Earlier this month a group of elementary school students traveled to the hub of groundbreaking ideas — “The Garage” at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. — and teamed up to bring the kids’ ideas to life. But the big surprise was when Robert Herjavec from ABC’s Shark Tank walked into the space and excited the students and encouraged them to get the inventive juices flowing.
“It’s never too early to start exploring, discovering and inventing,” said Herjavec. “With every new generation, we’re becoming more innovative and imaginative.”
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During the invent-athon, Herjavec worked alongside teams of kids and Google volunteers who helped the kids see their ideas come to life. The event was the kick-off to a young entrepreneur competition, Dreamvention, sponsored by Frito-Lay Variety Pack.
“I couldn’t believe some of the ideas the teams came up with,” Herjavec said, “from a gun that makes snowballs by putting water into it, to a backpack using helium making it lighter to carry the load. It was incredible.”
For this small group of children, their views of what is possible are permanently changed. But for the billion kids under the age of 15 around the world who didn’t get this opportunity, I chatted with Herjavec about what families and parents could do to encourage entrepreneurial thinking in their children. Here are three key takeaways.
1. Find programming that encourages creativity and innovation.
Parental entrepreneurship increases the probability of children’s entrepreneurship by about 60 percent. Those kids grow up seeing a parent or guardian running a business, and learn through exposure. For parents who want to encourage entrepreneurial thinking in their children, exposing them to programming showing them how businesses start and how people take action in starting a business is important.
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“Shark Tank is one of the top shows for families,” Herjavec said. "None of us [The Sharks] saw that happening. When we have kids on the show our ratings spike. And we realized it’s a good format to inspire kids to follow their dreams."
Another great resource is through Junior Achievement, whose site has a host of program and educational resources listed by grade levels.
2. Use positive, but not empty, encouragement.
“Try positive encouragement. Not just empty encouragement, but in a way where kids can see themselves reaching a goal. One of the most important things is for kids to know that failure is not bad. 'No' is a very powerful word. And negativity and rejection are learned responses. It’s important that kids can fail and know they have the ability to rise again, and that if they fail, or if something doesn’t go according to plan, that the family will still be there to love and support,” Herjavec said.
Encouraging the process, not the outcome, is important. Fear of failure or a negative outcome is a key factor that prohibits innovation and creation. Set and achieve small goals together that build to a bigger outcome, and celebrate each step. Be specific in that positive reinforcement. Not just “good job, kiddo” but rather “great work on drawing your idea.”
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3. Show your kids that entrepreneurs come in all shapes, sizes and industries.
Where did Herjavec get his first entrepreneurial nudge? He remembers it very clearly.
“Growing up I was told that in order to make money you need money, and that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. As I was walking down the street one day I noticed the woman who ran the dry cleaning shop. And then I started looking at other people who didn’t fit the mold of what I had been told was a 'business owner.' Why did they start? How did they start? How are they able to wake up every day and create something and believe, against all odds, that it would work?”
As a child, it’s easy to correlate entrepreneurship with coming up with a tangible product or creation. But parents can encourage their kids to think about running different types of businesses by asking questions as you go about your regular routine.
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On the way to soccer practice? Ask your kids to think about how they could make the equipment better. Going to the grocery store? Ask your kids what they like and don’t like about the store, and if they had a store of their own what they would change. Eating at a restaurant? Ask your kids what type of restaurant they would like to have, and how they’d do it differently.
For Herjavec, that curiosity and realization that there were people succeeding outside of “the mold” was the initial nudge that he needed to get started.
And now he’s helping kids all over the world get that nudge by encouraging creation and invention in collaboration with the Dreamvention program.
Dreamers age seven and up are invited to dream up a simple invention for the chance to win $250,000. Families can participate by thinking up a fun invention idea, creating a simple drawing and short explanation of it and uploading both to MyDreamvention.com by April 24 for a chance to win.