In the 1980s, Steve Mariotti was a teacher in New York City high schools when he realized that the more he spoke about money, profits, and entrepreneurial topics, the more his students came to class—and the better they performed academically in math, reading, and science. Inspired by the success he saw when he taught his students about business, Mariotti founded the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) in 1987.
The Value of Entrepreneurship
NYC-based NFTE works in New York City, the US, and around the world, teaching students in low-income communities about entrepreneurship, as well as working to decrease dropout rates and improve overall academic performance. To date, they’ve helped to influence 500,000 children, more than 50,000 of them in the New York City area. NFTE now has 68 full-time employees in the US and approximately 20 abroad, with teachers in 50 countries. In 2012, the organization is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
According to NFTE, high school students from low-income families are six times more likely to drop out than students from higher income families—but 81 percent of dropouts say that they would have stayed in school had it been more relevant to their lives. NFTE’s academic programs, guest speakers, field trips, and business plan competitions help educators connect to these students and help them build real world skills that can help them improve their future.
“We teach thousands of kids about the value of entrepreneurship. What an entrepreneur is doing. How the income statement operates. How they view a market. We’re exposing children to the beauties of what the entrepreneurial community does,” says Mariotti.
The Future Belongs to the Entrepreneur
Throughout its 25 years of existence, there have been many improvements to the organization. “The curriculum is stronger; the teacher training is stronger. The alumni services are much, much stronger. We’re digital; we’re global. We’ve gotten better every year at teaching. We’ve learned how to streamline it, how to make it more interactive, how to make it more experiential, and how to use games, activities, videos, computers,” says Mariotti.
However, the core beliefs of NFTE haven’t changed. “We still believe each kid has a gift in entrepreneurship, has unique knowledge that can be turned into a career or a business, is in part motivated by the desire to get out of poverty, and that motivation can be turned into a lot of energy around math, reading, and writing. It gives them a concrete incentive to learn,” he says. “Street smarts can be turned into business smarts, and I believe it even more today than I did 30 years ago.”
For the future, the organization is thinking globally, by inspiring students to start their own businesses which, in turn, can help existing growing businesses. “I think the future belongs to the entrepreneur. The small business community around the world is going to be the community that solves many of the world’s problems. There are 26 million small businesses just in America. If they could each add two jobs, you eliminate all unemployment. I think that every kid in the world needs to learn about how to start a small business, and out of that you could hopefully make existing small businesses more productive, more profitable,” Mariotti says. “I think pretty much the world’s problems could be, in part, solved by the entrepreneurial and small business community. I’m very, very proud to be part of it.”
NYER’s Founders Award recognizes the achievements, commitments, and dedication of influential individuals that make a substantial impact on entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. The Founders Award will be presented at the 2012 Small Business Awards, which take place on October 10th, 2012. For more information and to book tickets, visit www.nyreport.com/awards.
Michelle Court is the managing editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.