For more than 30 years, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship—also known as NFTE—has been sharing the power of entrepreneurship to youth in low-income communities. Last summer, in the midst of the unemployment crisis brought on by COVID-19, the program quickly expanded to offer help to out of work adults seeking a way to get the tools they needed to start their own business.

The organization found the interest was great—and so was the impact—so much so that it is about to expanded that adult education program again, according to NFTE’s president and CEO J.D. LaRock, my guest this week on the Work in Progress podcast.

He says NFTE realized there was a real opportunity to take the curriculum that it has used so successfully with younger learners and adapt it for older people who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. NFTE Career Relaunch was born.

“Millions of people were unceremoniously booted from their jobs when whole sectors of our economy shut down. They needed to provide for themselves and their families. And (we saw) they might like to do so by starting their own business,” explains LaRock.

“It’s a free online program that walks adult learners through all of the steps to create a basic business plan and even provide some resources on how they might go find financial resources to start up their business,” he adds.

Since its inception, more than 15,000 people in the U.S. and around the world have taken advantage of the online adult education program. Career Relaunch was so successful that in July NFTE will begin to work with community colleges, four-year colleges, and workforce development agencies to bring the program into settings where job seekers, young adults, and adult learners are looking for more entrepreneurship resources.

“We’re super excited to be able to expand our organization in this way. In some ways it’s a silver lining to an otherwise devastating year. It helped us realize, as an organization, there was immense potential to provide even more social purpose to the country and the world by doing what we do and applying it to an adult population.”

LaRock also adds its expanding the youth entrepreneurship program beyond the traditional low-income communities it has served since 1981.

From Business Plan to Start Up in Less Than a Year

There is a lot going on with NFTE. Right now, the organization is in the midst of its 2021 Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Regional Finals in which NFTE students from middle school and high school compete for seed capital to launch their business or pursue educational goals. Just like the TV show Shark Tank, each competitor must pitch their business plan to a panel of successful entrepreneurs.

For many of the students, the plans are born from their other personal circumstances. Take for example last year’s winner. Through NFTE, 17-year-old Jose Rodriquez of Providence, Rhode Island, learned how to put together a professional business plan that would attract the backing of financiers. He also learned how to collaborate with a team and also effectively communicate his vision.

Rodriguez was crowned the top young entrepreneur with his business plan and pitch for Tasium, a company that develops specialized clothing for people on the autism spectrum.

“One of the things that was so effecting about his business pitch was that he talked openly and deeply about his brother’s struggles with autism, how much he loves his brother, and how much he wanted to provide a solution for him and people like him,” LaRock tells me.

“Having won the national competition, NFTE provided Jose with a seed money to continue to expand his business. He now has launched his website, TasiumWorldwide.com. They’re actually selling apparel. Jose has gotten a lot of attention, all well-deserved, because it’s a fantastic idea that’s filling a real need.”

Regional finals will continue through the summer. The 2021 top young entrepreneur will be announced in October.

To hear details about how NFTE is expanding its training for adults thinking about starting their own businesses, and more about its ongoing youth entrepreneurship program, listen to this episode of the Work in Progress podcast here. You can also download it wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 185: J.D. LaRock, president & CEO, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan LynchMelissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

Download the transcript for this Work in Progress podcast episode here.
You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts