Imagine you're a soccer player, and you've waited your entire life to represent your country in the World Cup. You've spent hours analyzing match footage and drawing diagrams of formations. You've read about what to do when a defender comes down the wing or when a free kick comes sailing over the wall.
There's only one catch: You've never set foot on a soccer field. In fact, you've hardly ever touched a soccer ball, and your cleats are so new they're certain to leave blisters. You have only known the game through the pages of a book and the lens of a camera. All of sudden, you're on the field in front of millions who have traveled the world just to see you.
This is akin to what happens to many students in America's under-resourced school districts. We grow up taking years of history, English, and calculus. We learn that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. We leave school without any hands-on, experiential learning to prepare us for the workforce. As a result, we arrive on the job under-prepared to contribute and to succeed.
Recently, I've noticed some nonprofits popping up to address this problem. The two most notable are Year Up and BUILD--the latter of which is specifically built (no pun intended) to teach kids entrepreneurship. I've worked with BUILD, and I think its model is applicable to more than just children.
Here's how it works. 14- and 15-year-olds team up to develop their own products, pitch them to investors, and sell them at showcases and pop-up shops. Each team member plays a role on the management team (i.e., CEO, CFO, COO), and, at the end of the school year, teams compete in a business competition in front of 600 members of the local business community.
The experience teaches students collaboration, communication, problem-solving and creativity while empowering them to feel as comfortable in the boardrooms of the city's top companies as they do on the sports fields or in the classroom. They also gain valuable context for their classroom learning.
Here are three lessons I've learned from working with BUILD that should apply to every entrepreneur, regardless of age:
1. You need to get in the game.
BUILD focuses on real-world experience. bringing students together with business leaders for investor pitches, mock interviews, job shadowing, sales events and more. This same level of involvement can boost the skills of any workforce.
At my company, Acceleration Partners, we similarly use role-playing to enhance our customer relationship training. We also give up-and-coming team members "on-stage" practice time with clients by empowering them to cover for managers during travel and vacation breaks.
2. It's OK to fail.
Failure is a part of life, but it's not yet an accepted part of the education system or the average workplace. The reality is that competition is a great teacher and motivator.
Students need to experience the joy and pride that comes with winning as well as the benefits of feedback and the lessons gained from mistakes. Taking risks builds resilience--an important asset in both work and life.
When something doesn't work out as planned at my company, we write up a two-page debriefing memo to share lessons with the entire company. The message we're trying to convey is: Mistakes are OK; repeating them is not.
3. You should connect with coaches.
Behind every great entrepreneur or leader is a great mentor. At BUILD, each team of students is matched with adult mentors who often believe in their mentees before the students believe in themselves.
This principle translates well to business: All future leaders need coaches who can push them to reach their potential. At my company, members of the leadership team work with coaches and outside mentors and then bring the lessons home, providing mentorship to up-and-coming members of the team to help them with their personal and career development.
There are so many talented young people in schools across the country and in business who are not supported to reach their full potential. We can't expect students or employees to be competitive without first giving them opportunities to play the game.
The same goes for every entrepreneur, no matter your level of experience. Let's put in the hours of training, worn-out cleats, and grass-stained uniforms we need to be ready for our own World Cups--and make sure the next generation of entrepreneurs are ready to do the same.