In the spirit of Global Entrepreneurship Week and encouraging young people to think like entrepreneurs, Ten9Eight, a new documentary by award-winning filmmaker Mary Mazzio, is being screened around the country as part of the week's events. The film, which was released in partnership with AMC, explores the life-changing impact that entrepreneurship has on several kids from the inner city. It follows a group of teens as they prepare to compete in an annual business competition put on by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). Like the film's title Ten9Eight, referring to the fact that every nine seconds a kid drops out of high school, many of the kids profiled in the film are dangerously close to that reality until they are transformed by an opportunity to take a class on entrepreneurship. Mazzio, whose previous work has taken on an entrepreneurial focus, discusses her journey in bringing these kids' stories to life.
What inspired you to make a film about teens and entrepreneurship?
I made this film called Lemonade Stories about entrepreneurs and their mothers in 2004. After a screening of that film, Steve Mariotti, the founder of NFTE came up to me and started telling me about the work that his organization does with teaching entrepreneurship to kids in low-income communities. I immediately said, "That's a movie." I became familiar with the work that NFTE was doing, which was really profound. During the course of making this movie, it became so apparent to me how transformative this type of education is.
What do you think that learning about entrepreneurship has done for the inner-city kids profiled in the film?
There is so little stability in the lives of these kids. When you ask them to learn Trig or read Chaucer, those subjects have no relevancy to their daily lives. But when you teach them to be an entrepreneur, a whole cascade of skills happens. They understand first hand the importance of having a livelihood. When they are taught that they can chart their own future through business, they start to learn math and English skills. They pick up skills needed to write a businesses plan, to communicate with vendors, and gain access to capital. There are so many unintended benefits that come out of something that's considered a nontraditional education.
How are organizations such as NFTE and the Kauffman Foundation helping the cause of leading kids down a better path?
These are kids that have always lived in a recession, so the fact that they have to be innovative and think outside the box to be an entrepreneur is not scary to them because they've had to endure adversity all their lives. What these organizations are doing is getting kids to think about their futures and destinies in a different way. When you can do that, you are on the cutting edge of education.
What is the significance of having this film screened during Global Entrepreneurship Week?
What it does is anchors the film in a truly global way. We have this partnership with AMC, which is the first of its kind. For AMC to want to get involved is phenomenal. [Company executives] were motivated by the content and the fact that something like this can make a difference to kids. The Kauffman Foundation helped to underwrite the film, and showing it as part of their week of events is not just a message that we need to stem the tide of this dropout crisis, but it's about the importance of engaging kids in an innovative and unique way.
What impact do you hope the film will have?
I want kids to see it because it's the story of other kids that look and sound just like them. These are not kids that are spotlight kids; they are everyday kids living on the bubble. If one kid sees this and thinks about his or her future differently, then it's worth the whole thing. I also hope that the film inspires policy makers. These kids just need a little bit of opportunity, and if people in positions of authority and power see the inner city in a different light and the impact that teaching entrepreneurship can have, then that is a step in the right direction. Going forward our children have to be entrepreneurial because that's going to be the next wave of job creation in this country.
What do you think this film says about the future of entrepreneurship in the U.S.?
Given how robustly competitive other nations are becoming, we are losing our luster as the preeminent economy. Soon we're going to be eclipsed by China if we're not cultivating the next generation to be leaders and innovators. To allow kids to drop out in record numbers is not advancing us as a nation, but teaching these kids to be entrepreneurial is what we have to do to be competitive.