When he was nine years old, Omar Faruk immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh with nine brothers and sisters, little money, and only a rudimentary grasp of the English language. A decade later, Faruk, whose Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Web-design firm grossed $40,000 last year, was on hand to ring the closing bell at Nasdaq on Monday as part of a nationwide kickoff for EntrepreneurshipWeek USA.
"It's amazing," said Faruk, who's now 18 and a high school senior. "My family came here looking for the American Dream. I mean, that can really happen."
The notion that starting your own business is a real possibility for young people is exactly what organizers hope to instill with EntrepreneurshipWeek, a broad educational effort sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Inc. magazine, and The New York Times, among others, to promote business ownership among high-school and college students. Congress last year established a ceremonial national entrepreneurship week.
The week-long event features thousands of programs across the nation, including workshops, mentoring programs, contests, panel discussions, and networking opportunities with business leaders, government officials, venture capitalists, and others.
Among other initiatives, it includes a day-long mentoring program at New York University, an Entrepreneur Idol contest in Philadelphia, and a best lemonade stand contest in Charleston, W.Va. The event culminates with an entrepreneurial policy forum in Washington, with Steven Preston, head of the Small Business Administration.
"Educating our young people about entrepreneurship and reinforcing the value that entrepreneurs and innovators bring to our economy is critical to America's long-term prosperity -- more so now than ever before," said Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City, Mo.-based entrepreneurial funding and research group.
On Saturday, Schramm hosted the event's inaugural launch at Stanford University with university president John Hennessy and venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, among other high-profile guests.
Later this week, Todd Stottlmeyer, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation's largest small-business lobby group with more than 600,000 members, will personally mentor about 25 students in a fashion-marketing class at a Fairfax County public school. The school is one of 27 participating in the group's Entrepreneurship-in-the-Classroom pilot project, which provides educators with free resources to teach entrepreneurship skills.
Meanwhile, the National Venture Capital Association, a Washington-based policy trade group, organized an essay-writing contest on innovative new products at high schools in California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia.
The contest, which was open to students from grades one through 12, sought out new ideas and products that would solve common day-to-day problems. Entries ranged from a GPS-navigated walking cane for the blind to a locator beeper for missing cell phones and TV remote controls, organizers said.
"Our commitment to energizing the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs has never been greater," Mark Heesen, the group's president, said in a statement.
By enabling young entrepreneurs to get innovations to the market, venture capitalists share the goals of EntrepreneurshipWeek, Heesen said.
"I think it's crucial to get these skills at a young age," Faruk said. "I'd love to see entrepreneurship classes at my high school. It would be fun."