It’s never too early to start a business. This is the spirit behind WeGrow, a private elementary school for “conscious entrepreneurship” from the founders behind the office-sharing company WeWork, which is valued at $20 billion.
After disrupting how we work in offices together, the WeWork founders, Adam and Rebekah Neumann, have set their sights on a familiar question the Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs of Silicon Valley also want to solve: How should we educate the next generation? If you believe that current education is “squashing out the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity that’s intrinsic to all young children” as Rebekah Neumann does, then WeGrow is the school for you.
Neumann has enrolled one of her own children in the pilot program that’s underway. These budding entrepreneurs, ages five to eight, spend part of class in a WeWork space in Manhattan, and one day a week they go to a 60-acre farm north of the city. In one example the Fast Company profile on the school gave, Neumann described how the children sold crops they harvested on the farm and called this experience “empowering.”
“Now that I’m a mom, I’m noticing there’s been a huge missed opportunity in the educational system, because children are ready to start creating their life’s work when they’re five,” Rebekah Neumann said. “And that’s just the truth of it. So why are we waiting until they graduate from college? I don’t even know if my kids are going to go to college.”
Do children really know what their “life’s work” is going to be at age five? Should children’s empowerment be linked to how much reach their ideas have and how much money they could make?
If you’re skeptical of WeGrow’s pedagogy, so was Samuel Abrams, the director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, at Columbia University’s Teachers College, when Bloomberg News asked him to weigh in on the idea. Abrams said WeGrow’s instrumental approach to how kids should learn is “essentially encouraging kids to monetize their ideas” which “at that age, is damaging” because it makes learning less fun.
Kidpreneur businesses are growing
Whether you’re a lover or a hater of WeGrow, the idea of a “kidpreneur” is here to stay and is part of a growing trend of education companies catering to the ideas of young hustlers.
If you’re not ready to fully commit your child’s education to entrepreneurship, there are companies and competitions that will facilitate a child’s business savvy on the side, including summer camps teaching teenagers how to build their personal business brand and Shark Tank-like business competitions with real equity investment money on the table for high schoolers.
The Acton Children’s Business Fair, which bills itself as the “largest entrepreneurship event for kids in North America,” allows young children to sell products at the fair. One of the biggest success stories from the fair is Mikaela Ulmer, who at age 4, was encouraged by her parents to bring her lemonade recipe to the fair, which eventually led her to score a $60,000 investment on Shark Tank and get her Me & the Bees Lemonade stocked in Whole Foods.
To succeed as a kidpreneur, you need to dream big like a kid, Ulmer advises. “When a kid has a dream and they want it to come true, they will do whatever it takes to do so. They don’t see the obstacles in the way, they will just fight hard to make it come true,” she said.