REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 18, 2000 — A group of talented young people in New York and New England are celebrating a significant and hard-earned accomplishment today — they are graduating from BizCamp, a nationwide business leadership program geared toward high school juniors and seniors. But these new graduates are armed with much more than classroom knowledge and paper skills. They are ready to meet their futures head-on, with real-world experience.
“It was awesome,” said Jame Wong, a graduating NFTE participant who just completed his senior year at Murray Bergtraum High School in Manhattan. “When I saw the flyer on my school’s bulletin board, I thought, ‘Microsoft, wow, I want to be part of that.'”
Wong this summer interned at Valinor, Inc., a Microsoft Certified Solution Provider (MCSP) that is focused on infrastructure and messaging within the Microsoft BackOffice suite of products. Wong says he was attracted to the opportunity to gain experience with solution providers, get certified, work with Microsoft technicians, and with technology that would allow for personal growth.
For more than a decade, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE, pronounced “nifty”) has assisted low-income and at-risk youth to find solid footing in future careers by introducing them to the world of business and entrepreneurship. Through a six-week training session known as BizCamp, students go through a rigorous curriculum focused on starting and maintaining a business, and are then exposed to real-life experience by working with MCSPs, Microsoft Certified Technical Education Centers (CTEC), or other participating technology companies in their respective communities.
“Through Microsoft’s support, we have been able to create an Internet-based curriculum, BizTech, that enables us to reach far more students than we otherwise could,” said Gina Trent, a NFTE spokeswoman.
NFTE, a nonprofit organization based in New York that has taught more than 23,000 students in the United States and abroad how to develop and operate their own businesses, was founded by Steve Mariotti, an entrepreneur –turned –high –school teacher. He will be the keynote speaker and will present awards at the New York graduation ceremony.
Wong, one of NFTE’s newest and brightest young graduates, will be in attendance. He starts at Polytechnic University in the fall and plans on getting his certification soon. “NFTE is a great experience and offers incredible opportunities,” he said.
“We love Jame. He’s got a lot of presence, he’s forceful, he’s filled with energy, he’s enthusiastic, and he was a breath of fresh air for us,” said Ron Carroll, vice president of Valinor and district manager of the company’s New York region. “The NFTE program is excellent. It fits with both Microsoft and Valinor’s vision and philosophy of supporting the benefits of entrepreneurship. Jame represents that. I shared the business strategy of our office with him, and he came back with fresh, solid ideas.”
Carroll explained that in an effort to build up morale — during summer, many people take vacations and the office has a tendency to drift apart a bit — Wong put together off-site team-building exercises for the office, gestures that were extremely appreciated. In addition, Wong set up servers and worked with databases and program applications while at Valinor, and he designs Web pages on the side. What he likes most about technology is that “it has no limits.”
“You can do anything,” he said. “Almost any question can be answered with an application.”
But while Wong finds this work stimulating and rewarding, he still takes time before and after work to pursue his other interests — sailing, snowboarding, rollerblading and skateboarding. “I’m a born Dilbert,” he joked, “but I try to make time to do all the things I enjoy.”
One of the elements Wong said he enjoyed most about his week at BizCamp was the ease in using BizTech, implemented just last year. An Internet-based training program developed in conjunction with Microsoft, it comprises a comprehensive business curriculum and the preparation of written business plans. These are entered into a competition, and winners will be announced at today’s graduation ceremony. As a longtime supporter of NFTE, Microsoft has contributed $3 million in cash and software to fund BizTech and other programs. The purpose of all this, Trent said, is to offer young people opportunities that they may not have had otherwise.
Eduardo Vazquez, a senior at Boston Latin High School in Massachusetts, is quite aware of the difference that the NFTE program has made in his life. After going through BizCamp last summer and taking an internship at Clipboard Solutions (then known as American Direct Care), Vazquez began to work there part-time during the school year, and this summer was offered a full-time position as a Cold Fusion programmer. When he returns to Boston Latin for his senior year in the fall, Vazquez will continue to work part-time at Clipboard.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for NFTE,” he said simply. “I really enjoy what I do right now; it’s not a far cry from what I want to do when I get older. Now I have something to put on my resume in terms of experience, and I get to work with some very talented people. BizCamp was really helpful.”
The New York camp lasts for one week, and the remaining five weeks are focused on the internships. The camp in Boston is two weeks long and is run in conjunction with the TechBoston initiative of Boston Public Schools. Students chosen to participate in the program have an interest in technology and the desire to pursue a career in the technological field, Trent explained, whether it be as a programmer, a Web designer, working in management or in support. The key is BizTech.
“With BizTech, we can also offer all our students, regardless of income level, the advanced computer skills they’ll need to operate businesses and be self-sufficient in the new economy,” Trent said. “Our goal is to have every NFTE student use BizTech within the year 2000.”
Starting his own business is one of Calvin Persaud’s ultimate goals — he wants to fill the gap between vendors and consumers. His company, he explained, will take over once the warranty expires on a computer, stepping in and providing technical assistance for all types of systems. It won’t be limited to merely fixing what’s broken, though. Persaud’s company will also build custom computers for businesses that need to install networks.
An enthusiastic recent graduate of Martin Luther King Jr. High School in New York City’s Upper West Side, Persaud wakes up at 4 a.m. each morning to get from his home in Brooklyn to Hauppage, where NexTech Training Solutions, the technical training company where he interns, is located.
“It has been an amazing experience,” Persaud said. “NexTech is a great place to work. They provide fantastic training and really great facilities.” Persaud is speaking from first-hand experience — part of his internship entailed taking a CompTIA A+ course at NexTech, and he plans to take the exam for his certification this year.
“Cal has a background in accounting, but he was really interested in technology,
“said Russ Izzo, president and CEO of NexTech, a Microsoft CTEC.”
He asked us, ‘What can you do to get me on the road to computers?’ We felt that rather than having him do clerical work, we could best help him by providing him with some hands-on training that he can use to advance a career. We also really wanted to participate and contribute to Microsoft’s initiative. It’s a really good program, and serves as guidance for younger people, showing them that there’s a path they can follow.”
Since finishing the CompTIA A+ course, Persaud has helped local universities set up individual computer labs — from building the computers to setting up the networks. He will be starting at Miami’s Johnson and Wales University in the fall and taking MCSE and MCP exams. “NFTE gives you the opportunity to see how real businesses work,” Persaud said. “If you’re really serious about a career in business, this is the way to go. The program pushes you out the door. I just wish it was longer.”
The business training camp at NFTE was invaluable, Persaud added, and put a lot of things into perspective. The students learned how to deal with competitors and use constructive criticism to improve their business plans. “You also have to show how you’re different from other businesses,” Persaud said. “But the best part about it is that you start to see how it all works, and that it could actually come true.”
Vazquez recently shared similar sentiments with a group of new NFTE participants. “I was talking with some of the NFTE kids today and told them that there’s a lot of potential when you get into an environment like this, and a lot of opportunities and doors opened that you wouldn’t have normally,” he said. “The people you get to know, the job possibilities — it’s all there. NFTE makes everything much simpler.”