Last week I found myself in back-to-back sessions with multiple entrepreneurial teams, hearing wonderful descriptions of how their businesses would delight customers. All were getting ready to pitch concepts to an investment fund. Their enthusiasm and passion were contagious, and I left the sessions inspired. What was different about this group? They happen to be 5-to-8-year-olds, kindergarten to second graders, at the Phalen Leadership Academy (PLA) in Indianapolis.
One of the best things about being a Kelley professor is the people with whom I get to interact. Of course, my colleagues at Kelley are outstanding researchers who also really care about good teaching, and our students are top-notch. But our expanded community reach allows me to engage with entrepreneurs, investors, and other members of the venture community as well. The vibrant venture community in Indianapolis enriches both my teaching and research.
Through these extended activities, I got to know Marlin Jackson. Marlin is the founder of the Fight for Life Foundation, an Indianapolis-based not-for-profit that helps deserving but under-served youth build the social and emotional skills necessary to be successful. Marlin is also a former NFL Colts player. More importantly, he transcended a very challenging childhood to become a great contributor to our community.
One of Fight for Life’s key programs is Building Dreams. This program exposes youth to social and emotional concepts such as love, discipline, and dreams that fall outside of standardized testing but are so critical for healthy and positive development. PLA has piloted the Building Dreams program this year, with great success for its scholars.
The entrepreneurs I met with are participating in Lemonade Day next month. This event affords Phalen’s scholars the opportunity to learn about business and leadership while practicing Building Dreams concepts like teamwork, respect, perseverance, and conflict resolution in their own entrepreneurial endeavor. Professor Kim Saxton and I created the attached video to demonstrate concepts like differentiation and competitive advantage to these scholars. My session with them last week reinforced that the Phalen scholars got the concepts and were using them in their own projects — and we had fun laughing about my “nasty lemonade!” (my words—see the video).
I get to work with a lot of entrepreneurs (some students, some not) and hear their ideas, see their passion, and try to help them overcome some of the challenges they face. It is one of the most energizing parts of my job. But seeing the same commitment and passion from the Phalen classes was renewing at a different level. These may not yet be serial entrepreneurs — in fact, they may be closer to cereal entrepreneurs :) — but with the right tools and motivation, I have high expectations that they will go on to realize their dreams and do great things.
Thanks Fight for Life, Phalen Leadership Academy, and Lemonade Day for providing this opportunity!