By Rieva Lesonsky

The world is full of future Mark Zuckerbergs and Steve Jobses who just haven’t gotten out of high school yet. Consider the results of a new Gallup poll in which more than 40 percent of U.S. students in grades 5 through 12 said they want to start their own small businesses or invent a world-changing innovation.

There are some encouraging signs that these kids’ wishes are more likely to come true than they might have been in past decades. Today, almost six out of 10 students polled say their school allows them to take classes in starting and running a business. Considering that these are elementary through high school students—not college-age kids–I’d say that’s pretty impressive.

But there’s also one discouraging sign: Real-world experience is somewhat lacking in these kids’ lives. Only 22 percent have any actual experience in the world of business or entrepreneurship. Just in four (26 percent) high school students report working more than one hour at a paying job in the past week, and only 10 percent of high school students are currently interning with a local business.

As most entrepreneurs would agree, having real-world experience with business and entrepreneurship is often a deciding factor in whether one starts a business. My father and grandfather were entrepreneurs back at a time when that word wasn’t even used very often, and it certainly influenced my decision to launch a company of my own. That theory is borne out by the study findings that young people whose parents own businesses are more likely to want to be entrepreneurs themselves (49 percent compared to 40 percent of students whose parents don’t own businesses).


What does this all have to do with you? If we want to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs—whether that’s your son or daughter, niece or nephew or your grandkids—we have to take responsibility for helping them learn about business. Hiring a young person who wants to start a business someday can be a win-win situation for both of you. You get an employee who is curious and motivated to learn, to whom you can explain your point of view and why you do things the way you do them. They get hands-on experience and the chance to make a difference in a business at a young age—if they have good ideas, that is.


Do you know a young person who wants to start a business? See if they’d be interested in learning from you. Are you looking to hire? Consider seeking out employees or interns in places you may not have before—on high school or college campuses—to take advantage of the natural energy and enthusiasm young employees and interns can bring.