Driving through residential streets at the height of summer, you’ll often see the hallmarks of youth entrepreneurship. These could be a lemonade stand, a lawn mowing crew, a babysitter at a playground.
For tweens and teens looking to earn extra money over the summer, these classic pursuits may not seem like anything special. But all it takes is a little reframing for them to start to realize that they’re engaged in the form of entrepreneurship. By that, we mean the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. They’re quenching thirst, beautifying a yard, caring for someone’s beloved child.
And once they embrace this definition of entrepreneurship, we can shift their whole perception of how they’re spending their summer. They’re not “just” earning money; they’re empowering themselves.
Cultivating this entrepreneurial mindset is the goal of our Ice House Middle School Program, geared toward children ages 11 to 16. It capitalizes on their natural curiosity at this developmental stage—as well as the blossoming drive for independence—to increase their self-efficacy, develop problem-solving skills, and prepare them to engage more fully in their schoolwork.
Origins of the Ice House Model
Clifton Taulbert wasn’t yet 14 years old when he started working at his great-uncle’s ice house in Glen Allan, Mississippi, in the late 1950s. He had already spent years working the cotton fields, and he recognized the opportunity working at the ice house presented. It was still hard work, but it did offer the chance to gain business insight and interact with customers. It was a chance to see himself learning and growing beyond what society told him he could do.
As a young adult, Taulbert left Mississippi and persevered through many other jobs – from the military to banking to starting his own companies – but the life lessons he learned from his great-uncle at the ice house endured.
Like most adolescents, Taulbert was impressionable. He soaked up everything he could, from the importance of knowledge to the power of a personal brand. Well before TikTok, Clifton saw that the way one presented themself in the world had lasting repercussions.
Today’s world is different in many ways, but young people still absorb information from the adults in their lives. Lately, they may have seen loved ones lose their jobs due to the pandemic. Or leave careers that were no longer rewarding to increase their well-being.
All of this is rich material for the kinds of conversations prompted by the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program; discussions about identifying, evaluating, and validating opportunities in real-world settings. Students also learn to identify social and situational factors that encourage or inhibit entrepreneurial behavior. These lessons, in turn, teach them to recognize individuals who can provide critical guidance and ongoing support.
The Ice House Model in Action
When students learn to frame their work within an entrepreneurial mindset, the possibilities are endless. One of our favorite examples is a landscaping business started by students of the Ice House Program at Gilmour Academy. As this case study illustrates, not only did they systematically expand the business, they are working on a succession plan to ensure that it continues after they graduate from high school and go on to college.
Entrepreneurial learning like this will be invaluable for their future endeavors, whether or not they continue with their own businesses. They’ve learned that they can solve real-world problems with limited resources and without tons of oversight from adults.
This summer, we can help foster an entrepreneurial mindset in the young people we know.
Whether they start a lemonade stand, mow lawns for the neighborhood, or have a babysitting gig, we can mentor them with how we talk about whatever problem they’ve chosen to solve for others.