests," she said. "There seems to be a growing interest in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education."

Around the country, there are programs similar to what Howard County is offering. Several universities sponsor business-plan competitions that challenge high school students to create a business plan, and reward a winner with cash to help give the company a start.

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