Some teenagers aspire to be the next Aaron Rodgers or Kim Kardashian.
However, others set their sights on becoming more like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.
“My dad was an entrepreneur and my uncle is, so I have a lot of entrepreneurship in my family,” said Adrian Dixon, a junior at Launch High School. “A school that could help me with that aspect of myself was very attractive to me.”
Dixon is among about a hundred students enrolled this year at the nonprofit innovative charter school in Colorado Springs.
“[Launch High School] focuses primarily on entrepreneurship,” said Patrick Cush, the school’s founder and headmaster. “I think it’s important because more and more the economy is shifting towards the freelancer movement.”
The report found about 57.3 million Americans already freelance, which is 36 percent of the U.S. workforce.
Freelancers contribute roughly $1.4 trillion annually to the country’s economy — a 30 percent jump from 2016 to 2017, the report said.
Rich Martinez, the president and CEO of Young Americans Center for Financial Education, said the 31-year-old Denver-based organization was started as Young Americans Bank by cable television pioneer Bill Daniels.
At the time, it was the only financial institution in the U.S. available for anyone under the age of 21.
“Bill really felt the free enterprise system was the best system in the world and that the bank was in the center of that,” Martinez said. “He believed if you didn’t know how to negotiate a bank and manage your finances, how were you ever going to realize the American dream?”
The nonprofit now consists of a variety of business and entrepreneur programs including Young AmeriTowne, International Towne and YouthBiz.
Young AmeriTowne is used by fifth-grade teachers at more than 421 schools in Colorado and teaches students about banking, business and economics.
Next is International Towne, which is for seventh and eighth graders, where students learn about international business, trade, currency exchange, diplomacy and responsible credit use.
Lastly, the organization’s YouthBiz programs have served more than 19,258 young people in Colorado since 1987 and focus on advancing “the social and economic prosperity of youth through the study and practice of entrepreneurship.”
Martinez said all the organization’s programs reach about 67,000 students in Colorado.
“We only do about 25 percent of the schools in Colorado Springs right now, where they come up to us, but that’s about to change,” he said.
In March, the organization is planning a pilot for its Young AmeriTowne for school districts in the Springs.
“The next few weeks we will be down doing some fundraising trips and community outreach just to let everyone know we are coming down,” Martinez said. “We are starting with a month of programming, and then hopefully in the next school year [we will] expand that to three or four months to really serve Colorado Springs youth.”
The most successful entrepreneurs will say they wish they had started earlier, Cush said.
“The risks are so much lower for our students trying to develop their own business,” he said. “If you are on your own in college, you have certain obligations like rent, food or tuition and that would potentially impair your startup.”
Certain life and/or business lessons, such as dealing with failure, are easier to learn to overcome when you’re still in high school.
“You learn that it is OK to fail,” Cush said. “In fact, you learn you just have to start trying something else.”
Dixon and junior Ethan Campagna are working on developing software they say is a song-making tool.
“It should help untrained songwriters make music that sounds good,” Dixon said. “It should release a lot of really good art into the world that we wouldn’t have had before.”
When the duo runs into a problem with their project, the school’s self-paced environment allows them to easily seek assistance from staff, including Cush, they said.
“Just today, we were talking to the entrepreneurship teacher about a roadblock that we ran into concerning how we were going to manage the money for the business,” Dixon said.
Campagna added, “I think this school is super good at assisting students when they need it. Patrick Cush is really good about asking what we need and how he can help us with our business.”
A recent transfer to Launch High School, junior Natileyah-Zantae Ward said she learned a lot during her first week.
“We talked about what customers might want, problems you might have and how you can solve them,” she said.
Fadia Ward, the 16-year-old’s mother, enrolled her “entrepreneur-minded” daughter at the charter school 20 minutes after being told about it.
“These types of schools are needed because not every child can always get good grades at a normal school and that’s fine,” she said. “Sometimes you have to find things about your children that are unique and they can profit off of and succeed with.”
The junior developed a product called The NuuChi, which helps women with menstruation issues.
The prototypes are heating pads and sitz bath devices in a small purse-type bag.
“I just wanted to make a product that was comfortable to carry around for women that not everyone knows what it is,” she said.
The young entrepreneur recently presented at a local 1 Million Cups meeting.
“I was so nervous and felt like my stomach was going to explode,” she said. “Then, I did it and was so amazed by how many people actually were interested in women’s menstruation — especially the guys. It really helped me speak out more. I used to have really bad anxiety and didn’t want to speak out in front of people but now I am getting better.”
Cush said developing those communication skills is very important, even if students don’t end up becoming entrepreneurs.
“That is going to help students no matter what career they end up pursuing,” he said. “Everyone who graduates from here leaves with those needed life skills to be successful in whatever career path they decide, even if it’s not entrepreneurship.”