I’ve always admired entrepreneurs and I’m amazed whenever I see obvious signs of the entrepreneurial spirit, especially in young people. It’s like looking into the future and witnessing greatness.
I remember one young man in particular. I first met him when he was working as a car hop at one of those drive-up burger places where you eat in your car. This kid was incredible. I had never seen a person hustle like this. While his coworkers lazily sauntered to the cars, he practically ran back and forth between the order window and his customers, always with a smile. I remember telling my wife, “Look at this kid. He’s going places.” He even brought extra napkins and a non-messy treat for my daughter. And, he wasn’t after tips. The company didn’t allow it.
A few years later I encountered him again. Apparently he had started an english language tutor and mowing lawns while in middle school, as many kids do. But this young man didn’t just settle for a few customers. He had grown his business into a full service lawn care and landscaping business that employed him and a few of his high-school buddies. He had five commercial mowers and a couple of nicely painted trucks and trailers. His place of business was his Dad’s barn and his Mom was the bookkeeper. I loved his fire.
Sometimes business owners are portrayed as evil or greedy money grubbers who care only about the almighty dollar. Sure, there are people like that but most successful business owners just love the game and thrive on growing a successful business. Their efforts create jobs for others and fuel the economy.
When compared to Communist or Socialist countries where property ownership is limited, non-existent or taxed into oblivion, America has a history of business ownership, wealth creation and job creation that fuels our economic machine.
Even in a recession, risk-takers abound. Take, for example, 14-year old Cody Behrns of Pittsford, New York. A skateboarding enthusiast, Behrns had already been making his own skateboard decks, the board that you stand on, for two years. An eighth grader, Behrns was encouraged by his father to turn his hobby into a business. With Dad’s help and money, he bought the inventory and fixtures of a skate shop and opened Small Town Skate Shop, a store catering to the growing skater community. Their location is a train caboose which still stands on abandoned railroad tracks.
Now a 15-year old high school freshman, Cody doesn’t spend his evenings watching TV any more. In addition to his homework, he is making plans to grow his business through a website and his passion for social networking venues such as Facebook and MySpace.
I’m convinced that much of the entrepreneurial spirit comes from parents. Some kids are brought up with a passion for risk and success while others are raised to be part of a dependent class, afraid of risk and terrified of failure. Stories abound about people who start and fail at multiple ventures before they finally find their niche and succeed. I also think kids who participate in school activities such as sports, theater or choir learn about hard work, success and failure. The winners are the ones who learn from failure, work harder and keep trying.
There’s an interesting public television program where kids teach kids about money and business. BizKid features case studies about kids who start businesses. The program shows how to write a business plan, secure financing, and promote the business. It also shows how to deal with the occasional set-back. Encourage your children or grandchildren to check it out.
As I said, I love entrepreneurs. I love their spark, their passion, their optimism. With all of the pessimism around these days, it’s a thrill and honor to be in the presence of such people.
At a time when communities are exploring ways to identify and encourage budding entrepreneurs, I’d suggest looking for them in the more unusual places. That future business owner could be anywhere from the local factory to the drive-in burger place. He or she might even be the kid walking down the street, pushing a mower from yard to yard.