Start Them Young
Junior Achievement invites student to trust their “Crazy Ideas.”
How many entrepreneurs’ first business was a lemonade stand in front of their house?
The data may not be in just yet, but that hasn’t stopped Junior Achievement (JA) of Greater New Orleans from launching its “Trust Your Crazy Ideas” challenge for students in the metro area. In 2014, only its second year, 1,900 students participated. And potential financial backers have already approached last year’s winner.
Junior Achievement is partnering with the Idea Village and the Brees Dream Foundation to help the program — which runs each year from August to March — reach even more students in 2015. Any school in the metro area can participate. The program begins with a seven-lesson, teacher-taught curriculum that shows students how to produce a business plan, and local professionals volunteer to help participants finalize their plans at the end.
“We prepare them with skills that will be valuable across many situations,” said new JA President Larry Washington, who noted that the program also teaches marketing, budgeting and business ethics. “We are encouraging social responsibility while we are encouraging entrepreneurship.”
JA reviews the business plans; the top 20 plans (which can be produced by individuals or teams of up to four students) qualify for the next round. Winners are announced at a press conference featuring Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
After semifinalists attend a series of workshops at JA headquarters, where they are mentored by real-life entrepreneurs, they pitch their ideas in front of 200 people at a Pitch Party night. The final four are announced a few weeks later at halftime during a Pelicans game.
The final pitch is held on the last day of Entrepreneur Week (held this year in March), which has the added advantage of exposing the participants’ ideas to some pretty heavy financial hitters.
All the finalists receive cash prizes, as well as their schools. (The participants’ funds are held until they go to college, and then sent straight to their schools to help pay for tuition.)
In reality, though, all participants are winners.
“The challenge is about more than creating a business plan,” said Brees recently. “It is designed to educate, motivate and inspire students by giving them valuable communication and presentation skills that will help them in every aspect of life.”
“Beyond entrepreneurship, the program simply exposes them to potential futures,” added Liz Lund, education projects manager. “It encourages them to stay in school.”
Many of the business-community coaches continue mentoring the participants after the program is over, helping develop life skills and lessons. And this year, the program is adding a day of volunteerism to teach the students the value of giving back.
The “Trust Your Crazy Ideas” challenge is hopefully the breeding ground for the next generation of New Orleans-area entrepreneurs, but it is also much more than that. As Brees observed, “It’s all about inspiring the kids!”
For more information about the “Trust Your Crazy Ideas” challenge, and to sign up to participate, visit TrustYourCrazyIdeasChallenge.org.
Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.