Venture capitalist spirit starting early

first_img“It needs to become a standard part of education nationwide as a way to give students a way to take ownership of their futures.” But critics say these “kiddie MBA” programs – often sponsored by corporations – are thinly veiled advertisements that undercut the nonprofit motive of public education. They worry that dividing students into teams, then appointing one person president and giving lesser roles to other kids, needlessly exposes children to the cutthroat world of corporate America. “If you’re just trying to make every student want to be an entrepreneur, that’s not necessary and could be harmful,” said Ikhlaq Sidhu, who runs the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of California at Berkeley. He applauds any program that teaches kids communication and sales skills. But in a nation desperate for more rank-and-file scientists and engineers, emphasizing business ownership might send the wrong message to students who have no desire to start a company, Sidhu said. At Jean Parker, students meet once a week for a couple of hours with businesspeople such as Bobby Napiltonia, a Salesforce.com senior vice president. Earlier this month, he pretended to be a VC for Amy Lee and other fifth-graders – something he himself did when launching his own Internet startup before joining Salesforce. “One of the kids was actually sweating, he was so nervous when he was pitching me. I thought, `Hey, I know that feeling!”‘ Napiltonia said. “The best part of this is that they are learning that in the real world, they can do whatever they want, as long as they can get investors to get on board. It’s empowering.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SAN FRANCISCO – Like any ambitious entrepreneur, Amy Lee has created a global marketing plan, approved the product manufacturing specifications and memorized a business pitch to venture capitalists. “I’m nervous, but I think I can get people to invest,” said the president and founder of Friends Forever Bracelet Inc., a jewelry retailer that plans a major Internet advertising campaign in China. After a brief conversation with investors, she walked away with $32 in fake currency – no treasure for a Silicon Valley executive, but a proud fortune for an 11-year-old girl. Amy is a fifth-grader at San Francisco’s Jean Parker Elementary School, where she’s enrolled in a monthlong crash course in the fundamentals of business administration. The students learn new words such as “revenue” and “prototype,” meet venture capitalists and executives, and even tour the glass offices of San Francisco’s financial district. At the end of the month, they all sell their bracelets to fourth-graders. Whichever team makes the most make-believe “BizBucks” wins the contest, and everyone celebrates with a big party sponsored jointly by San Francisco-based software company Salesforce.com and BizWorld Foundation, a nonprofit founded by a local venture capitalist. The program is one of many that aim to teach business skills to kids. Some, such as Colorado-based Junior Achievement, have been around for generations and are offered at schools around the world. But the programs, long commonplace in America’s high schools, are increasingly being offered to students in middle and even elementary schools, advocates say, and are reaching a more diverse population than ever before. Jean Parker, for example, is on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown and many students are the children of first-generation Asian immigrants. Advocates say the initiative gets students thinking about entrepreneurship, finance, marketing and other real-world jobs, expanding their options beyond firefighters, veterinarians and other typical fifth-grade career picks. Proponents – including millionaire backers from the tech industry – want every school in America to teach business basics. “Business curriculum engages students in learning much more than the basic `two-plus-two-is-four’ system, and it gives them a way to connect to their education,” said Gerald Richards, executive director for the Bay Area Office of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. The group sponsors its own business school-style programs for students age 11 through 18 in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. last_img