Alex Ellison is the Executive Envisioner for the New Entrepreneurship Program or NewE. This educational program is based out of Carson City High School and works to equip teens with entrepreneurial skills by providing a hands-on learning environment.
KUNR: Can you tell me about the NewE education program and what it entails?
Alex Ellison: Originally, New Entrepreneurial Network was meant to help teens start businesses. And what we learned, and I think this is also changing with this new generation that we're working with, Gen Z now, Millennials are out of high school now so we're working with Gen Z'ers. And what we found is that although they are very interested in entrepreneurship and intrigued by entrepreneurs, very few in surveys we've conducted want to start businesses, at least they're not considering starting businesses now.
And so we thought, taking that, we want to be helpful to students. We don't want to create our curriculum in a vacuum. And so, we sort of pivoted this year and decided, you know what we're really hearing from students is that they want connections, they want to get out into the community, into the real world and get a glimpse of what is going on in the real world. They want to meet cool people and be inspired, and then figure out what they want to do.
So we thought, that's what we're going to do. We are going to help kids see that they can live a life--we call it unstuck--that there are lots of different paths you can take, and one of those is entrepreneurship. But regardless of the path you choose, we truly believe that entrepreneurial thinking can be applied to any job position and any area of your life.
KUNR: So why do you think it's so important to introduce these ideas of entrepreneurship and business-making early on to these teenagers, and even before then?
AE: So, when you look at the skills of an entrepreneur, it includes things like being okay with risk and evaluating risk, being future-oriented and future-focused, being a problem solver, being able to hustle and think on your feet, being a great communicator and a connector. And when you look at those skills on their own, those are skills that employers want in employees, they are skills that schools want in students, and ultimately, we think those are skills that are so transferrable. And so, those are the skills that we want students to gain at a young age.
We also have this program called the Entrepreneurial Readiness Intensive. The Entrepreneurial Readiness Intensive is really designed to help students gain those, we call them soft skills, those transferrable skills that I mentioned earlier.
KUNR: Along with teaching these skills, it seems that one of your goals is to see these teens get hired by employers. So how important do you think it is for teens to get employed in professional businesses rather than the typical starting jobs?
AE: Fast food is a really common first job, and movie theater, and there is nothing wrong with those. They are sometimes excellent first job experiences. But when we did these surveys at the end of last year at the high school, a lot of the students were saying, "Yes, I absolutely want a job, number one." They all wanted jobs. I would say 98% of them raised their hands, "I want a job." And then several of those students said, "I kind of don't want to work in fast food; I want something else."
But we want to get other startups or businesses together who maybe haven't been receptive to hiring under-eighteen-year-olds in the past for a variety of reasons, and see if we can help them make that more possible. We don't want this to just be a handout; we don't want the businesses to not gain anything. And like I said earlier, we believe those entrepreneurial skills are those transferrable skills that are going to be really important in that first job experience and future jobs to come.
KUNR: And so in the Entrepreneurial Readiness Intensive Program, it says you will be offering a certificate to students upon completion...
AE: Yes, we're getting feedback from employers, and one of the things we're going to be asking is, "Will you recognize this certificate as something that is valuable?" and once we have that stamp of approval, this certificate will be something that a student can bring to an employer in our area and say, "I have gone through this five-week intensive. I know and understand entrepreneurial skills. I know how to be a problem-solver, how to be solution-minded, how to be a great communicator."