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Home » The Power of An Entrepreneurial Mindset: Bill Roche (Transcript)

The Power of An Entrepreneurial Mindset: Bill Roche (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Bill Roche’s talk titled “The Power of An Entrepreneurial Mindset” at TEDxLangleyED conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


The Entrepreneurial Experiment

Twenty-five years ago, I walked into a classroom of 15-year-olds, and I gave them my pitch. I offered to help them start a business, but there was one condition. They all had to agree to work with me, and it had to be a unanimous decision.

Now I had no idea how this would play out. You see, this was an experiment for me. Right here, in the middle of the room, there was a boy, and he was sitting there and slouched down. He was clearly not interested in what I had to say. In fact, at one point, he sat there and said, “This is a waste of time. Why bother?”

I addressed him right head on and said, “Hey, you know what? This is a real business. You guys get to be totally in charge. You’re the decision makers. You get to set your own goals, and at the end, you get to keep the profits.”

The Disengaged Student’s Transformation

Well, with that, he sat up, and I knew he was on board. And a week later, when I came back, he was actually standing in front of the group, and he had the entire class brainstorming. They were coming up with different marketing ideas, and he was leading the whole thing. At the end, he had the highest profit.

Now, what was so interesting was when I sat down later to do a debriefing with the principal and the teacher, and they shared with me that this was a boy who typically did not participate in school. In fact, he rarely passed the homework assignments. He frequently skipped classes, and yet, they were fascinated by his level of engagement, and they wanted to know what it was about this project that captured his imagination.

The Importance of Entrepreneurial Skills

Entrepreneurial skills, when we think about what people need today, they need a strong set of entrepreneurial skills. And what I mean by that is creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication, but they’re not enough. Skills are no longer enough. We have to help people develop, young people develop, an entrepreneurial mindset.

Now, when we think about the future, it’s really important that kids today, that they are flexible and they’re adaptable. They need to be able to see change before it happens. They need to be able to identify opportunities and have the confidence to move towards them. Really, what it’s all about is actually being able to be constantly focused on growing, developing, and improving.

The Value of an Entrepreneurial Mindset

You see, and I want to point out right from the very beginning that I’m not talking, I’m not suggesting in any way that everybody needs to be an entrepreneur. What I am saying is that young people today, regardless of whether they work for themselves and start a business, or if they work for an employer, what they need is a strong set, an entrepreneurial mindset that’s going to enable them to be successful.

An entrepreneurial mindset is actually critical to success in our rapidly changing world. So that brings us to an important question, and the question is, can an entrepreneurial mindset be nurtured? Absolutely. In fact, as I started specializing in this area, I realized very early on that not only can it be nurtured, but it’s important to start young.

The Young Entrepreneur Program

So I created a program, and it’s an entrepreneur project for elementary kids and for students between the ages of 9 and 12 to start their businesses, and they actually develop an entrepreneurial mindset by launching a business venture. So they have to create business plans, they develop products and marketing materials, and at the end, they participate in a real-life event called the Young Entrepreneur Show. It’s like a trade show. They get to interact with customers, and they earn real money.

The program is facilitated, which I think is the most powerful piece, is that it’s facilitated by the classroom teacher, and it makes topics like math and English language arts and social studies more meaningful and relevant for kids. It’s already reached about 40,000 kids, and I’m really excited to be able to share some of their stories with you here today.

Student Entrepreneurial Stories

Now, the idea of coming up with a product to sell for real to customers is incredibly exciting for kids, and in fact, they take it very, very seriously. Sometimes the students will create products that, you know, people enjoy. Other times they go a little bit deeper, and they think, you know, what can I, how can I solve a problem, or how can I make a difference in the world by creating a product?

Mimi is one of our students that decided to come up with this cat toy, and a toy that looked like a cat, I should say, and she took this, two materials, a mock suede and a mock fur. She cut strips, sewed them together, and had a cat face at the front and a tail. And she really wanted to have a fun name for this, so she called them “Roadkill Kitties.”

And if that wasn’t enough, she took a big branch that had fallen from a tree in her garden. She mounted it on top of the table, and then she had all the products hanging up here. So, as you walk by, all you could see are these feline creatures looking down at you. And then she’d take them down, she was all about showmanship, so she’d take them down and lay one on the arm, and the customers would come up.

And the customers would smooth it down, and it would roll up, and Mimi’s product came alive. The Roadkill Kitty came alive, Mimi’s business came alive, and Mimi came alive. You see, Mimi wasn’t strong. She wasn’t a strong academic student, and yet, had perhaps the most successful business in her class.

And what was so exciting was that she was able to achieve that success by showcasing her entrepreneurial and her artistic flair. The product development stage is also very powerful because students come up with an idea, but then they have to use market research. They do prototyping, and then they get into production. So it’s very rich with learning opportunities.

Tyler’s Innovative Solution

Tyler was very determined that he wanted to create this sock puppet, and he used his market research to really perfect the design. So when he asked the question, “What color would you like?”, everybody seemed, one of the options was tie-dye, and everybody seemed to pick that choice. So it was an obvious design decision. The problem he had, though, was when it came time to pick the hair at the top and the tongue inside, and there didn’t seem to be a general consensus in his survey data.

So he was really unsure what to do. Now he immediately went right to the teacher and said, “Hey, what do I do about this?” And the teacher handled it beautifully. The teacher said, “You know what, Tyler? This is your business. You have to make that decision yourself. And you’ve got great creative and critical thinking abilities. So I can’t wait to see what you come up with.”

So Tyler left, and we weren’t really sure how this would play out. And a couple of days later, he came back, and he had a solution. He actually put a snap up here on the head and a snap inside the mouth so these pieces could be removed. And then he made a bunch of extra designs so people could come up to the table and customize their puppets. And he didn’t stop there. He actually made a bunch of extras and sold them as accessories and was able to increase his profits substantially as a result of his creativity.

The Young Entrepreneur Show

What we’ve been looking at here really is some key features. And the entrepreneurs show is what they’re working towards. So this is the final sales event where they interact with the customers. And it’s incredibly dynamic. So it gives the students an opportunity to think on their feet and even solve problems along the way as they’re, you know, using their communication skills to kind of pitch and talk to customers.

Now, I was at an event just a few weeks ago before the holidays. And there was a boy there, and he was struggling because he had a really great product. He made this really cool Christmas ornament out of twigs and string. It was just beautiful. But he had them hanging on a tree, and they weren’t selling. So he came out with me, and he said, “You know, I’m having a problem.” And I said, “Well, step back and just look at what your customers are seeing.”

And what he came up with was that maybe the problem was that the decorations were part of the tree, and they weren’t actually for sale. So he decided to take one down, and then he just stood here talking to customers. And he said, “Then I can bring them over and show them the different designs.” I said, “Great. Give it a try.”

So I walked around the gym. And as I was coming around the corner, and Luke says, “Bill, I’ve already sold three, and it’s only been ten minutes since I saw you.” Now I am not exaggerating. It was that level of intensity. And what was so interesting to me is, as I was watching his face, I had a flash of a conversation I recently had with a teacher. And she said that you can’t teach pride with a textbook. But you could certainly see pride on Luke’s face that day.

The Process of Learning

What we’ve been looking at is the process of learning. And the idea of the process of learning is so important here. And when we think back to that original experiment that I had, what was the driving force there was truly the fact that the kids were in charge. They get to make their own decisions, and they’re learning something that’s real to them and meaningful.

And that’s really, in essence, the whole driving force of this project. But what’s ultimately important is the fact that the kids are actively developing core competencies. These entrepreneurial skills that I mentioned up front, they’re actively developing them in order to achieve success with their projects. And in order for all of this to work, there’s two key features.

The first one is that the students have to have a freedom to make mistakes. And so when we think about entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship is actually messy. There’s no one path or right answer. So it’s really important that the students have the freedom to explore and experiment and treat mistakes simply as learning opportunities.

The second is that students need to have the chance to really reflect on their experiences and be able to identify and internalize, you know, what they’re learning. So as an example, they start a business. They know they can say, “I am a business owner” or “I am an entrepreneur because I did it.” Or, “I am creative because I solved that problem.” So that self-reflection stage is really key because it gets them a chance to really define who they are as individuals.

Student Reflections

So I want to give you a couple of examples of how they reflect on their experiences. So when asked, “What did you discover about yourself?”, this young boy said, “I learned that I’m far more creative than I thought I was.” When asked, “What did you learn?”, this young lady said, “I learned that if you take risk, you will succeed.” And taking risk means thinking outside the box. So words of wisdom from a 10-year-old.

Now the next one is purely for fun. And it’s a question we always ask and we get some serious answers. And in this case, what tip would you have for other young entrepreneurs that are just getting started? And this young boy said, “Wear deodorant.” The actual statement was, “Wear deodorant, the young entrepreneurs get nervous, the room gets warm and you don’t want to be stinky.”

Broader Benefits

So we’ve looked at really the value of the process of learning and now I’d like to look into some broader benefits of this entrepreneurial experience. The first is that it shifts culture. And this really became clear to me one year when one of the teachers reached the 10-year mark and I asked her, “What’s the difference between year one and now?”

And she said, “In year one, I asked my kids, ‘How many of you think you can start a business?’ And one or two hands went up. In year 10, she asked the same question and every hand went up.” Now when she asked them why, they all agreed, but one of the students captured it best and she said, “I went to my first entrepreneur show in kindergarten and I’ve been thinking about my products ever since.”

So the entrepreneurial experience, it not only helps them discover that entrepreneurship is a possible career option, it also helps them realize that there’s more potential for them as young people. They can do things that maybe they didn’t realize they could before.

The second benefit is that it is really about unleashing potential. And one year, I was working with a student. In this particular case, this student, I walked in, it was about two years ago and his name was Keegan. And Keegan had what we call, we call him the soap guy actually, because he had this really cool soap product and he was standing with poise and confidence, interacting with customers and so on. And when I asked him why it was fun, he said, “It’s fun because I get to be me.”

And I looked over at his mom and she was crying and I realized, “Wow, there’s more to this.” So when, a few months later, he was actually giving a presentation in front of a group of educators and as he was standing there, he said, “School isn’t easy for everyone.” And he went on to explain that he has learning disabilities and often struggled with school.

So with this project, he said he could think outside the box and he discovered that he was far more creative and he had more talents than he realized before. And he was able to discover things and it gave him high hopes. High hopes. Think about how many kids out there feel anxiety about the future, this project really helps them or this type of project really helps them discover new potential.

Sparking Leadership

The entrepreneurial mindset also helps kids spark leadership. And really, one of the students, I got a call one day on a Friday afternoon and this was about a boy that had social performance anxiety and mild autism and he had a real challenge with speaking in front of groups. And in fact, he had to always give presentations one-on-one. But yet, at his entrepreneur show, he was standing there calling people over and he ended up selling out his product and did tremendously well.

At the end of the project, his mom said he was “in it to win it.” And what was so cool was that he was able to really sell his product and interact with customers and he definitely had a win with that program. One of the features that I haven’t told you about is that the students donate 10% to charity and his class wanted to donate to the SBPA. But in his situation, what he did was he wanted to donate to a mental facility that was just opening up.

It was a wing of a hospital that was going to support kids with anxiety. And so he went in there and he stood up in front and he asked if he could speak in front of the audience. Now, this is a boy with social anxiety and he stood in front of the group and he talked about his entrepreneurial experience and he talked about why this organization was important to him. And then he announced he was donating 50% to charity.

Discovering Purpose and Potential

Really when we look at this entrepreneurial experience, an entrepreneurial mindset helps kids discover that they can make the world a better place. It really helps them discover that they can have careers that are fulfilling and meaningful and even be self-reliant. It helps them discover their passions and their talents and their interests. And it helps them discover that they can actually achieve success, not only in the future, but in school today.

One of our entrepreneurs, he had severe behavioral problems and would blow up every day in class. He would scream and shout and leave the room and so on. And at the end of the program, he flourished and a year later he came back and he had a gift for me. And he said, “What do you see?”

And I said, “There’s three stones and they’re smooth, they’re colorful and they’re special.” And he said, “I’m special too. And that’s how I want you to remember me.” Let’s get out there and help kids develop an entrepreneurial mindset. And let’s help them use their special talents to put their mark on the world. Thank you very much.

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