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Obama Finds Favor on Wall Street Training Entrepreneurs

Tuesday, 02 Feb 2010 06:20 PM

President Obama may be talking tough with Wall Street, but on one issue they both agree: They like the nonpartisan Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an organization dedicated to nurturing entrepreneurship among youth in low-income communities.
President Obama and NFTE award winners
White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Barack Obama with NFTE's National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge winners , from left,  Scott Paiva, Zoe Damacela,  and first-place winner Kalief Rollins.

NFTE, founded in 1987 by Steve Mariotti, a businessman and teacher from the toughest, most crime-ridden schools in New York City, has tapped into goodwill from all sides of the political spectrum for a cause that counts.

Mariotti discovered that the best way to put at-risk kids’ feet on the right path -- the path to real ownership and success -- is by teaching them how to become business owners.

And soon after the organization announced the winners of its 2009 National Youth Entrepreneurship Competition in October, President Obama invited the winners to a meeting in the Oval Office.

Newsmax first featured the NFTE in a February 2008 story, “City Teens Find Business Success.”

NFTE, Newsmax noted, gave struggling kids the tools to pull themselves out of poverty by their own bootstraps.

Now influential New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has weighed in, citing NFTE in his Jan. 24 column about creating jobs.

“What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation,” Friedman wrote. “We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again.”

Friedman called on Obama to bring the NFTE to every low-income neighborhood in America.

The centerpiece of NFTE’s program is its Youth Entrepreneurship Competition, a national contest for start-ups with 24,000 kids participating. Each student has to invent a product or service, write up a business plan, “and then do it,” Friedman wrote.

As a training program, NFTE offers no handouts, government subsidies, or affirmative action -- just hard-headed American business sense.

More than 280,000 young people have gone through the program, and a Harvard University study found that their interest in attending college increased 32 percent after taking the entrepreneurship course, while their job aspirations rose 44 percent.

The program has been so successful that it has expanded to schools and after-school/summer programs in 21 states and 12 countries.

The first-place winner of the 2009 Youth Entrepreneurship Competition -- Kalief Rollins, now a freshman at Los Angeles Southwest College -- developed a business plan for selling socially meaningful T-shirts.

The entrepreneurship program is “great for critical thinking and raising students’ confidence,” Mariotti said.

“We’re trying to reach them when they’re 14, and then, each year, they’ll get better.”

Find out more info on NFTE at www.nfte.com

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