Seattle, August 28, 1998 — A group of Seattle teenagers is graduating today – not from high school, but from a two-week summer course that is part of a nationwide program to teach inner city, low-income young people the skills they need to successfully start and operate their own businesses.
Seattle’s BizCamp, sponsored by Microsoft and other local businesses that are Microsoft Certified Solution Providers (MCSPs), is part of a program created by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE, pronounced “nifty”) to teach disadvantaged teenagers the entrepreneurial, computer and Internet skills they need to succeed in today’s competitive business environment. Excell Data, fine.com and Cisco Systems helped the students with their business plans and technical skills and provided guest speakers who related their own entrepreneurial success stories.
Microsoft has partnered with NFTE on several other projects, including a business/entrepreneurship curriculum administered through public schools and internship programs in Boston and New York.
“Microsoft is proud to be a part of NFTE’s innovative program that provides the important building blocks for a successful business career to students who don’t usually have access to this kind of educational experience,” said Mark Wolfram, general manager of Microsoft’s Pacific Northwest sales office.
Steve Mariotti, an entrepreneur turned high-school teacher, founded NFTE in 1987. After being mugged and beaten by a group of teenagers on New York’s Lower East Side in 1981, Mariotti was so traumatized that he decided to give up his successful business and face his fear directly by becoming a teacher at one of the nation’s toughest high schools. Shortly after starting work at Boys and Girls High School in New York City, however, Mariotti realized that communicating with his students wasn’t much easier than reasoning with his attackers had been. The year Mariotti started his teaching career, local headlines read, “Teacher Beaten and Dragged Down Stairs,” and, “Teacher’s Hair Set on Fire at Troubled Boys and Girls High School.”
Mariotti responded to his students’ threats, spitballs and catcalls in a language they understood – money. He started teaching them the principles of business and making a profit and showed them how they could start their own businesses. It won him their attention, and eventually their respect, and it made them hungry to learn the math and communication skills they would need to succeed in business.
“It became apparent to me that many of my students, no matter how troubling their lives and situations were, had a natural aptitude for entrepreneurship,” Mariotti said in an interview earlier this year with the “The World & I”, a Washington Times publication for lifelong learners. “Their lives encouraged independence, toughness, unself-consciousness, and a natural ability in salesmanship. They were also comfortable with risk and ambiguity, which is essential for successful entrepreneurs.”
Over the past decade, NFTE has grown from 200 students and revenues of $189,000 in 1987 to 3,600 students and more than $4 million in revenues in 1997. NFTE operates at 65 sites in 17 American cities, with another 17 sites abroad. More than 17,000 students have graduated from NFTE programs, and many of them currently own and operate successful businesses.
When Rajib Momen’s mother heard about the NFTE program, she knew her son would be interested. Rajib could barely read when he first started asking his parents for a computer. Once he finally got one, his natural abilities took over. He taught himself the technology and eventually realized he could earn money teaching others the information that came so easily to him. By the time he was 13, Rajib had started a fledgling computer consulting business. NFTE gave Rajib the skills he would need to organize and expand his business for long-term success.
“I needed structure in my business,” Rajib said. “NFTE gave me the tools I needed to succeed even more.”
Today at 17, Rajib, who still operates his business and provides consulting services to NFTE, has set his sights on a college education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“I make more money than most of my friends. But it’s not about the money. I started this business as a hobby, and I want to continue to enjoy my work,” Rajib said. Rajib’s business is Boston Computing Network, http://www.bostoncomputing.net .