It’s a myth that entrepreneurs are born, not made: entrepreneurial skills can be learned! And the teen years are a great time to learn them. In this article, I’ll summarize the benefits of entrepreneurship programs for high school students and recommend some great programs you can look into now.
What does a teen entrepreneurship program involve?
There is a growing number of youth entrepreneurship programs for teens, offered in various formats, that typically take students through an entire entrepreneurial process. Students develop an idea, from initial brainstorming through research, development and refinement, and testing, and then make decisions about manufacturing, pricing, distribution, and marketing. Students often get to pitch their products to an audience of mentors, investors, and family members. Some even launch their products in the real world!
As students go through these programs, they learn underlying business concepts like marketing, research, sales, and finance, and experience how a business’s different components and team members work together. In addition, these programs help students develop an entrepreneurial mindset, bringing a curious attitude to solving problems and getting comfortable working in an environment that tolerates risk, rewards creative thinking, and often features ambiguity.
Why participate in a high school entrepreneurship program?
Even if you know that creating the next Apple or Uber isn’t in your future, learning entrepreneurship skills and an entrepreneurial approach to problem-solving is a valuable experience. It’s a meaningful way to prepare for college-level academics and the 21st-century workforce, where the pace of change and influence of technology-driven innovation are increasing at an unimaginable rate. And the real-world, hands-on skills you learn by participating in a summer entrepreneurship program or competition are applicable immediately, both in class and out in the world. An entrepreneurship project is also a great addition to a college application portfolio (be sure to document the process with photos!).
“These programs helped [me] realize what problems in the world affect us and how to help solve them, as well as the logistics of entrepreneurship. They helped me learn how to pivot when a business idea was impractical, and gave me the new skill of public speaking and how to best sell myself and my ideas. And I became more comfortable being an advocate for my ideas when I had data backing them up.”—Rasya B., TYE and DECA participant, Plainview, MA
My top sampler of teen entrepreneurship programs
In the listings below, I’ve featured well-established programs with a broad reach—school-based classes, after-school clubs, and independent programs. Many of them include challenges and competitions, and some have programs for middle school and even younger students.
These highlighted listings are just a sample of the many student entrepreneurship programs available. For more ways to find great programs, see my suggestions below the listings.
Offered to: Students in under-resourced communities in grades 7-12.
BUILD teaches students how to build and run their own businesses while becoming the CEO of their own lives. The program builds 21st-century skills like communication, collaboration, problem-solving, innovation, grit, and self-management. BUILD partners directly with schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Boston, Pittsburgh, Metro DC, and New York City and has also been used in after-school programs and community centers. BUILD also has a no-cost digital offering called the Design Challenge available across the country. It’s a ten-hour curriculum where students learn the phases of Human-Centered Design, which is part of the process in entrepreneurial thinking.
Offered to: high school students.
DECA is an international non-profit association for students interested in the fields of marketing, finance, hospitality management, entrepreneurship, and business administration. Through classes, clubs, leadership opportunities, and competitive events, students explore industries and career paths. Competitions may involve an exam, a role-play scenario, or a prepared project and oral presentation. Career readiness is a primary focus of all DECA activities and events.
Offered to: high school students from the US and around the globe.
Hudson Lab Ventures believes in the awesome power of students and is providing high school students the opportunity to solve real business challenges for actual companies in collaboration with master innovators from a leading venture studio, Co-Created. Students tap into their innate creativity, collaborative problem-solving skills, strategic thinking, and entrepreneurial mindset as they learn applied entrepreneurship in either NYC or Lisbon, Portugal. As an added bonus, students will distinguish their résumés with direct innovation experience with a venture studio.
➤ Apply to join the Hudson Lab Ventures applied entrepreneurship summer program.
Offered to: students of all grade levels.
Junior Achievement is a global non-profit youth organization that offers programs in three key pathways: entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and work readiness. In the classroom-based entrepreneurship program, high school students learn about creative problem-solving and rapid business planning, developing the mindset and skills used by aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators.
➤ Ask your guidance counselor if your school offers Junior Achievement classes. You can also find a JA chapter near you.
Offered to: high school students from around the US and the world.
Students participating in LaunchX’s on-campus and online summer entrepreneurship programs start real companies. Through high-quality course materials, experienced mentors, and exceptional speakers, students gain the knowledge they need to launch a real startup, innovate, solve real problems, and make an impact together. This powerful program combines students with a wide variety of entrepreneurial interests: innovators, makers, designers, dreamers, explorers, visionaries, coders, marketers, and people who want to change the world.
➤ Apply to join the LaunchX entrepreneurship summer program.
Offered to: students in grades 6–12.
Non-profit NFTE has provided flexible, project-based learning in classrooms, camps, afterschool programs, and online formats to students worldwide for 30 years. Competitive events are a cornerstone of the NFTE experience. Every year, students compete for cash prizes in design thinking challenges, innovation challenges, and business plan competitions. With the support of a highly trained Teacher Corps and a diverse Volunteer Corps from the local community, including business leaders and entrepreneurs, NFTE learners refine their business ideas and hone their presentation skills to win seed capital they can use to grow a business or pursue their college education.
7. The Knowledge Society (TKS)
Offered to: students ages 13–17.
TKS is a 10-month online innovation program for ambitious students who want to solve the world’s biggest problems. Students at TKS learn about emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, space tech, and quantum computing; work with global organizations like the United Nations using advanced problem-solving frameworks; and access mentors from companies like Google, Tesla, Apple, Microsoft, and more.
➤ Learn about the TKS application and selection process.
Offered to: students K–12.
The free YIP curriculum, designed by the University of New Hampshire Leitzel Center, is intended to be run through schools, libraries, and extracurricular programs with guidance from educators. YIP inspires students to explore STEM while encouraging them to invent a product or process that solves a problem in their everyday lives, through hands-on, project-based activities. Lessons are age-appropriate and flexible to meet the needs of all inventors.
➤ Contact YIP to learn how to bring YIP to your school or local community organization.
Offered to: high school students.
The TYE program is dedicated to inspiring, challenging, and empowering high school students to become the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders. The program features TYE’s unique curriculum, guest speakers, and mentors that guide teams toward start-up success. Their 12-session entrepreneurship program meets on Saturdays and culminates in a Final Pitch Competition in May in which student teams compete for cash prizes—and the chance to represent their local chapter in the Global TYE Finals. TYE is currently offered in 13 cities nationwide. Their Boston chapter also offers a summer boot camp for middle school students.
➤ Applications for TYE’s program year open in the spring. Find your local chapter and learn more about their application process.
Other ways to explore entrepreneurship
To find more programs, search online for local programs, talk with teachers about opportunities, and contact colleges and universities to see if they offer summer programs, like Tuft’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Bootcamp and Babson’s Summer Study. Read my related article on exploring entrepreneurship to get more ideas. And finally, learn about high school students who are getting entrepreneurial experience by starting their own STEM organizations!