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NFTE: Partnering to Nourish the Youth Entrepreneurial Spirit


The First Annual NFTE Philadelphia Youth Business Plan Competition, May 29, 2008. Back row (left to right): Lori Perlow, NFTE Philadelphia; Chris Pavlides, Temple University; Tyree Jenkins, first place winner; Peter Boni, president & CEO of Safeguard Scientifics; Steve Mariotti, NFTE founder. Front row (left to right): Gregory Miller, third place winner; Jeffrey Sanchez, second place winner.

Walk down any street in your neighborhood or city, and it’s usually easy to identify that businesses have been established to serve the community. Now, here’s a test: Figure out what businesses are NOT there-but should be.

For some Philadelphia-area high school students, that test is called the “Opportunity Recognition Tour,” part of a curriculum developed by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).

NFTE works with teachers to provide training and curriculum for entrepreneurship lessons that encourage students to think about the possibilities of owning their own business. “We like to focus on experiential learning,” says Lori Perlow, program director for NFTE’s Philadelphia office, which opened two years ago with the support of sponsors such as the Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “We do a lesson on opportunity recognition–what exists, what doesn’t, and what the students can do to fill the gaps in their community.”

Stimulating Entrepreneurial Potential

BFTP, focused on stimulating the entrepreneurial potential of the next generation of entrepreneurs, has supported the local office for the past two years, including the program’s first annual Youth Business Plan Competition. Founded in New York in 1987, NFTE now has 12 program offices across the nation. Peter Boni, president and CEO of Safeguard Scientifics, championed the creation of the local office and is co-chairman of the Philadelphia advisory board.

NFTE was also a partner in BFTP’s new Building 100 Innovation Center dedication in May, inviting dozens of NFTE students to the new hub for entrepreneurship, ingenuity and business growth.

“They are phenomenal,” Perlow says, praising regional BFTP president and CEO RoseAnn B. Rosenthal and her staff. “RoseAnn is such a champion for our program. The fact that BFTP recognizes the need for an entrepreneur pipeline even earlier than traditionally found is what makes this partnership so meaningful.”

Collaborating on a New Venture

BFTP is now working with NFTE to create Entrepreneurship Uncovered: Leading by Example, a video series of lessons featuring successful BFTP/SEP entrepreneurs, which will be used in classrooms throughout the nation. The videos will describe the entrepreneur’s success story and offer advice to the next generation of business pioneers. In addition, the video series will be loaded into BFTP’s new interactive display at the southeastern Pennsylvania regional headquarters in Philadelphia. The interactive display will be launched during the BFTP’s 25th Anniversary Open House on December 17.

NFTE is one of several new programs supported or endorsed by BFTP to encourage future entrepreneurs. DreamIt Ventures, a business boot camp for young entrepreneurs, brings new entrepreneurs access to critical support in the form of mentors, strategists, speakers, lawyers, accountants and technologists-not to mention the entrepreneurial incubator-style setting at the Science Center. They’re also introduced to the funding sources-including angel investors, venture capitalists, private investors and public sources of funding-who can provide the first round of financing to get their prototype products to market.

Raising the Bar

Perlow says that while the idea of owning their own business may seem like a high bar for high school students in low-income neighborhoods or communities, it is important to provide them with the incentive, encouragement and training to realize their dreams.

Students are taught how to prepare and present a business plan, which they can enter in the citywide Youth Business Plan Competition. Two Philadelphia area students went on to the national competition in New York City, and while they did not win, the experience and access to successful business people proved invaluable for them, Perlow says.

“It’s important to give options to our students,” she says. “Some may decide not to go down the road to entrepreneurship, but that’s okay, as long as they have the exposure to the concept.”

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Keynotes December, 2008
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