Reading, Writing, Running a Company
The Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City funds programs and research on entrepreneurship and education. This month Kauffman will bring its dual missions together in the form of EntrepreneurshipWeek USA. The program, to be held between February 24 and March 3, includes thousands of activities nationwide (for a list, go to entrepreneurshipweekusa.com). The goal is to introduce the notion of business ownership to kids. Carl J. Schramm, the head of the foundation, which was endowed with the pharmaceutical fortune of Ewing Marion Kauffman, also outlined his views on kids and entrepreneurship in the recent book The Entrepreneurial Imperative. Schramm (shown at left) recently talked with Inc.'s Mike Hofman.
What has been interesting or surprising to you about the response to the book?
My editor suggested I include four letters in the book: one to the next President, one to an unemployed worker, one to parents, and one to my kids. And the letters to parents and to my own kids have gotten tremendous feedback. The most common response I get is from parents who say, I read your book, and then I made my kid read the letter you wrote to your kids.
What did people like about the letters?
If you go to a bookstore, the "how to be a parent" section ends when the kid gets out of diapers or maybe after the second grade. But today, parents are looking for more advice, because they have a sense of how fast the economy is moving. It took me 18 months to do this book. On the day that I started writing, YouTube had not yet been incorporated, and during the week the book was published, YouTube was sold for $1.6 billion. So parents understand that the economy is hugely different today, and they worry that their kids aren't prepared.
Is that why the Kauffman Foundation put together EntrepreneurshipWeek USA?
Yes. Even though entrepreneurship is an integral part of America's history and the key to our prosperity, our schools have never given the subject its due. When I was a kid, we were taught that the great innovators were the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell…people who were dead. Living entrepreneurs were invisible.
Is that still true today?
The schools still don't talk much about entrepreneurs, but the good news is that every kid knows about the Facebook guys and Tom from MySpace. That's an incredibly positive development.
Great Britain has a weeklong program similar to the one you're trying to create here. What has its impact been?
It's been tremendous. They call it Enterprise Week, and they have thousands of events, which they support with BBC programming. You could not see it and not be impressed by its reach. As a matter of policy, every British high school student visits a young company, for example. In the U.S., we're the opposite: We're real expert on entrepreneurship broadly speaking, but we don't have a deep culture that supports it in our schools. So I thought, why not take the opportunity to push it on our kids?
What do you say to people who think that, instead of learning about making money, kids would be better served by spending time on another subject or even in gym?
I disagree. Kids can't start too young to be in charge of their own education, in charge of their own economic life. When you realize that what you learn in school will be handy when you are out earning a living, you make more of every day at school.
What do you hope to accomplish?
The goal is not to have every kid become an entrepreneur, but to let them know this is at least an option. We're also trying to embed this idea in groups such as Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Junior Achievement. One of Ewing Marion Kauffman's mottoes was "Make a job, don't take a job," and this is a way to promote that philosophy.