Inspiring Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Two young people looking out across a lake
Children must be taught how to think, not what to think. – Margaret Mead

Any investment in knowledge pays the best interest. – Benjamin Franklin

Last weekend I returned to camp for the first time in a long while! Camp Enterprise was held at a peaceful retreat in rural Wellington County, south of Guelph, Ontario. A group of over 50 high school students from nearby Burlington and Oakville came together for 3 days to learn about business, sponsored by the local Rotary clubs. I came to help with logistics, but ended up gaining much more through the energy and enthusiasm of the participants.

Many high schools in Halton provide a “Specialist High Skills Major” or SHSM in Business. The SHSM program allows students to focus their education in an area of interest and gain related training. Meeting the requirements of their SHSM is acknowledged with a special seal on their Ontario Secondary School Diploma. The SHSM can also help differentiate students when they apply to college or university programs. Business is one of the most popular majors for post-secondary students, accounting for about 19% of Bachelor’s degrees awarded in the US in 2015. Many parents and students feel that majoring in business provides a good return on their investment in education.

Personally, I didn’t take any business classes in high school other than grade 9 typing (which has been extremely helpful!). In university, I had a single business course in my Engineering program. Everything else I’ve learned through experience and independent study. Now I like nothing better than to read a business book, but this has come to me later in life as I’ve realized its importance. The students that attended Camp Enterprise on the weekend had an opportunity to gain a huge head start in their careers through the generosity of the speakers who donated their time and knowledge.

The first speaker, a successful realtor, talked about ways to lead with purpose, focusing on six discipline areas and habits for success in each area: self, spiritual, physical, time, money and growth. He emphasized that regular disciplined practice will win over natural talent in the long term. For each area, you should rate yourself then consider what it would take to increase your score by 1 or 2 points out of 10. You can be your own coach by evaluating where you need to improve and applying disciplined work in these areas. He also shared some of his own habits such as blocking his time, following routines, and front-loading his week to free up time with family on a regular basis. He emphasized building around your gifts, engaging people in your vision of the future, and living with a mindset of abundance.

The next speaker used magic tricks to teach about the WOW factor in marketing – Wonder, Opportunity and Wisdom. Another speaker outlined an approach to critical thinking. He guided the students through identifying their personal Myers-Briggs Type and illustrated how these preferences aligned with the thinking process: Gather, Generate, Evaluate, and Agree. “Sensors” are good at gathering detailed information, while “Intuitive” excel at generating alternatives. “Thinkers” have strengths in evaluation of alternatives, while “Feelers” are adept at gaining agreement. This thinking process can be applied to making critical decisions in life in a more systematic way, leveraging different types of thinking.

Attendees were impressed by a younger speaker who talked about the benefits he gained from networking. He suggested figuring out your top values and then volunteering for causes that have meaning for you. He gained confidence and competence through his charitable work, leading to the chance to manage the campaign of the former Mayor of Burlington. His advice included: jumping on new opportunities, making yourself noticeable, giving more than you take, being a good listener, asking questions, thinking about long term relationships and always following up. Another speaker, from the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, provoked a lively debate about business ethics in a variety of cases.

In addition to speakers, there were dynamic business and negotiation games, a chance to meet professionals from the community, develop infomercials, and play campfire games. Over the course of the weekend the students went from individuals from different schools, to a team, bonded through their shared experiences. I’m grateful to have been a part of this journey.

What business lessons would you share with a group of high school students? What do you wish that you had learned when you were younger? How do you continue to keep learning and improving? What inspires you as an entrepreneur?


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