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Capturing the Dreams of Young Entrepreneurs on Film

Resource type: News

The New York Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship is an Atlantic grantee.


MARY MAZZIO, a filmmaker who had already produced one movie about entrepreneurs, decided to make another on the subject last year, this one inspired by the work of a nonprofit group focused on at-risk youths.

Ever since that first movie, “Lemonade Stories,” was produced in 2004, she said, “I’ve been obsessed with the notion of entrepreneurs,” adding, “It really is just a metaphor for being an adventure in life.”

While “Lemonade Stories” looked at the influence of mothers on entrepreneurs, her new documentary “Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon,” follows a group of students from “Harlem to Compton and all points in between” as they compete in a business plan contest run by the nonprofit group Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

“In America,” the trailer states, “a kid drops out of high school every nine seconds. Imagine if they didn’t.”

Starting Nov. 13, the new movie, “Ten9Eight,” will be shown at select AMC theaters in cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In addition to a theater release, Ms. Mazzio is in talks with several companies to show the film next year on television.

“I hope millions of kids see it,” said Steve Mariotti, the founder of Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. For some youngster out there, he said. “it will be life-changing.”

Next Wednesday, the competition that inspired the film, the OppenheimerFunds/NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge 2009, will hold its final rounds at the Marriott Marquis in Midtown Manhattan. Twenty-nine aspiring entrepreneurs, ages 13 to 19, all of whom have had to overcome huge obstacles, Mr. Mariotti said, are vying for the $10,000 grand prize.

There is a long history of promoting entrepreneurship among youths in this country. Junior Achievement was formed by business leaders, community volunteers and educators in the 1920s and is a worldwide program today. Its Web site,, notes that hundreds of thousands of volunteers reach millions of students each year.

In September, a national survey from Junior Achievement found that most teenagers who were questioned thought that entrepreneurship should be taught in college or earlier. Nearly half, 46 percent, said kindergarten through grade 12 would be the best time to learn the essentials.

Half the students surveyed by Junior Achievement said they would like to start a business someday. But most believed it would be “difficult but possible” or “somewhat challenging” to do so in this economic climate.

“Teens are not only paying attention to the economy, but these poll results also clearly demonstrate that they’re also hungry to learn the skills it takes to start and grow a business,” Jack Kosakowski, president of Junior Achievement USA, said in releasing the survey results.

Other groups are paying attention as well. The Young Entrepreneur Foundation, part of the nonprofit group National Federation of Independent Business, has developed an online small-business game for high school students.

The simulation game, Johnny Money, was developed with the help of the Wharton Societal Wealth Program at the University of Pennsylvania. It allows students to create virtual businesses.

According to Julie Carney, senior manager for the Young Entrepreneur Foundation programs, more than 100,000 virtual businesses have been created in the game’s first year. “Hopefully, playing the game will encourage students to consider careers as entrepreneurs and small-business owners,” Ms. Carney said.

A byproduct of the game, said Prof. Ian C. MacMillan, co-director of the Wharton program, is that it creates “employability.” Not everyone will be an entrepreneur, but everyone will need a job, he said.

Students who have played the game come away with practical knowledge about business decision-making, how to complete day-to-day tasks like taking inventory and how to treat people at work. “They learn a huge amount” and in the process become significantly more employable, he said.

Wharton and the foundation intend to take the game to all English-speaking countries next, then to countries that teach English. The hope is to create a version in Spanish, Professor MacMillan said. “We think it’s something really profoundly far-reaching.”

Mr. Mariotti started his Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship in the Bronx in 1987 and now has a annual budget of about $15 million domestically and $5 million overseas to work with more than 60,000 children worldwide. Eventually, he wants to create a world championship business plan competition.

The goal is to provide students with tools to become entrepreneurs, with boot camps, incubators and contests. Participants receive at least 60 hours of training, which helps them prepare for the competition — and, as important, keeps them in school.

The group has commissioned research to evaluate program effectiveness and maintains a vibrant alumni community. In a follow-up survey of alumni, the network found that 70 percent were students at the postsecondary level, 43 percent had part-time jobs and 33 percent were still running a business.

One successful alumnae is Jasmine Lawrence, 18, now a computer engineering freshman at Georgia Tech. With the help of the group, she started a business called Eden Body Works, selling beauty products. The business took off, her products were sold in Wal-Mart and she was featured on “Oprah,” all as a teenager.

“The boot camp with N.F.T.E. gave me all the tools I needed to be a young entrepreneur,” she said. “They still continue to nurture me.”

Currently, she said, she is in confidential talks with a buyer for Eden Body Works, which has allowed her to focus on her next goal of “doing amazing things in technology.”

“Being in college has been a big change for me,” Ms. Lawrence said. “My course load is huge, the classes are hard. I feel like a real student now.”

Her story is told as well in “Ten9Eight.”

Ms. Mazzio said, “I want as many kids who can see it and look at their lives and those in the film, and say, ‘Yes, I’m facing these same obstacles. They look like me and talk like me and they are moving ahead.’ ”

She got the approval from a backer, the Templeton Foundation, to start shooting the film in the spring of 2008.

“We were off and running,” Ms. Mazzio said. “It was really exciting. I didn’t know how this story would end. We were making bets: who do we think will take the cake, who will win the contest? We didn’t care, but their stories were so compelling, it was so interesting that I went from city to city to city.”

Usually stories about disadvantaged youth in the inner cities are bleak, she added, but “this film is meant to be the exact opposite.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

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