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Friday, July 29, 2016

High Schoolers Shine in the Lone Star State

Another successful seminar

In the first week of June, FEE assembled a group of 86 eager high school students from around the globe at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas to discuss the “Economics of Entrepreneurship.”

This seminar boasted an all-star speaker panel, including Brian Brenberg from The King’s College, Dr. Anne Bradley from the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics, T.K. Coleman from Praxis, and Magatte Wade, an entrepreneur from Senegal.

T.K. Coleman opened the seminar with an engaging lecture on the way in which entrepreneurs can change the world. He used a talk from astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson to illustrate his point that each individual succeeds by developing his or her comparative advantage. The way to prosper is to do what you do best, and trade for the rest. T.K focused on the idea that “anyone can be an entrepreneur” throughout the seminar.

Dr. Anne Bradley began the second day of the seminar with an argument for the importance of economic thinking in entrepreneurs’ daily lives. Dr. Bradley defined an entrepreneur as someone who identifies a problem, takes a risk in solving the problem, predicts prices, and serves others with their solution. She agreed with Ludwig von Mises, in stating that entrepreneurship begins with a state of uneasiness. Entrepreneurs think rationally which means they weigh the cost and benefit to make the best decision with the available information. Later that day, Dr. Bradley argued that we are all profit seekers who wish to minimize cost and maximize value, whether or not we realize it. Dr. Bradley gave her final talk on the virtues of entrepreneurship, likening economics to stewardship and teaching the students that exchange motivated by profit is a form of peaceful cooperation.

Brian Brenberg spoke twice on the second day, enumerating the rules required for entrepreneurs to succeed. According to Professor Brenberg, entrepreneurs require clear rules of engagement which they can depend on to keep their profits. This expectation empowers them to take risks. Later in the day, Professor Brenberg explained that profit is not a negative thing, rather, it is a necessary motivation to engage in the marketplace.

Magatte Wade gave a stimulating talk on the negative impact which international charity has on local business in struggling countries. She gave an example of shoe makers in her home country of Senegal who were rendered unemployed by TOMSⓇ shoes. Magatte qualified by claiming that she does not doubt the good intentions of charitable organizations. However, she urged the students to consider the long-term effects of handouts on local economies. Magatte suggested instead that other entrepreneurs follow her lead in starting local businesses and building them from the ground up – the hard way.

A competitive streak among the students began when they were split into groups and tasked with creating an idea for a new business. The next day, each group presented their idea to a panel of judges in a “Shark Tank” activity. Despite the short notice, each group provided a professional business proposal and a rehearsed presentation. The winning team, ironically called “The Benchwarmers,” stood above the rest with an idea to revolutionize the grocery shopping experience. They presented a product which would turn a shopping cart into a self-checkout device, eliminating long lines and freeing up labor to serve other unmet needs. Their idea and presentation put them ahead in a crowded and competitive field.

The students closed out the seminar with another lively competition during the much-anticipated “Seminar Olympics.” The students were divided into teams, and different representatives were sent to compete in a number of games. Tortillas were tossed, M&M’s were sucked, cookies were munched, cups were stacked (and toppled), and puzzles left some students puzzled. 

At the conclusion, one thing was certain: Economics of Entrepreneurship was a huge success. Speakers drew large crowds to the floor at the end of each talk to elaborate on their ideas and field additional questions. Spirits were soaring throughout the seminar, and students voluntarily put in overtime during the evenings to work on their Shark Tank presentations. When it was finally time to depart, students walked away with much more than just a new economic perspective. They earned the title of FEE Alumni, and gained the international network and prestige that comes along with it.

  • Sam is a former Development Manager at FEE, who engaged in building strategic partnerships and serving the organization's generous sponsors.