Mentoring young entrepreneurs, online & off

By Anne Collier

Kids have dreams and passions as they grow up, and these can be either conditioned out of them if they’re bored and/or don’t fit in at school, or they can be channeled to great effect. Cameron Herold – who founded 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and BackPocket COO “to coach and mentor young, fun companies and help them make their dreams happen” – talks about this in his recent TED Talk. He makes the case for channeling kid dreams into entrepreneurship, which is what his parents did for him and his siblings, he says. “Entrepreneurs are people who have these ideas and see these needs in the world and decide to stand up and [meet those needs] and put everything on the line to see that happen,” he says in his talk. Instead of forcing them to blend in or typecasting them, we need to observe and see where their interests go (shades of Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences”). If we support those who seem bored or ADD and help them “embrace the idea of being entrepreneurial, we can change everything in the world that’s a problem today,” Herold said. He then proceeded to show how to do that by telling the story of his development as an entrepreneur, starting at age 7, selling to dry cleaners clothes hangers he’d collected in the neighborhood, about his first employees at age 10, first retail outlets at age 14 etc. Entrepreneurial qualities to look for and support in kids: attainment, handling failure, tenacity, sales, introspection, networking, negotiation, customer service, bootstrapping, and leadership. I’m writing about this because technology – social media – can be great tools for kids to find and communicate with professional mentors, reach markets, negotiate deals, lead guilds (thinking about World of Warcraft), etc. A great source on this is Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (MIT Press, 2009); here’s an educator’s review of the book at the National Writing Project site. [See also this about raising kids, tinkering, and digital media, inspired by PBS Frontline’s “Digital Nation.”]

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