Will you have the skills needed to be successful in a rapidly changing world? Do you see solutions for problems others don’t? Are you driven to add to positive change in this world to create real impact? Have you ever thought about starting a business or joining a startup?
You might be a young innovator or entrepreneur with potential for greatness.
I’m the Founder and CEO of Catapult Ideas, a 10-week summer startup incubator for high school students looking to develop a mindset and skills for solving real world problems. I’m a young entrepreneur myself and have mentored top young entrepreneurs for more than 10 years.
Today, Catapult travels to cities of innovation, giving our young innovators and entrepreneurs access to real startup environments, talented mentors, and for a select few, opportunities to meet with potential seed investors. Most importantly, we provide an experience for students that shapes their mindset of the world and jumpstarts their journey of building the skills necessary to be successful at solving problems in the real world.
Since our inception, our alumni have generated more than $3 million and 70 percent use the skills they learned to start their second venture; our oldest entrepreneur is only 21 years old.
This post is a guide as you explore the landscape of summer entrepreneurship programs. Hopefully the tips and suggestions will help you find the best opportunity to match your needs.
Entrepreneurship is a growing field for teens. Young people are searching for something that isn’t traditionally supplied by schools. Because of this great need, many opportunities have sprung up all around the United States (and world). These range from in-school classes to after-school workshops and from programs lasting a couple of hours to a few months. Some focus on teaching concepts and theory, while others try to help you launch a real company. There is a lot out there, and a young person with entrepreneurial potential needs to carefully examine which program will be best.
What’s The Best Entrepreneurship Program For Me?
Many entrepreneurship/business programs exist solely to “teach” and “expose” students to concepts through fictitious scenarios or assignments meant to hit the checklist of an old-fashioned business plan. If you are simply looking to learn more on a conceptual level, then classroom or short-term programs will suffice.
If, instead, you want to experience what it’s like to build a real startup and you are looking to develop entrepreneurial skills and a mindset to solve problems now and in the future, then you need a different, more experiential program that uses the real world as your classroom.
At Catapult we believe that being a rockstar entrepreneur is as hard as becoming a professional athlete or musician. It takes practice and you need to start now. So if you are thinking about a summer entrepreneurship program, here are some things to look for:
Top 10 Must-Haves in a Summer Entrepreneurship Program
1. Resources you wouldn’t normally be able to access.
Resources are key and are one of the biggest added values that adult entrepreneurs get when they are accepted into adult incubator programs like Y Combinator or Techstars. Look for teen programs that offer:
Branding – You already have an uphill battle being a teen, so it’s important to have some initial branding to help give you legitimacy. In business, perception matters. Look for programs that provide this service.
Legal – There is a lot of red tape in starting a business. Look for programs that cover the basic incorporation services (if needed) so you don’t have to waste time trying to figure it out.
Entrepreneurs – Having access to entrepreneurs to speak with you and to share their experience is not only valuable insight, but also motivational. We often only see the success stories in the news, but being an entrepreneur is hard, and there are often more low points than high. It’s nice to be able to actually talk with people who are also on the journey.
2. Immersive work on a real startup.
When it comes to building your skills, nothing beats practicing in the real world. Be sure to work on a real startup that’s trying to grow, not just another school project or an idea that you come up with in a few hours. Catapult is unique in that we pair Founders (teenage entrepreneurs who already have a business) with a team of Free Agents (teenagers who show high potential and want to join a startup). You can read that Catapult’s high school startups include a wide variety of creative and practical ideas.
3. A tribe of motivated peers.
Look for a tribe of motivated, passionate, people like you who are pushing the envelope and looking to achieve their full potential. Young entrepreneurs look at the world differently and it’s vital to surround yourself with them when you are going through the process. There are a lot of programs out there that students pick to pad their resumes and you want to stay away from those if you are truly looking to become an entrepreneur. Find your people!
4. Successful alumni.
The best proof that a summer entrepreneurship program works is the success of its alumni. Have they gone on to build incredible companies, be featured in top publications and change the world around them? The value of alumni who take time away from running their own companies to teach you is priceless. Joining an influential network after the summer is especially important in your lifelong journey. Be sure to look for reviews online from alumni, or if possible, talk with them about their experience. You can let the stories of our high school entrepreneurs inspire you.
5. Less time being talked at, more time doing.
Every business is different, tackling a different problem, working through a unique issue. Programs that take a cookie-cutter approach to teaching everyone the same thing, at the same pace, isn’t realistic. That’s school. Perhaps what your team is really struggling with right now is customer discovery. In that case, we sit down with you and walk you through the best practices from startup methodology and corporate innovation. Then you spend the rest of the day making that happen. Meanwhile, another team is getting its Instagram influencer campaign off the ground, so we explain how other startups have launched these campaigns, provide you with the technical resources, and then let you and your team figure it out. The reality is there is no right answer in the back of the book that we can teach you. We can give you some knowledge but, ultimately, you and your team of talented young entrepreneurs need time and space to figure it out. Look for programs that give you the structured “unstructured” time to work on your venture with your teammates.
6. Access to investors.
At some point you need cash to build a business. Finding investors is hard and, as a young entrepreneur, it’s even harder. Ask if entrepreneurship programs have relationships with real investors and give you access to meet them to gain feedback. It’s not likely they will invest right away but the feedback and opportunity to build a relationship is priceless and will pay off over time. Catapult continues to support our alumni in making connections with investors and mentors as you pursue future endeavors.
7. Immersion in a startup environment.
When building your entrepreneurial skills, your environment plays a big part. Look for programs based in startup cities and try to stay away from stuffy college campuses. Learn from the real world, not the classroom. Some of the best entrepreneurs move to places like Silicon Valley, Chicago and New York City. These vibrant hubs of entrepreneurship are where everything is happening. Being able to walk the streets, sit in on events at Google, Facebook and Microsoft, that’s the summer experience you want to start building your skills as an entrepreneur.
8. Membership in a strong, growing network.
Think beyond the program. Explore opportunities that will expand your network well beyond when the program ends. Look for longer engagements that will give you the time to build authentic relationships with other participants, mentors, and facilitators. See if the program does anything for alumni and tries to stay connected with participants afterwards, especially if you might want to start your second business. See if they are open to leveraging their network to help you get your start. The strength of the alumni network should be a major factor in choosing your summer program.
9. Dedicated, experienced mentors.
The secret weapon to starting a business is having someone else who has actually done it. Look for programs that give you mentors for the duration of the program, not just a company visit or guest speaker. It’s even better if the mentor is assigned specifically to your team for undivided attention. Catapult recruits mentors from top business schools such as Harvard, Stanford and Chicago Booth, as well as companies like McKinsey, Bain, Google, Facebook and some of the hottest startups.
10. Parent education and engagement.
Yes, that’s right. Parents. Like it or not, they are your biggest cheerleaders and having them in your corner as you go through this challenge is critical. Often times a young entrepreneur will have parents who aren’t entrepreneurs themselves. And helping to support and nurture a young entrepreneur is difficult if you don’t know how. We have the day-long Catapult parent program so they can learn how to best support their young entrepreneur on this lifelong journey, meet the parents of other young entrepreneurs, and get a first hand look at what you are going through.
Summer is great time to flex your entrepreneurial problem solving muscles and try out something new. There are many, many, programs out there for those with business interests, so make sure you do your homework. Catapult prides itself on finding students with potential to be great future business leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs. If you are looking to be challenged, to practice new skills, form authentic relationships, and commit yourself to building a company, then apply to Catapult. We look forward to reviewing your application. Onward!