Times Business • 1996 • 322 pages • $15.00
Richard A. Cooper makes his living as an export-import manager while exploring ideas as a freelance writer.
Steve Mariotti was mugged twice—once by the hoodlums who beat him while jogging on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and then by the realization that these street punks were forgoing the greater returns possible by honest effort in business. Did this bookish financial analyst and export/import trader pack his bags and flee Manhattan for the relative peace of suburbia? No, he left his previous line of work and became a teacher in the New York City public schools. He volunteered for assignment to the worst schools. There he had another revelation.
Steve Mariotti’s primer could just as easily have been called The Beginner’s Guide to Starting and Running a Business. But it is called The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting and Running a Business for good reason. His focus has been on teaching entrepreneurship as a way of imparting both business principles and basic skills to young people, especially disadvantaged youth, including the poor and handicapped. Personal transformation and self-fulfillment of students were the originally unexpected side effects.
Mariotti discovered that he could grab the attention of students, even those labeled “borderline retarded,” when he talked about business and making money. “What had begun as an intuition slowly developed into a certainty: whenever I could manage to focus a lesson on some phase of entrepreneurial business, I had the students’ attention. I began to do this consciously, using all my ingenuity to get across the bedrock principles of business: buy low, sell high; keep good records. I wanted these young people to appreciate the principles of free enterprise: (1) ownership and (2) honest relations with other human beings through the rational self-interest of voluntary trade.”
With entrepreneurship in mind, Mariotti’s students became interested in math, reading, and writing skills because they saw it benefited them. Instead of preaching or hectoring the students, Mariotti awakened the spark of recognition in them. Entrepreneurial education transformed the students’ behavior as well as their academic outlook. Courtesy, deferred gratification, and conscious decision-making planted roots within them. He discovered that their tough lives gave them a “natural aptitude” for entrepreneurship. “I found that the negative characteristics of my students, when channeled into entrepreneurial activities, became positives.”
Given what we know about educational bureaucracies it comes as no surprise that Steve Mariotti is no longer a schoolteacher. He left the New York City school system and established the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship in 1988. Today, he is still president of NFTE (pronounced “nifty”). NFTE conducts classes in entrepreneurship in schools, both public and private, as well as through various youth programs. Mariotti is not just interested in helping people start businesses, but in also showing them the liberating implications of entrepreneurship and the free-market economy. He is quite frank about this being one of the purposes of NFTE.
Step by step Mariotti explains the key principles of entrepreneurship in practical, basic (sometimes a little too basic for my taste, having spent my adult life in business), and inspirational style. Examples are given of well-known entrepreneurs as well as NFTE graduates and their businesses. Some of the topics include negotiations, keystoning, market research, costing, accounting, banks, business plans, and so forth. Suggestions are made for businesses teenagers could start.
Whatever your role in society, you can benefit from reading The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting and Running a Business. You will better understand what you or others can do to make yourself and society more educated and more prosperous. This entertaining and sometimes moving book tells the story of entrepreneurship as personal empowerment while also revealing the path that led Steve Mariotti to his life’s work from number-cruncher to teacher in the worst public schools in New York to entrepreneurship missionary.