Youth Entrepreneurial Programs Vie for Market Share

Bill Alexander
November 1, 1997

Shortly after World War I, junior Achievement (JA) created the concept of introducing school-age youth to entrepreneurs who related their success stories and walked the students through the start up of a mock business. Calm were the waters as JA monopolized the straight-laced youth entrepreneurial field for nearly 60 years.

The Camden School System serves as an example of how things have heated up in a highly sophisticated, fast-growing, rough-and tumble youth enterprise field where dozens of companies nationwide now vie for millions of dollars in contracts.

The Education, Training and Enterprise Center (EDTEC), headquartered here, is a for-profit packager of school curricula, considered by many in the field to be a model program with a track record of student responsiveness. While sharing territory with the non-profit Junior Achievement of South Jersey Inc. — each singles out the other for sharp criticism over their differing approaches.

Although this city may serve as a case study of undercutting and sniping at the competition, observers have noted a tendency nationwide to get down and dirty, fierce and funky, when youth entrepreneurial program dollars are up for grabs.

'Killing the Field'

"Speaking only for myself, rivalry is killing the field. Instead of a coalition of groups coming together, sharing war stores and improving the field, fragmentation persists," said Brian Dabson, executive director of the-Washington, D.C.-based Corporation for Enterprise Development, who, along with Barbara Kaufman of the D.C.-based Institute for Educational Leadership, co-wrote a soon-to-be-released Lilly Endowment and Ford Foundation co-funded study of youth enterprise programs.

Marilyn Kourilsky, director of the Kansas City, Mo.-based Ewing Marion Kaufiman Foundation's Institute for Entrepreneurship Education, said that those seeking Kauffman backing for youth entrepreneurial projects invariably "need to take potshots at other programs" to make theirs look good.

The Colorado Springs-based Junior Achievement, granddaddy of them all, is especially singled out. Its approach is considered "old hat" by many. Others question its pertinence in the youth entrepreneurial field.

Kourilsky, unaware of the backbiting in Camden, declares: 'Teachers didn't want their program, but [JA] found a way to get corporations to buy their materials, who in turn, donated them to school districts and then declared this as a non-profit deduction. It's a wonderful case of a non-profit marketing success."

Furthermore, she says, "JA is not an entrepreneurial program; it is a good business management program. We want kids to get ideas, generate ideas. and encourage small organizations. We do far more teacher training than JA does."

‘No Comprehensive Census'

The true dollars-and-cents scope of youth entrepreneurial programs as a marketing venture and the number of companies actively engaged in this effort is unknown. The Lilly/Ford study says. "No comprehensive census of the youth enterprise field has been taken to date. This is partly because of the rapid growth of the field, and partly because no organization has as yet emerged to serve as a point of registry for existing and new programs."

Steve Mariotti, president and founder of the New York City based National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) a strong believer in the pulling together of youth entrepreneurial efforts into a recognized field of mutual cooperation, research and study, ventures that. 'The whole budget in our field is, maybe $8 million, involving, at maximum, 10,000 kids. I could introduce you to everyone in two days. It's tiny, inbred."

Others, however, cite higher economic stakes and agree with the study that the number of entrants in the youth entrepreneurial sweepstakes are escalating.

Joint Effort

The Kauffman Foundation, an out-front leader in the development of youth entrepreneurial programs and curriculums for many years, has partnered with EDTEC on a much-praised curriculum, EDTEC, located in down-town Camden — the burial place of poet Walt Whitman and birthplace of Campbell Soup is housed in a 4,500 square-foot facility that offers up its second floor to silk-screening classes for youth. It has had a three-year relationship with Kauffman's Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership involving collaboration on a 12-module, experience-based curriculum called the New Youth Entrepreneur for middle and high school students.

"It took six months for lawyers to work out how the foundation could participate in a joint effort with a for-profit-company," said EDTEC co-founder George Waters.

The program, which has been translated into Spanish, is featured in a National Business Education Association multi-regional series of entrepreneurship education workshops, and has been used by Communities in Schools, HUD and the Peace Corps.

Decades-long Economic Funk

Waters, 50, and his partner, Aaron Bocage, 48, created EDTEC, along with what was then known as the New Entrepreneurs program, in 1985, after years of being a part of local youth development and social services activities. Prior to EDTEC, for example, they opened 'The Lunch Box" and "Little Bo Pizza,” small restaurants that employed adjudicated juvenile offenders as staff. Kinks were ironed out such as the mayonnaise-hating sandwich man who kept telling customers who asked for it how nasty it was.

The businesses eventually failed, but Camden itself has been in a deep economic funk for decades. A former booming, industrial area and factory town (remember RCA Victor?) located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, it began to empty out some 30 years ago when large firms shut down or fled. Between 1958 and 1972, the city lost 56 percent of its retail establishments. As the city’s employment opportunities dried up, its now mall-festooned suburbs became prosperous with out-flight and industrial parks. Camden's unemployment rate last year was 16.7 percent; Camden County's averaged 6 percent. Camden is a city of children. With an 87,000-population, 31,000 are under age 18. And 37 percent of all Camden households are now below the poverty level.

While it is home to the New Jersey State Aquarium and a revitalized, attraction-studded waterfront that offers a spectacular view of an up-and-at-em Philadelphia, it's borders also contain the bomb-strafed-like landscape of North Camden where there is no business district.

Visitor Warned Away

A recent visitor to Camden was warned away by the president of junior Achievement of South Jersey. Inc. (which includes Camden County), Mark Whitehead: "It is a dangerous... a very rough city. Grinding, unrelenting poverty. The cabbies [at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station] won't take you there. I can meet you at the Hyatt House on Route 70."

Some days later, after barely closing the door as the cabbie zoomed away from 30th Street Station, the visitor arrived within minutes at EDTEC on an extremely mild fall day, and was greeted by the door at 313 Market Street flung open wide for all who chose to enter off of clean, well-swept sidewalks and streets.

"You either believe in the city or you don't," said EDTEC's Bocage when informed of Whitehead's comments.

At its beginning, as one of the first programs to deal directly with at risk and hard-to-reach youngsters, the EDTEC staked out hard-won territory by being able to deliver.

On the basis of a contract to train youth workers. Bocage and Waters — each of whom earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania — moved to Cincinnati in 1986. "Our intention was to build an infrastructure that would be ongoing, but after a year the contract ran out, and when we left town, so did our program. We were discovering we were no longer living in a social services world. With our background in youth development, we knew how to impact on values and attitudes that would sustain youth for the long run. We watched the MBA-types marketing their wares and selling their sizzle from city to city, but when the kids nodded out and stopped coming to these classes, and the evaluators came in, the marketers [of youth entrepreneur pro-grams] just packed up their program and moved on to another city. We were determined never to be in this kind of situation again," said Waters.

Breakthrough Contracts

The return to Camden led to EDTEC's breakthrough when summer youth employment contracts, such as the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), came its way EDTEC reconfigured the standard, cookie-cutter approach of here's-what's available-so-fit-it-in to a more flexible curriculum that matched Camden's economic contours and ignited individual acumen. The 14- and 15-year-olds were taught how to run micro-enterprises home repair, silk screening, custom car cleaning, etc, — through a 12-notebook process, that took them through every step of creating a business.

In the past, “These programs were generally run by so-called 'youth employment professionals."' Recalls Waters, "who basically programmed youth to passively fill jobs, not create them. So when positions "did open up. you had the phenomenon of 2,000 youngsters showing up for 200 jobs."

Says Bocage: "We got them excited by making them recognize entrepreneurial opportunities in their neighborhoods. We showed them how to support themselves while pursuing a career. Some went to barber school, for example, while getting permission from courthouse officials to wash cars. When they started at the very bottom, we held them up as heroes. We let them see where they didn't have to steal."

Into the Schools

Word got out. Things happened. In the early '90s, at one of the end-of-cycle celebratory banquets, the Camden school superintendent, making a first appearance at one of these functions, was approached by dozens of parents demanding to know why the EDTEC curriculum was not incorporated into the city's school system. Talks were held, and a relationship between the two soon ensued that lasts until today.

After some five years, Bocage and Waters are achieving their wish of "institutionalizing" their program into the curricula of middle schools and an alternative high school in the Camden School System. Daily classes are taught in the participating schools by EDTEC-trained teachers who refer to the 12 modules, or lesson plans, that range from "Getting Ready for Entrepreneurship." through "How to Mind Your Own Business." Business plans, record keeping, and how to raise capital are some of the areas covered. Computer literacy is a also a part of the program. Two sessions are held at EDTEC headquarters, where the silk-screen apparatus and phone bank are used to market and make T-shirts to specification for local schools and other organizations.

"The curriculum is not designed to stand alone, because we believe in the concept of overall youth development. Math and English literacy skills are most EDTEC Co-founder Aaron Bocage important in developing entrepreneurial skills, so our focus is to train the trainers, the teachers conducting the EDTEC classes, so that they can pitch excitement to the kid in the back of the room who may say, 'I can do this," says Waters. 'Then you encourage the students to take the books home, share them with their siblings, and, as some have done, come up with a way to help their parents pay the rent."

"The idea," says Kauffman's Kourilsky, "is to make things happen in their lives." Kourilsky lauds EDTEC's teacher training approach and endorses EDTEC's belief that more youth workers should be recruited as instructors. Says Kourilsky: "We've had some experience with it with 4-H Clubs. They are more used to being interactive with the students, and many are bilingual. We've had wonderful successes."

'No Measurable Outcomes'

As the Lilly/Ford study points out, "Very few of the (youth entrepreneurial) programs have measurable outcomes... funds are limited [and] there is little long-term follow-up and study of youth who have participated in their programs." Bocage and Waters say they will soon put in place a tracking system to monitor EDTEC results after students leave the program.

Junior Achievement's Whitehead, in referring to EDTEC several times as a "rival," said its program was "okay... not great. EDTEQ "needs a good teacher... and sometimes its difficult to get someone to show care and concern. I understand there were some difficulties last year with the teachers' union and school administrators ... they couldn't come together on who would teach the program."

Ten Camden schools, mostly K-8, feature JA weekly 45-minute presentations given by volunteers from the counts business and civic community. "We call them consultants," says Whitehead. Bankers, bookkeepers and accountants, many of them members of Kiwanis or Rotary clubs, plus representatives of the police and fire departments and the arts community make up the majority of the instructors. Whitehead freely acknowledges that most of his consultants come from outside the city.

"The schools are islands of sanctuary for the children, where they can get two meals a day," observed Whitehead.

JA South Jersey, located in affluent Moorestown, focuses on the corporate environment, said Whitehead, "because sole entrepreneurs stand less than one-third of a chance of surviving. We stress cognitive thinking and group decision-making."

Whitehead added: "Our consultants encourage [the students] to move out of the realm of Camden."

"Junior Achievement looks down on these youngsters, while we personally value them," said Bocage.

Stella Horton, executive director of Camden's Juvenile Resource Center, Inc., who goes back to the old Lunch Box days with Bocage and Waters, noted: "We know from experience that the greatest opportunities are presented from situations others view as dismal and hopeless. Camden is ripe for change."

Colorado Springs Responds

JA South Jerseys parent in Colorado Springs refers to itself as "the world's largest and fastest-growing economic education organization. JA claims it reaches nearly 3 million students each year in cities, suburbs and rural areas. It operates on a $9.5-million annual budget from contributors that include over 200 U.S. corporate and foundation grants, and has 1,400 employees in 232 local operations in every state.

Richard Van Scotter, JA's vice president in charge of educational marketing, says the characterizations leveled against his organization are "understandable."

"Historically during our first 60 years we were strictly entrepreneurial with our after-school classes at JA sites. Since the late 70s, we've gone into schools and broadened our scope to balance this with economic literacy. So now, we're 40 percent entrepreneurship and 60 percent economic literacy. We dwell more on the corporate environment than solo ownership."

'Not A Bad Idea'

NFTE's Mariotti, so well connected he landed New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman as a presenter at NFTE's spring Awards Dinner in Manhattan and just recently signed a deal with Microsoft's Bill Gates for the creation of an Internet entrepreneurial service that will provide free access to low-income neighborhoods nation-wide, thinks well of both EDTEC and JA. Of Bocage and Waters, he says: "They were my mentors for three years."

Like EDTEC, NFTE introduces at-risk teens from inner cities and other low-income communities to the world of entrepreneurship by teaching them how to develop and operate their own small businesses. But unlike EDTEC, and like JA, Mariotti said the NFTE program is designed to stand alone.

"When you bite off more than you can chew, everything gets screwed up."'

Of the contention that there are rivalries in the field, Mariotti was the sole dissenter interviewed, but he was emphatic in his dissent:" I'm not aware of it. The whole focus is to help kids." But even that is up for dispute. Jed Emerson, who once ran the Larkin Street Youth Center and is now director of the San Francisco-based Roberts Foundation's Homeless Economic Development Fund, is aware of the tensions in the youth enterprise market with "trying to raise money and get funding." But beyond that, he says, "mainstream, traditional programs don't deal with the barriers [to youth employability and enterprise creation] and school curriculums don't deal with the breadth of issues.

"What about the 15-year-olds with child care problems and the 17 year-olds with poor math skills who don't know how to operate a cash register."

Emerson notes that there are very few foundation players in his arena providing financial support for non-profit business development projects that provide employment for homeless, delinquent and other very hard-to-serve youth. "If you make an investment in a work environment, you have a greater capacity to engage [those involved in the enterprise]."

In 1995, for example Juma Ventures, a spin-off of the San Francisco-based Larkin Street Youth Center, with backing from Roberts, developed a partnership with Ben & Jerry's to open a scoop shop in the city.

Kourilsky, in responding to the question whether the Kauffman Foundation "should serve as a convener to all those who wish to offer constructive criticism and look for ways to improve the field, said: 'That's not a bad idea."

After thinking a bit, she added: "Meeting here might be intimidating with $1.6 billion in the air. But it could be hands off on viewpoints. We could really have a dialogue. That's not a bad idea."


Brian Dabson


Corporation for Enterprise Development

777 N. Capitol St., NE. Ste. 410

Washington, DC 20002

(202) 408-9788

Fax: (202) 408-9793

Stella Horton

Executive Director

Juvenile Resource Center, Inc.

315 Cooper St.

Camden, NJ 08102

(609) 963-4060

Fax: (609) 963-4773

Eloisa Hemandez

Association for Children of New Jersey

35 Halsey St.

Newark, NJ 07102

(201) 643-3876

Fax: (201) 643-9153

Aaron Bocage

George Waters Co-Founders


313 Market St.

Camden, NJ 08102

(800) 963-9361

Fax: (609) 963-8110


Steve Mariotti


National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship

120 Wall St., 29th Fl.

New York, NY 10005

(212) 232-3333

Fax: (212) 232-2244

Marilyn Kourilsky

Vice President

Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

4900 Oak St.

Kansas City, MO 64112

(816) 932-1000

Mark Whitehead


Junior Achievement of South Jersey, Inc.

10 West Main St.

Moorestown, NJ 08057

(609) 222-1090

Fax: (609)222-1090

Jed Emerson


Homeless Economic Development Fund

The Roberts Foundation

P.O. Box 29906

San Francisco, CA 94129-0906

(415) 561-6533


Alexander, Bill. "Youth Entrepreneurial Programs Vie for Market Share." Youth Today, November/December 1997, p. 1.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.