During ‘The Summer Of Nothing,’​ A Unique Business Camp For High Schoolers

The forthcoming summer is already earning a title. Increasingly, with canceled internships and lockdowns due to the pandemic, people are calling it “The Summer of Nothing.” After all, unlike most summers, this one promises to be different. Far-flung vacations have been put on hold. Most summer camps and programs have already been canceled. Or as Summerfuel President David Evans puts it, “You can’t send Johnny to Wisconsin to canoe this summer.”

But if you have a high school-aged child with an interest in Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or the late Steve Jobs, there’s a new virtual camp that could whet their entrepreneurial appetite.

Dan Bauer, a Harvard MBA and entrepreneur, has come up with a two-week immersion in entrepreneurship for high school students who may ultimately want to major in business when they get to their undergraduate college. There are plenty of summer camp options in normal times, of course. Bauer found about 900 in North America alone, but there are few options for students interested in entrepreneurship.

AN EMERGING ENTREPRENEURS CAMP FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

“The few that do this tend to focus on social or technology entrepreneurship,” he says. “The curriculum tends to be this off-the-shelf, slightly-elevated, how-to-build-a-lemonade-stand curriculum which is entertaining and palatable but not substantial. I wanted to build a summer experience that would be more immersive and appealing to both students and parents.”

To launch the Emerging Entrepreneurs Camp, Bauer enlisted the help of SummerFuel, an organization that has been putting on summer educational programs for high schoolers since 1984, and Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a New York-based non-profit that certifies entrepreneurship teachers in high schools.

At first, the thought was to do a series of two-week summer camps at universities. SummerFuel has long partnered with such host institutions as Stanford University in Palo Alto, Tufts University in Boston, IESE Business School in Barcelona and the University of Oxford in England. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit and the plan moved virtual.

A SHARK TANK-STYLE PITCH AT PROGRAM’S END

The two-week curriculum will feature two one-hour classes every morning, a break for lunch, then an hour of planning among teams of five or six students, each supervised by a certified entrepreneurship teacher, and another hour where the teams will work on a pitch for a business idea that will be delivered at the end of the program, Shark Tank-style, in front of a panel of judges.

Students who enter the $2,295 program will learn the basics of the entrepreneurial mindset, along with marketing fundamentals, research techniques to size up the competition and the market, how to develop competitive advantage, and how to prepare a cogent and convincing elevator pitch. In the evenings, serial entrepreneurs will connect with students through a speaker series. Bauer also plans a panel of business schools to explore different options in college entrepreneurship programs.

“It’s not going to be a dry, boring 101 course,” promises Bauer. And the pitch is their chance to put the knowledge to work. We’ll also have coaching and mentoring by college students.”

‘THIS IS NOT ABOUT DOING A STARTUP BUT IF THAT COMES OUT OF IT, AMAZING’

If someone catches the proverbial lightning in a bottle, they can even extend the two-week camp into an ongoing Zoom team that would meet during the academic year to further polish their business ideas. But that is not the intent of the camp sessions which are scheduled to start June 22 and July 6.

“This is not about doing a startup,” says Bauer. “If that comes out of it, amazing. The odds of that are pretty slim. This is about getting an appreciation of studying entrepreneurship in college. I want to open the door to not only entrepreneurial careers but also to entrepreneurial education. The coaches will be the role models for studying entrepreneurship in college.”

Scott Nasatir, an executive director for NFTE, says the primary focus of the curriculum is to develop an entrepreneurial mindset in youth. “We have taken the essential business tenets and activities we think are really important and put it into this two-week experience. We want it to be really, really engaging. We are taking kids through opportunity recognition and ideation to marketing and finance. This can go from a summer experience to something that is life-changing, something that will translate into whatever they want to do in their lives. We feel we are really empowering youth with skills to be successful.”

CAMPS WILL DRAW ON A MORE GLOBAL AUDIENCE VIRTUALLY

Beyond the basic curriculum, there is also the opportunity to meet with and learn from local entrepreneurs and business owners. “When they are talking to people who have actually done the work and built something, that is a transformative experience,” maintains Nasatir.

Evans, president of Summerfuel, agrees. “We are going to get with Scott a much more interactive and immersive experience because these are teachers who are genuinely interested in that high school age group,” he says. “Our best teachers, time and time again, are people who are usually high school teachers who understand that age group as opposed to a business professor at Stanford who will bounce in and out for a couple of weeks. We are convinced it is different and fresh.”

And because the camps are starting online, they can draw on a more global audience than would otherwise be possible. “The opportunity for global reach is exciting, too,” adds Evans. “Students from all over the world could come together to do this. There are no geographic restrictions as there would be in a regular campus program.”

While Bauer and his partners hope to take the concept on campus next summer, they actually think the pandemic has given them an opportunity for a more differentiated launch. “I candidly think it is the perfect storm,” says Evans. “Parents are cognizant that his summer is off the table. To come out with this at this time is very good timing and I think people will gobble it up. Sure, some people have asked me if I’m crazy. ‘These kids have been staring at Zoom for the past six to eight weeks. There will be a mutiny or something.’ But this is giving young people an opportunity to do something they wouldn’t have been able to do.

“We have a lot of kids and parents who are now used to and comfortable with online education,” adds Evans. “That would not have happened without the pandemic. And we have a lot of summer plans that have been disrupted. The academic majors and career plans of high school-aged students are now being rethought. There will be more and more entrepreneurial aspects to whatever you do.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.