When I led the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, I noticed how differently men and women responded in class. Even the most accomplished and confident women had a tendency to become timid in a classroom environment, while men seemed to display much more confidence, even if they were less prepared than female students. I realized that this behavior was entrenched at an early age. And I decided to see what I could do to help change this.
With these thoughts in mind, in 2013 I started VentureLab, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching entrepreneurial skills to children—with a particular focus on teaching girls.
Since then, after dozens of camps and class modules, we have found something remarkable. When girls are exposed to entrepreneurial thinking, a profound change takes place. They become aware of opportunities around them, they learn to problem-solve, and they think more critically and creatively. The effect is that they become more confident and experimental in their ability to tackle challenges.
In an entrepreneurial setting, girls are free to take risks and make mistakes without hurting their grades. They learn to work with teams on problems that interest them, on projects that they themselves define.
We eliminate the scariness so that even girls who think they are “not good at math” can reconfigure how they think of math and numbers—as useful tools. They learn the steps involved in research and development—analysis, hypothesis, testing, prototypes, and findings. They learn about teamwork, markets, audiences, buyers, sales and financial sustainability. It empowers girls to learn that people will pay for the products they design and create and that their work has value and meaning.
This finding cuts across all income and ethnic divides. We have conducted of camps and classes with predominantly Hispanic girls and boys, with mixed races and ethnicities, with low-income elementary classes, with middle and high school high achievers, and teenaged mothers. Girls who learn entrepreneurial skills emerge from their protective shells to develop and present products to their surprised parents who had previously never seen their daughters so confident.
The girls’ transformations are inspiring, especially to anyone inclined to underestimate a five-year-old.
I explore this further in my next post, with an example of the remarkable initiative that some 5- and 6-year-old budding entrepreneurs demonstrated in a VentureLab summer camp.
What’s happened in your experience with girls in your life after you’ve encouraged them to take risks? Thank you for sharing.