Every child has the capacity to change the world. All they need is the opportunity.
At a time when most business ventures are judged by the growth of their financial bottom line, one Madison-area nonprofit business is not only growing its bottom line, but also a generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders: CEOs of Tomorrow.
CEOs of Tomorrow was founded in 2016 with a mission to inspire youth to unlock their entrepreneurial gifts and use those gifts to make the world a better place. These engaging, hands-on programs and unique approach are known to strengthen critical life skills and give youth the opportunity to affect positive social change while earning money.
What began as a four-week academy for Madison-area youth in 2016 has blossomed into a year-round, multi-prong organization with local and international institutional partnerships, paid youth internships at local businesses, and a well-honed offering of real-world entrepreneurship programs for youth. Programs support students from business ideation to implementation, turning ideas into revenue-generating businesses that support social solutions and make the world a better place.
Founded by award-winning educator, author and entrepreneur Dr. Roxie Hentz, CEOs of Tomorrow has worked with over 425 youth (primarily students of color and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch), since its inception. These students in turn have launched over 200 revenue-generating businesses for social good.
CEOs of Tomorrow offers programs for students in Grade 4 – 12. Each program is designed to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset through real-world experience, while nurturing the financial literacy and life skills necessary for success. For example, middle school students learn the basics of business development by creating and selling their own products. High School students take that foundational knowledge and apply the principles to create business enterprises that create products and services while contributing to social change. Programs include workshops, academies, product development incubation and internships.
Programs start with “The Busine$$ of Giving Summer Camps” for young entrepreneurs (grades 4-8); and continue with a complete suite of entrepreneurship opportunities for teens (grades 9-12) including: the These Teens Mean Busine$$ International Summer Academy; a weekend These Teens Mean Busine$$ Incubator on Saturdays in Spring & Fall; These Teens Mean Busine$$ Innovation Studio spring program; Summer Internships at local businesses; and the Global Excursions program.
FACTS & FIGURES
- Revenue generating businesses launched: 216
- Business profits earned by youth during launch phase: $22,638
- Business profits donated organizations addressing social change: $3,197
- Cash awards and scholarships earned by youth: $12,000
- Program participants that are youth of color: 85%
- Program participants that are from low-income households: 61%
- Program alumni attending college from first-generation college students: 83%
- High school and middle schools represented by youth: 22
Additional services include curricula and youth-led leadership programs, such as the peer-to-peer “Teen Money Mentoring” and other financial wellness education programs.
Many of the COT programs offer high school and college credits from Madison College, others recognize achievement with digital badge credentials; all provide opportunities to learn, share and grow.
But the benefits of entrepreneurship education extend far beyond business ownership. The approach helps develop the skills that prepare students for success at school, home, and in their future careers.
Founder Hentz is an entrepreneurship education “rock star”, but keeps her eye on the role and impact that bright and enterprising young minds can have in the community.
Social entrepreneurship – the act of creating businesses that solve social problems and benefit society – is the secret ingredient to COT’s approach. It transforms youth into critical thinkers and “enthusiastic dreamers” by empowering them with the tools they need to shape and influence the world around them.
She explains: “Through social entrepreneurship education, our youth not only learn business ownership, but also become leaders and team players, practice problem-solving, grow their confidence, and unlock their creativity.”
Of the many programs offered, Hentz is especially excited about the return of “Global Excursions” – a summer immersion program where High School students from Wisconsin travel to The Gambia to meet fellow students and collaboratively create meaningful business solutions in the host state. The initiative was started a few years ago, but put on hold due to pandemic travel restrictions.
The program is set to resume this summer and will introduce 10 local student entrepreneurs with 4 of their Gambian counterparts – students who participated in COT’s International Virtual Academy program last summer.
“Our goal is to provide everything they need, from ideation to implementation, to launch their own businesses by identifying a problem that exists, identifying their skill or passion, and then turning that combination into a revenue-generating business,” Hentz explains. The objective is to make “an entrepreneurial investment in that youth.”
Hentz visited the city of Kanifing in The Gambia last fall to meet with students who had completed COT’s virtual Academy during the pandemic and reported that “It was incredible to hear about the impact they feel they’ve gained from (their experience with) CEOs of Tomorrow.” In addition to the business planning experience, those students will lead a cultural exchange for the American students.
She reports the trip was “one of the most life changing, inspirational and transformational experiences of my life. From the time I got off the plane to the time I returned back, from everyone I met I heard a resounding: “Welcome home, Sister, welcome home!”
Dr. Hentz added: “It was so powerful, so uplifting. For the first time, I felt truly ‘at home’ – something that I never even knew I was missing until I was there.”
It is this sense of identity and community – feeling welcomed and embraced – that is key to what COT really offers: a chance to be a contributing member of the larger community.
“When we arm our youth with real-world experiences, when we expect and know they can reach higher heights, they will do it,” explains Hentz. “No matter what the race or gender of a young person, when you unlock that brilliance, the sky’s the limit.”
For more information on CEOs of Tomorrow programs, services and ways to support these initiatives, see https://CEOsOfTomorrow.org/
If you are a local business, especially woman- or BIPOC-owned, interested in hosting and mentoring interns, please call 608-298-6949 or contact info@CEOsOfTomorrow.org.
CEOs of TOMORROW PROGRAMS FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS
Busine$$ of Giving Summer Camp
Students in grades 4-8 learn how to run a business and help the community, applying entrepreneurship skills to launch their very own “Homemade Gummy Animal Business” and “Homemade Bath Bomb Business” during these fun- and action-filled camps.
These Teens Mean Busine$$ International Academy (Summer- Virtual)
Teens grades 9-12 learn foundational business concepts, earn college credits, and make international friends in this youth entrepreneurship program. Over four weeks, similar-sized groups of teens here and abroad virtually connect to explore business principles like management, finance, and marketing.
These Teens Mean Busine$$ Incubator (Fall & Spring – Saturdays)
Teens test business ideas to earn revenue and promote positive change in their community. They also learn and practice business development, finance, and marketing concepts. During the culminating Teen Pitch & Launch Event, each aspiring entrepreneur pitches their business to a panel of experts and sells their products and services to real customers.
These Teens Mean Busine$$ Innovation Studio (Spring)
Teens learn and apply the Design Thinking process to create and sell “businesses-in-boxes,” designed for aspiring “kidpreneurs” to create and launch their own business for social good.
These Teens Mean Busine$$ Summer Internship
Teens spend a minimum of 90 hours and a maximum of up to 144 hours working alongside local entrepreneurs and gain invaluable experience. Participants also complete 25 hours of in-class coursework focused on work-readiness skills, including resume writing, job interviewing, email and phone communication, presentation skills, and self-evaluation and reflection.
These Teens Mean Busine$$ Global Excursions
Madison-area teens will learn foundational business concepts, earn college credits, make international friends in the host country of The Gambia in Africa and collaborate with their African student counterparts, applying what they have learned in social entrepreneurship and collectively developing small business ideas aimed at addressing local needs in the host community.