Monday, August 4, 2008

Intercept Red Tape Inspiring Model - Steve Mariotti's NY Story

When Steve Mariotti got mugged by teenagers on a New York City Street, he didn't start agitating for better police protection. Instead, he started thinking of better ways for kids like the muggers to make a living. He had a hunch that streetwise kids could make it the way he had - by starting their own businesses. They were tough, assertive, and used to taking risks. What if the high energy levels some of these kids invested in illegal destructive behaviour could be channeled into legal entrepreneurship? Mariotti left his import-export business and became a business teacher in a ghetto high school.

To his great frustration he found that "business" in the public schools meant typing and bookkeeping. The kids were bored and so was Mariotti. Again and again, he was told to stick to the text. Again and again he got fired for insisting that he had a better idea. "The system doesn't want real entrepreneurship," he says, "because it's so hard to control. Think about it - where else but school do they tell you which spot on the floor you can lay for your naps? Entrepreneurs need to get out into the world and act".

Using his own savings, Mariotti set up the non profit National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. In 1985 he was finally hired by a principal who understood and supported his program. That led to contracts with schools throughout the city. Five years later, the guy who got canned nine times was chosen High School Teacher of the Year by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Mariotti's students learn real world skills like product development, marketing techniques, and financial planning. He takes classes on guided tours of New York's wholesale markets. The students each get a grant of $50 to buy items that they then resell. Mariotti says this experience is "almost like a religious awakening.....they'll never pay retail again."

Since 1985 Mariotti's students have started more than 45 new companies, ranging from chore servics to rap-song writing. Mariotti sees them helping with the economic regeneration of their neighbourhoods. "I'm trying to produce a community of merchants' The program isn't all about making money. It's about making people's lives better.

As for him, he says, "When I come home from working with these kids, I feel great. I never used to feel that good when I was just making money".

Weblink: The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (www.nfte.com)
Source: John Graham - President of the Giraffe Heroes Project

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