Move over Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. There’s a group of youngsters waiting in the wings that appears more technically skilled, community-minded and independent than any other generation at their age.
Business educators dub them Generation E, as in future entrepreneurs.
There’s Claire Randall, 11, of Galveston, Texas, who began earning money in the second grade by parlaying an interest in the family personal computer into a small desktop publishing business.
Arthur Berg Bochner, 15, of South Orange, N.J., bought plastic dinosaurs wholesale and sold them at retail prices when he was just 8. He now deals in coins, cards and other collectibles and has co-written two books.
Seventeen-year-old Mindi Bull, an avid fisher from Tulsa, Okla., discovered a money-making opportunity at the end of her rod and reel - not the fish she catches, but the flies and bobbers she turns into funky earrings and sells.
While it’s impossible to say how many youngsters engage in entrepreneurial activities - no one has dared track all the baby-sitters, lawn cutters and others - experts say today’s teens and preteens seem more inclined than past generations to go into business for themselves.
“The kids believe their only chance in life is to make a job, not take a job. They see job security as an issue with their parents … (and) they want to be their own boss,” said Dr. Marilyn Kourilsky, vice president of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Inc. at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City.
“A Peace Corps mentality also comes with that entrepreneurial spirit. They feel obligated to give back to the community. I find that different from my generation,” said Kourilsky, a Baby Boomer. “I call them Generation E.”
A 1996 Gallup poll conducted for the center found that nearly seven out of 10 high school students want to start and run their own business, mainly so that they can be their own boss. Sixty-eight percent also wanted to give back something to their communities.
However, most of the teens surveyed felt they needed more skills to be truly successful. Ninety percent rated their personal knowledge of entrepreneurship as very poor to fair, and 85 percent said they were taught little to practically nothing on that subject in school.
“There’s such a need for the schools to make changes in the curriculum,” said Bonnie Drew, author of “Fast Cash for Kids” and editor of the Young Entrepreneur newsletter. She suggests incorporating business theory into current classes rather than adding courses.
Arthur Berg Bochner’s mother, Adriane G. Berg, an attorney and financial planner, was unhappy with Arthur’s school curriculum, so she took it upon herself to fill the void.
When he was 9, she said, she took him to his favorite Chinese restaurant and taught him how to read a stock table. She also has explained the difference between buying wholesale and retail, how to budget and write a business plan. Since then, she has teamed up with her son to write “The Totally Awesome Money Book for Kids” and “The Totally Awesome Business Book for Kids.”
She believes there is a misguided belief among many teachers that “capitalism is supposed to be something that hurts the underdog.”
“They’d rather teach students to be a consumer advocate than a business person,” she said.
The lack of attention in the classroom, due also in large part to budget restraints virtually everywhere, has brought about a proliferation of organizations and companies whose goals are to teach youngsters about the business world.
The Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership has training programs from kindergarten though community college. During the summer, it offers a seven-day EntrePrep program for high school juniors that teaches how to start and run a business.
KidsWay Inc. of Atlanta, a private company that publishes the Young Entrepreneur newsletter, sells “Summer Jobs for Kids” kits from $19.95 to $49.95, including how-to guides for lawn care, pet care, baby-sitting and car wash. Kids also can earn a profit selling environmentally friendly products.
So how will parents know if their children are cut out to hawk their own products or services? Many children are simply born entrepreneurs, though anyone can develop into one with the right support, says Kourilsky, of the entrepreneurial center.
“They’re born with the proclivity. It’s in their nature,” she said. “It’s like athletes. Some have a lot of talent, but if they don’t have a good coach it’s not going to be realized.”
Neale Godfrey, who runs the Children’s Financial Network in Mountain Lakes, N.J., and has written several books about kids and money, agrees, adding that youngsters often excel if they pursue what they love and have adults to support and guide them.
“I think it’s very important for the parent to bankroll the original amount (for starting a business) and make the kids pay it back over a period of time … with interest,” she said.
Godfrey did that with her children, Kyle, 14, and Rhett, 11, and their seasonal pie-baking business Pies R Squared. She herself started earning money on her own when she was 10, turning rocks collected at a beach into decorated paperweights. She sold them at a local store and earned $400 one summer. Her next enterprise was leading neighborhood kids on tours of the local sewers at 25 cents a pop.
Claire Randall, who has a desktop publishing business called Small Expressions, didn’t have to worry about start-up costs. She had liberal access to the family PC and software programs she uses to produce personalized calling cards for her schoolmates (eight for $1), greeting cards and stationary.
She says she reimburses her parents for the paper and ink she uses. “I used two entire cartridges on one job,” she said, explaining that a neighbor had contracted her to create personal photo albums to commemorate a vacation to Africa. She estimates she earns between $100 and $200 a year.
Mindi Bull, who started Big Catch Jewelry two years ago, has plenty of support from her family. Her parents drive her to pick up the supplies - beads, lures, hooks, backings - needed to make her one-of-a-kind fishing lure earrings and to the tackle shops and clothing stores where she sells them on consignment. (One woman spotted her wearing them in a department store and bought them right off her ears!)
She says she’d like to eventually expand her business to include a line of necklaces and T-shirts. “I’d like to be as successful as the creator of the Beanie Babies,” she says, and she knows it won’t be easy. Already she’s had to forgo outings with friends to work on her business.
Arthur, who sees his business in collectibles only as a hobby and wants eventually to pursue a career as a diplomat, admits entrepreneurial kids still have it easier than their adult counterparts.
“Kids have a high comfort level with money because they know they have plenty of time and they know there’s less pressure on them.”