Startups – So Easy a 12 Year Old Can Do It

Out of the mouths of babes. Maybe because it’s a company town and everyone in Silicon Valley has a family connection to entrepreneurship. Or maybe I just encountered the most entrepreneurial 12 year olds ever assembled under one roof. Or maybe we’re now teaching entrepreneurial thinking in middle schools. Either way I had an astounding evening as one of the judges at the Girls Middle School 7th grade Entrepreneurial night.

12 Year Olds Writing Business Plans
In this school every seventh-grade girl becomes part of a team of four or five who create and run their own business. The students write business plans, request start-up capital from investors, receive funding for their companies, make product samples, manufacture inventory, and sell their products to real-world customers. This class is experiential learning at its best.

It was amazing to read their plans talking about income, revenue, cost of goods, fixed and variable costs, profit and liquidity. (Heck, I don’t think I understood cost of goods until I was 30.) As they built their business, having to work with a team meant the girls learned firsthand the importance of creativity, teamwork, communication, consensus-building, personal responsibility, and compromise. (Next time I have to adjudicate between founders in a real startup I can now say, “I’ve seen 12 year olds get along better than you.”)

One highlight of the girls Entrepreneurial Program is the annual “Entrepreneurial Night” that showcases the newly created businesses for both the school and the wider Silicon Valley community. All of the teams had booths where they sold their products as if in a trade show. Then after a break, each of the 12 teams of 7th graders got up in front of the audience of several hundred (and the judges) and presented Powerpoint summary of their business and progress to date. (I couldn’t write or deliver a pitch that good until my third startup.)


(Watching these girls gave me even more confidence about predictions of the future of entrepreneurship in the post When It’s Darkest, Men See the Stars.)

Women as Entrepreneurs
Teaching entrepreneurship in middle school is an amazing achievement. But teaching it to young women is even better. Not all these girls will choose to be career professionals in a corporate world. But learning entrepreneurial thinking early can help regardless of your career choice, be it teacher, mother, doctor, lawyer or startup founder. They will forever know that starting a company is not something that only boys do, but was something they mastered in middle school.

The Girls Middle School is not alone in teaching young students entrepreneurship. Organizations like Bizworld and The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship are also spreading the word. If you have any influence on the curriculum of your childrens’ school, adding an entrepreneurship class will be good for them, good for your community and great for our country.

Lessons Learned

  • Middle school is a great time to introduce entrepreneurship into a curriculum
  • Students that age can master the basics of a small business
  • It’s best taught as a full immersion, “get out of the building, make it, sell it and do it” experience
  • The lessons will last a lifetime
  • Extra credit if you teach it in a girls-only school

Listen to this post here: Download the Podcast here

23 Responses

  1. Steve,

    At twelve years old they were comparatively old. My son did a similar project last year in first grade. No kidding. I even gave him a personal lesson in getting ‘though the noise’ to get to customers…


    Bill Ross
    Latro Bellum Corporation!/thruthenoise

  2. Middle school is a great time to teach kids about how they can make their mark in the world. In fact, if our schools focused more on this, I take the bet that we’d see lower rates of depressed and troubled youth/teens. At a time in a child’s life, when they’re trying to figure out their place in the world, introducing them to entrepreneurship can open up a world of opportunity.

  3. Inspirational news Steve. Plus getting shown up by 12 year old girls is a good ego check ;). Great to see young folks embracing the builder brand.

  4. Hey Steve,

    You should check out, a worldwide network of social entrepreneurs who are not only creating startups at a young age, but are also thinking about how to do well by doing good.

    I have seen many of these Youth Venture Teams in action and they are absolutely amazing!


  5. Many young folks in middle school/high school have started “startups” and side companies for quite awhile now. Just because they don’t show up on Techcrunch or don’t mention their age while doing so doesn’t mean this is anything really novel. I had multiple online and IRL ventures by the age of 15 and now at 17 am running my first proper cliche HTML5+Backbone.js+Github on a Mac with a VM while drinking Ventis at an exclusive coworking coffee-house for fellow bike-riding, prog-metal Manhattan/SV hipsters.

  6. Awesome! There is a program in Oakland which teaches entrepreneurship to 14-18 year olds, but there’s a catch. They take the *bottom* 10% of the students. Some of which who are barely literate and stick them in front of hundreds of people giving presentations of their business plan.

    It’s amazing to see the changes in these kids after a year. I never thought I’d enjoy volunteering, but I’ve been mentoring there for a year and a half and I have to say, entrepreneurship can bring great positive growth in kids.

    Out of all the kids who make i through the program. 100% make it through to college.

  7. Steve,

    This is truly exciting. I have been doing research on Entrepreneurship Development through alternative reality games to create a version of “Just Action for Kids”. This is truly exceptional. Also check this blog is by Sarah Cook.

  8. Reminds me of the star trek episode entitled “Spock’s Brain” where the doctor needs to perform brain surgery on Spock and after using the technology “Great Teacher” to gain the knowledge on how to perform brain surgery proclaims that “Of course it’s so simple a child could do it,”

  9. […] are good at. I’m curious to see how the education component of this works, especially at the early grade levels, as opposed to starting in colleges or high schools. Another effort highlighted today is a faster […]

  10. Steve:

    I think this is a very timely topic, s the future of our new, remade economy may be investing in small ventures, started by younger people, possibly pre-university, accessing lower amounts of accessible capital.

  11. Can you tell us about some of the businesses? My recollection of JuniorAchievement days (decades back) involved assembling/selling birdhouses. I could smell that this was about asking for charity more than running a real business….

  12. Great article, and I wish there had been something like this when I was growing up. Sounds like a great class and amazing learning experience for these kids. And inspirational for the rest of us.

    Rich Mironov also wrote about the entrepreneurship class at the Girl’s Middle School’s in more detail here:

  13. […] Startups – So Easy a 12 Year Old Can Do It Out of the mouths of babes. Maybe because it’s a company town and everyone in Silicon Valley has a family connection to […] […]

  14. Steve – What an inspiring post & school. It takes our Girls in Tech mentorship idea that next step further, as in taking the business idea out into the world! And, much agreed: lesson/s the girls will have to last a lifetime. As blog editor, I would love to share this with our Girls in Tech audience. (

  15. GMS is certainly an inspirational school. Sending my daughter there was one of the smartest things I ever did. And being an entrepreneurial coach volunteer for 2 years there was a great way for me to help budding entrepreneurs. And I also to learned two tricks from those young teams that I copied in my own startup presentations. First, they had a much better sense for creating colorful, eye-catching logos than most “real” startups I’ve seen. Second, when pitching the virtues of their startups they frequently said that their products/services were just more fun. I realized that striving for the fun attribute and stating it as a product benefit is an awesome value proposition.

  16. I had a similar experience teaching entrepreneurship to 14 & 15 year old high school students at Stanford EPGY last year. They “got” Customer Development right away and running around campus getting first hand feedback on their startup ideas worked great. (Thanks again for your help last summer!) I’m looking forward to teaching the course again this summer. When you see these kids run with it, it gives you hope for the future of the world.

  17. Also see a similar question and some awesome answers on Quora:

    Question: How should I raise a 12-year-old girl to be a successful entrepreneur?

  18. […] was reading “Startups – so easy a 12 year-old can do it” from Steve Blank’s blog about judging a Girl’s Middle School Entrepreneurial Night and […]

  19. […] Startups – So Easy a 12 Year Old Can Do It « Steve Blank […]

  20. Interesting article..but starting a business and then really making it big is two different my opinion

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: