Need Money for College? MIT Helps Teens Become Entrepreneurs

Posted By Terri Williams on August 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm
Need Money for College? MIT Helps Teens Become Entrepreneurs

While the decision to attend college continues to be a good choice, it also continues to come with concerns regarding return on investment. The cost of college is spiraling out of control, leaving many students and their families wondering how they’ll be able to afford a four-year degree. Student loan debt is a financial hardship for many college grads – maybe even more so for dropouts – causing them to postpone plans for getting married or becoming homeowners.

Debt isn’t the only cause for concern, though. There’s been a steady decline in the quality of jobs and wages for recent grads. In addition, many employers complain that it’s hard to find applicants with leadership, teamwork, and other essential skills.

But one organization has implemented a program that can help teenagers gain money for college, acquire the types of skills coveted by hiring managers, and even develop their creative ideas into successful businesses.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology sponsors an entrepreneurship program that helps high school students start and grow real businesses. MIT Launch debuted in 2012, joining the MIT entrepreneurial ecosystem in 2014. MIT Launch Summer is an intensive four-week program on the school’s Cambridge campus, taught by faculty members from the school of business.

What young entrepreneurs learn

During Launch Summer, high school students from the U.S. and abroad gather to form teams and learn how to generate creative ideas. By creating prototypes and business plans, they also learn how to start and accelerate products and services and identify target audiences and available channels.

For example, students make the following types of determinations during the process:

  • What is your revenue model? Advertising, one-time fee, subscriptions, other.
  • How do you scale your business? Venture capital, business angels, founders, 3F.
  • How will you grow? Expand market share, new products, new markets, other.
  • How will you choose your product? Availability of developers, similar products, integration speed.

In addition to leadership, teamwork, and decision-making skills, these young students also learn time management, resiliency, and other vital success traits.

At the end of the program, students actually pitch their ideas at MIT’s Center for Entrepreneurship. And over half of the companies continue to experience growth a year after the end of the program. Some of the success stories include:

  • Purchasemate: an app that allows smartphone users to scan the barcode on a product to view details about the company (such as donations to political organizations, UN Human Rights rating).
  • The Bridge Initiative: a nonprofit that finds employment options for people with disabilities
  • Bite: a marketplace connecting local college students to gourmet chefs
  • Micro H2O: designed water purification system that reached $1 million in revenue
  • Michael Matias: was a Ted Talk speaker who shared his experiences as a teen entrepreneur

Benefits of teaching teens about entrepreneurship

While developing a successful business is one obvious advantage of MIT Launch, GoodCall asked two experts in this area to list some of the other benefits of becoming an entrepreneur.

Topher Morrison is a professor of practice at the University of Tampa; managing director of Key Person of Influence USA, a small business growth accelerator program; and author of Collaboration Economy. Morrison believes that programs such as MIT Launch will increase the likelihood that these high school student-entrepreneurs will attend college.

“Universities are more expensive than ever before, making it harder for parents to fund their child’s education and win scholarships that cover the entire tuition,” Morrison says. But when teens experience success as an entrepreneur, Morrison tells GoodCall they can start earning money for tuition. “This greatly reduces their student loan debt, because they can borrow the money for college without any interest – while accruing interest on their funds in an account.” By the time these students graduate from college, Morrison says they may have significantly reduced or even eliminated their student loan debt.

Also, a student entrepreneur won’t view the world of work the same as a member of previous generations. Freelance, part-time, and consulting jobs are on the rise among college graduates, “So teaching kids at an early age prepares them for the future of business, whether or not they own their own company,” Morrison says. “Also, it gives them the skills to be in charge of their future instead of waiting for someone to hand them an opportunity.”

Tina Mims, Ph.D., executive director of the Texas Woman’s University Center for Women in Business, also believes that teaching teens the basics of entrepreneurship can reduce gender bias. Mims tells GoodCall, “The earlier we have all genders involved in innovation, the sooner we as a society can embrace equality in the source of ideas.”

She also thinks it will reduce the wage gap. “It is essential that the value of ideas are separated from the value of people – entrepreneurial behavior is a pathway, that learned at earlier ages, can educate our next generation that ideas matter, people matter, the value is on the idea, regardless of gender,” Mims explains.

An additional benefit is an increase in experimentation and innovation. “Doug Hall, CEO-Founder of Eureka!Ranch says ‘fail fast, fail cheap,’” Mims says. And since improvement is a result of experimentation, Mims says, “Encouraging experimentation – and yes, failure—for the purpose of learning, must be an early learning experience for our next generation.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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