If you’re a high school student, you may think of entrepreneurship as something to study in college or do after college. But what if you have creative ideas today that could transform the world or make a difference in your community? I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to wait until college—you can start exploring entrepreneurship now through programs and activities specifically designed for high school students.
Don’t wait for college. Start exploring entrepreneurship now!
People often think entrepreneurs are born, not made. But an entrepreneurial mindset and skills can be learned! And there’s no need to wait to start—or finish—college before dipping your toes in the entrepreneurial water. You have many options for exploring teen entrepreneurship programs today, especially through the lenses of STEM, business, and startups. I’m also seeing increasing numbers of social entrepreneurship programs for high school students who want to use technology as a catalyst for change and a force for good.
Don’t worry. No experience is required!
You don’t have to be an entrepreneur already or have experience and business knowledge to participate in an entrepreneurship program. Many of these programs include mentorship and instruction, so even if you’re just curious and attracted to the idea but have no experience, you will get a lot out of it. Students always tell me how much these programs boost confidence! Even if you come in with little knowledge, you can expect to leave a program with a plethora of skills to continue exploring entrepreneurship.
The benefits of high school entrepreneurship programs
Regardless of the field you may work in someday, an entrepreneurial mindset can help you prepare for the 21st-century workplace. Even non-STEM employers will be looking for skilled problem-solvers and creative thinkers who are comfortable working with technology.
And if college is in your future, the skills you’ve learned will help you thrive in academia. You’ll develop creativity, problem-solving, planning, collaboration, curiosity, and resilience muscles that you can flex in college and beyond! Plus, the project(s) you complete now will be a great addition to your college application portfolio.
Over the years, I’ve spoken to and mentored teen entrepreneurs who have really enjoyed their entrepreneurship programs, finding them both challenging and personally rewarding. In the process, students learn the importance of solid preparation—for pitches, difficult questions, competitions, meetings with mentors, and other resources—which brought them personal growth and success in their venture. They also benefit from collaborating, working in teams, and learning to network with other students, mentors, and industry experts.
5 great ways to explore entrepreneurship today!
You can find high school entrepreneurship programs across various settings, including in-person and virtual programs, school-based classes and clubs, out-of-school programs, and competitions. Some are academically rigorous, introducing you to the principles of creating and launching a business. Others focus heavily on technology, while some focus on making a positive social impact, addressing important issues like climate action, clean water, clean energy, and health and well-being. Many are project-focused and hands-on, so it’s not just theoretical: you’ll have something to show for your work at the end.
Here are five areas where you can learn about and experience entrepreneurship firsthand.
I am a big fan of podcasts—you can get lots of inspiration and learn from the stories of entrepreneurs of all ages!
My favorite entrepreneurial podcast is How I Built This, hosted by Guy Raz of NPR. Each week, Guy interviews the founders of a well-known company and goes in-depth to learn about their journey launching a business—including the highs and lows typical of a startup. These stories are fascinating, always inspiring, and a great way to get introduced to entrepreneurship.
I also like the Prof G Pod featuring author, professor, and entrepreneur Scott Galloway. Each week, you get smart insights into what’s driving the economy, business, and innovation, as well as Scott’s career advice for young adults.
2. School Classes
Many schools offer entrepreneurship education through classroom-based courses and programs like Junior Achievement and DECA. Review the course selection at your school and see if they offer an entrepreneurial class (note that your school may call it something else). If they don’t, you and your parents can request the school to add one.
3. School Clubs
Your school may have a student-run entrepreneur or business club, an excellent way to get a taste of what entrepreneurship is like. If your school doesn’t, how about starting one yourself? It would be a great entrepreneurial exercise of its own, especially if you can find like-minded classmates to help you set it up.
4. After-School Programs, Summer Camps, and Pre-College Programs
Another option is to participate in an entrepreneurial program outside of school. Three well-known programs come to mind: TiE Young Entrepreneurs (TYE), LaunchX, and TKS. You can learn more about each program in my entrepreneurship program article.
You can also find summer entrepreneurial camps and pre-college programs at some universities. For example, the Boston chapter of TYE runs a summer boot camp for middle school students. These programs generally run for one to three weeks.
While these types of programs all have a slightly different focus, they typically walk you through the entire entrepreneurial process, where you take an idea and figure out how to turn it into a viable business. Along the way, you’ll be taught specific business skills and get firsthand experience working across multiple disciplines, like technology, operations, marketing, and finance, as you solve problems and find innovative solutions.
You’ll experience the real-world false starts, failures, and disappointments that all entrepreneurs face at some time, and the unstructured, risk-oriented environment of the startup business, where you need to take initiative and make decisions (sometimes without all the information, data, or clarity you would like). There’s often adult mentorship and teamwork involved, too.
Note: Some programs require a significant time commitment and dedicated effort by participants, including creating specific deliverables and sometimes traveling to presentations or competitions; they also often require an application process.
Another way to get real-world experience is to participate in student entrepreneurship competitions like the Changemaker Challenge, Diamond Challenge, and Technovation Girls, to name a few. You’ll get practice pitching your business idea and seeing others do the same, and it’s a great opportunity to network and make connections. Some competitions include mentorship, funding, and monetary rewards.
Whatever your thoughts and plans for the future, your interests, and the activities you’re already involved in, anyone can be an entrepreneur or have entrepreneurial traits. The skills and mindset of an entrepreneur will benefit you in the dynamic 21st-century work environment. Check out my article on specific entrepreneurial programs to get inspired and excited about learning to think like an innovator!