LA's Youth Business Alliance hopes have high schoolers drinking the entrepreneurial Kool-Aid

By Michael Carney , written on April 30, 2014

From The News Desk

A group of prominent Southern California investors and entrepreneurs will gather tomorrow in Santa Monica to share the power of entrepreneurship with 100 disadvantaged youths from local high schools.

The day-long summit is the work of the Youth Business Alliance (YBA), a two-year-old organization that has previously hosted an after-school program called “Introduction to Business & Careers” within 10 LA schools. With both formats, the aim is to bring “critical 21st century business skills and perspectives into the classroom,” according to the group.

Tomorrow’s event, which is being sponsored by Manat Phelps and StartEngine, will take place at the ROC office space in the center of the beachfront LA Tech community, where attendees will get to tour several startup workspaces. Speakers throughout the day will include include StartEngine founder and former Activision CEO Howard Marks, Dreamhost founder Josh Jones, Upfront Ventures partner and MoviePass founder Hamet Watt, and WhereWithWho founder Kevin Kelani.

“Our goal is to show them a cross-section of startup life – people who have made it and people who are still working toward their first big success,” Marks says. “The hope is that if these students see what’s possible, and see people who look like them and come from similar backgrounds making it happen then they’ll have a different outlook on what’s possible.”

Reframing the mindset of the next generation couldn’t come at a better time. Gone are the days when employer-employee relationships are measured in decades, or when an individual learns a single skill and turns that into a lifelong career. It’s far more common today for young professionals to experience several short stints within multiple companies and industries before finding something that proves to be lasting, which in-and-of-itself can still mean less than a decade. As such, today, the most valuable skill is the ability to learn new skills – something akin to the ability to ask a genie for more wishes.

It’s not just the ability to pick up new skills that’s growing in importance. Young students would also be well-served to learn that working for someone else isn’t the only option, and that it’s possible to create your own ideal working environment through entrepreneurship. By the same token, the most effective solutions to the problems we see in the world around us are often the ones that we create.

Tomorrow’s event will be heavy on inspiration, but the real challenge will be to translate the resulting enthusiasm into practical skills. YBA will encourage participating students to take advantage of free resources like CodeAcademy’s JavaScript course and MIT’s Scratch drag-and-drop programming interface. But the reality is, there needs to be more work done in this area if the next generation is to enter the modern workforce with relevant skills and mindsets.

It’s not just coding, but design, marketing, accounting, and other practical skills that are rarely taught in traditional curriculums. And when they are, they're typically done so from a theoretical rather than practical perspective.

YBA is one of a handful of organizations working to bring entrepreneurship and technical skills to our kids. For example, online education startup Pluralsight recently piloted a coding education program in a half-dozen Utah public elementary schools.

Each of these organizations deserves to be celebrated for the contribution they're making. But for the few hundred (or thousand) students that YBA and Pluralsight reach, there are millions more that could benefit from the same opportunity. Hopefully programs like this flourish across the country so kids everywhere can learn these same valuable lessons.