How do parents know if their teen has entrepreneurial traits? If so, what now?

How do parents know if their teen has entrepreneurial traits? If so, what now?


Parents: Have you noticed any of these traits in your teens:  Lack of interest in school;  A messy room; Drawers and closets littered with a variety of electronic and small engine parts;  Spending far more spare time on the computer in his/her room than outside playing or with friends;  Staying up too late, doesn’t want to get up in the morning, tired much of the time;  Generally mischievous behavior?  Also, have you noticed burn marks where it appears a small explosion may have occurred, electricity outages, or parts missing from appliances, lawn equipment and furniture? Do some of your extension cords and tools seem to be missing?

As a parent, these appear to be signs of trouble that require some serious discipline, counseling, juvenile detention or a twelve step program.  OR, you could have a young entrepreneur on your hands.  Please don’t misunderstand, these could, in fact, be signs of a teen headed for serious trouble.  They could also be signs of a restless teenager, bored with the system, who is trying to find an outlet for their creativity, curiosity, and product ideas.  

While the signs look pretty similar, the actions parents take in these situations are pretty important.  Parents can attempt to shut down this behavior with disciplinary action, let the behavior go after several unsuccessful attempts to stop it, or direct their teen to people and programs that will give them a somewhat structured outlet for their creativity, product development ideas and curiosity.  Our son was disassembling his Happy Meals at age 8.  Luckily, my wife didn’t make him stop.  Turns out he was just trying to figure out how they worked.

Here in central Arkansas, there are a variety of locations and programs where youth can experiment with ideas and develop skills in math, science, electronics, microprocessors, coding, app development, robotics, project management and entrepreneurship.  A partial list includes Y.E.S. , EAST, Innovation Hub, Art Connection, Noble Impact, STEM Coalition, 100 Girls of Code, First Robotics, Best Robotics, Arts and Science and Children’s Museums, and a variety of local after school programs that may have technology initiatives.  There are similar programs in Northwest Arkansas.  Many of these programs serve youth outside their region.  The EAST program, a project based learning program that teaches kids coding, video production, how to use design and GPS mapping software, and develop websites is already in 200+ schools around our state and in a handful of schools in other states.  100 Girls of Code has had events in a variety of regions.  All of these programs are underwritten by grants, public funding and private donors and investors so their cost is free or close to free.  Part of my mission is to use communication technology to bring this content to every corner of our state.  So many of these programs have sprung up around the country in the past five years that there is likely one near you.  Find it and get plugged in.

If you are a parent, or a teen for that matter, who wants access to these programs, use the links in this post to contact these programs.  If there isn’t one near you, talk to them about how you can access their services or figure out how you can start a program or club in your area.  Be a local Champion!  The power of like-minded people coming together to create a community is critical in these endeavors.  A local group of parents and teens makes it easier to carpool to after school activities, purchase project kits, materials and equipment, and discuss potential community projects and product development.  Many of these programs started with a parent or group of parents and teens who decided to start something in their area.

THE TAKEAWAY: As we go through our daily lives, usually at 100 MPH with our hair on fire, it is easy to believe that we are alone in dealing with challenges and we tend to seek remedies that are swift and immediate to alleviate what we perceive to be a problem.  This tends to blind us to the resources all around us that can put us on a path of turning a problem situation into a positive outlet for growth and change.  While it is certainly possible that some of the traits noted above are, in fact, signs of a serious problem that requires immediate attention and discipline, these signs may also be indicators of a need for a constructive outlet for creative and design skills.  As parents it is our job to figure out which one it is and do something about it!

4 Keys to Managing Business Relationships for Young Entrepreneurs

4 Keys to Managing Business Relationships for Young Entrepreneurs


We spend much of time in the entrepreneurial space talking about products and technology, but not as much time on the relationships that are required to make it all happen.  As entrepreneurs, how we initiate, develop and nurture these relationships matters.  Amazingly, it is not all about us.  With few exceptions, there is no product or company without people.  So what do we need to know to manage these relationships?

To get a product to market and have people or companies spend their hard earned money to buy it takes vision, a tremendous work ethic and people.  The founder can provide the initial vision and sweat equity but at some point he/she will need other people for co-founders, connections, advice, mentoring, product development talent, vendors, operational support, etc . . .   The thing is, while a few of these folks will be transactional relationships to gather information or buy a component, most will require some sort of meaningful relationship for them to provide what you need.  So here are a few suggestions for developing these relationships:

  1. Relationship building is a 24/7 activity. Does it make sense that someone you’ve never paid any attention to, and doesn’t know you, is going to spend their time to help you, especially if you expect them to do it for free or to give you some sort of special deal?  NO!  Their time is at least as valuable as yours.  Respect that.
  1. Investing your time in people is inefficient. Getting to know people, and letting them get to know you, takes time.  Will you need to attend meetings and events that turn out to be relatively unproductive regarding networking and relationship building?  ABSOLUTELY!  DO IT ANYWAY.  You cannot predict, with any level of accuracy, where those inefficient activities may lead.  Looking backward, I can say that serendipity, fate and luck are all elements in the equation of success . . . and we can’t control any of those variables.  Some of the people with whom I have the most valuable relationships were placed in my path seemingly by accident.  Life is funny that way. 
  1. Digital media is no substitute for face-to-face conversation. Many young entrepreneurs who have grown up using social media for the vast majority of their communication may consider this ridiculous.  Social media, email, and texting are tools for communication and, like any tool, have their place depending on the content, timing, and complexity of the conversation.  A conversation may begin with digital communication, but it is challenging to sustain a meaningful relationship, especially with an advisor or mentor over 35 years of age, with digital communication alone.  A meaningful relationship, one that may yield inner circle connections, investment, access to talent, or special favors, is personal.
  1. Give before you get. Many of us in business target people with whom we want to develop a relationship because we believe they have something we need.  Instead of our introductory conversations being all about us, why don’t we make our goal to listen and learn all we can about the other person?   As we learn about their history and interests, we learn more about how to engage and serve them.  This is a process that takes time and at least a few visits.  Again, the time to start a business relationship is not at the point of transaction when we need something.  It starts weeks, months or years before by giving, not taking.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Getting begins with giving.  Giving your time to listen and learn about a person starts well before you get the information, service or contact you need from them.  Seek first to serve and connect.  The rest will generally take care of itself.  Meaningful business relationships require thoughtful, continuous investment.

“I just wanted to prove I deserved to be there”

“I just wanted to prove I deserved to be there”


Imagine your startup company is selected to participate in a business accelerator with the opportunity to receive $150,000 in investment funding.  You are ecstatic, right?  Doing back flips!  Over the moon!  You call everyone you know and share the excitement, right?  Well maybe.  If you are a barely 17 year old high school student about to start your senior year, you likely feel like the dog that caught the car.  You’ve chased this thing but now that you caught it, what do you do with it?  Besides, few of your friends really understand what you do and what this means.

“I just wanted to prove I deserved to be there.”  That was our son Joshua’s mantra after being selected for the ARK Challenge Startup Accelerator.  Upon arriving at the accelerator, meeting the other startup teams, and sizing up the competition, his priority was more about gaining respect than winning.  He figured he had no chance against the other ten teams.  He was the youngest by six years.  Most of the participants had at least one college degree, and several of the teams had companies that were already making money.  In addition, Joshua’s co-founders were busy running their own app and web development company, so he participated in the accelerator activities by himself most of the time.

“The training, mentors, and access to resources were great; but I also realized how much I didn’t know.  My focus was on soaking it all in, getting smarter, and holding my own.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself and I didn’t want people involved in the selection process to feel like they had made a mistake by selecting me,” Joshua said.

The ARK Accelerator had 92 entries that year from 15 countries around the world and 15 states in the United States.  The application included written documents and short videos on the company, team, and product; as well as an interview process.  Joshua took the lead on the application process with the support of his co-founders — even editing the videos for submission.  In addition, the timing of the accelerator did not fit the school calendar.  This was a clear indication that this accelerator was not conceived with the idea that anyone still in school would participate, especially high school.  Joshua had to ask his principal at Catholic High for permission to participate in the accelerator since the program would cause him to miss the first month of school in the fall.  The principal agreed, but, in true Catholic High form, had Joshua commit to work with his teachers individually to ensure all of his assignments would be turned in on time despite his physical absence from the classroom.  Joshua agreed and complied.  His grades suffered due to the work load of a full-time business and school, but he complied.  A good economics lesson in opportunity cost and a good lesson in doing “whatever it takes” when you believe in something.

THE TAKEAWAY:  The idea of a teen CEO and founder participating in a startup accelerator, designed for more experienced founders and companies, was improbable.   However, we shouldn’t allow our dreams and goals to be limited by our logical assessments, our assumptions for why “it will never work”, or our concerns about how difficult it will be.  When we take the road less traveled and push ourselves toward a goal, we unlock something inside us that expands our horizons and gives us even greater courage.  Joshua’s decision to apply for a startup accelerator, as improbably as it was, has changed his life and put him on a path toward entrepreneurial success.  His was the only U.S. based company out of three selected for investment.  The other two were from India.  You can’t win if you don’t play.