Tell us about your current job, why you do what you do and how it prepares you to mentor youth and youth entrepreneurs?
I serve as the Entrepreneurship Instructor at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts (ASMSA). ASMSA is one of sixteen public, residential high schools in the country specializing in the education of talented and motivated students who have an interest and aptitude for mathematics and science as well as a passion for creativity, humanities and the arts. Over the past five years, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast have ranked ASMSA among the “Top 25” public high schools in America.
Before graduating, all ASMSA students complete an advanced research project (similar to a capstone). My Advanced Research and Entrepreneurship course is one of the options students can choose from to fulfill this requirement. In this course, I am hands-on every day with the students as they develop a problem/solution hypothesis and then work to develop and validate a unique value proposition and business model to prove that their idea is viable.
I love the creativity, variety, and flexibility that this type of project-based teaching brings to the classroom. It is a true collaboration between the students and instructor.
I find that often young entrepreneurs just need permission. Permission to try crazy ideas. Permission to create something that doesn’t work. Permission to pivot and learn. My goal in the classroom, and out, is to give students permission to learn, grow, and succeed in a way that prepares them with marketable and transferable skills, whether or not they ever start a business.
What was the very first business you started and why?
My first job out of college was a startup. We worked hard. We got lucky. We were successful quickly. But it wasn’t my company. I was building someone else’s dream, but I had been bitten by the startup bug.
My first business was a sole proprietorship massage therapy clinic. It was a mess! I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, business-wise. An early mentor gave me great advice though: “Start something small and make it pay for itself. Keep it simple. Fail and learn all the lessons you can. Then do it again.”
What three things should all young entrepreneurs be prepared for before they create a business?
#1 Young entrepreneurs should be prepared for failure. They need to understand what it is. To me, failure isn’t the opposite of success. It is the mechanism that entrepreneurs use to pivot, and it is a natural part of the innovation process.
#2 The second thing that can help young entrepreneurs is to be prepared for the unexpected. It will happen. You get to decide what any given situation means and the impact it will have on you personally. For example, I was once fired from a “dream job.” At first, I was insecure and scared. But I decided that, in the long run, getting fired would be the best thing that happened to me professionally. On the backside of that experience, this has proven to be true.
#3 The final thing that young entrepreneurs need to be prepared with is patience. As an entrepreneur, you work harder than you ever have in your life. You will spend more money than you ever expected, and it will take more time than you ever thought it would. If giving up isn’t an option, then you can pivot–and even close a business–with confidence because you have decided you are in it for the long haul.
Tell us about your biggest business failure and success.
I didn’t have any idea what I was doing in my first business. My business plan was based on a fundamentally flawed assumption that added to the failure of the venture. I made all the major errors I think a person can. I stacked the cards against me from the start. But I did learn exactly how not to start and run a business! The wisdom gained from those insights are invaluable. In that regard, it was also my biggest success.
Why is nurturing entrepreneurship important to you?
Entrepreneurship at its core is a point of view, a set of skills, and dedication to learning. I’m committed to nurturing entrepreneurship because I believe that if a young person develops these skills and the ability to recognize how to transfer them and apply them in a variety of settings, they will never be unemployed. If a young person learns how value is created and captured, she can recognize the value she brings to the market and can learn to articulate that in a way that leads to unending opportunity. Recognizing and leveraging opportunity is a core skill for every entrepreneur. Every child should have the opportunity to develop and deploy these skills.
Name up to three educational classes, business programs or real-world experiences that played a key role in your success and why.
Years ago, I was heavily involved in Toastmasters International – a worldwide communication and leadership program. I was fortunate to be a part of one of the top clubs in my area and I learned the art of public speaking from some of the best in my town. Toastmasters also provided the earliest “lab” for me to experiment with leadership and learn how to be an effective leader.
At the same time, I launched my career with a medical startup. Going through the startup process on someone else’s dollar was a huge benefit in my professional development. I got to learn how a business grew (or didn’t) from the inside out.
To learn more about Steve, follow him on Twitter @StevenERice or on LinkedIn. To learn more about i.Invest visit, www.i-investcompetition.com.