Is entrepeneurship in your genes or something that can be taught? For the past 15 years, The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) has shown over 18,000 students in the Washington, DC area that business enterprise is indeed a life skill you can pick up in the classroom. NFTE offers a “mini-MBA” program that requires 70-100 hours of class time. It’s that kind of rigor — and accompanying success stories — that have won the support of the area’s business community, including Mark Ein. For the past five years, Ein has been a diligent sponsor of NFTE’s activities in the Greater Washington area. On Wednesday, April 29, NFTE will honor Ein at its 12th annual Dare to Dream gala dinner. Ein recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz about NFTE — and shared a few tips on what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
How did you get connected with NFTE?
Mark Ein: I went to their gala dinner five years ago. I was impressed by what I learned that night, not just about the programs and the business community’s support, but about the youth whom NFTE sponsors. At the gala, the students speak in front of a large audience and share their experience about how NFTE has shaped them. There’s also an exhibition area where you meet the students, see their projects and talk to them one on one.
Why should someone get interested in entrepreneurship, especially if they’re not going to start something the next day?
Mark Ein: Whether someone ends up being an entrepreneur early or later in life, understanding entrepreneurship as a life skill — and life opportunity — is incredibly important. In fact, there has never been a time when it’s been more important to understand how you can make a living relying on yourself as opposed to solely relying on a job within an organization. The great thing about the NFTE program is that it teaches young people about entrepreneurship at an age when instruction and education on the subject are generally not available.
What top advice would you give a young entrepreneur?
Mark Ein: I would say that pursuing your dreams and doing something you love is most important. On the other hand, doing something simply to make money is not the right reason nor, in my opinion, sufficient motivation to be a successful entrepreneur. Every entrepreneur whom I’ve ever known or worked with has seen their company through a near-death experience at some point. The motivation that enables people to make miracles happen — to make successes happen in the face of tough obstacles — stems from an intense passion to create whatever it is you are setting out to create.
On April 29 you will be honored at NFTE’s 12th annual Dare to Dream gala dinner. When did you learn the news?
Mark Ein: I learned about it in the late fall. I was thrilled but also obviously humbled and honored to be recognized by such a terrific organization. It’s going to be a great night. We have a wonderful group of leaders from the Washington business community coming as well as my good friends Mayor Fenty, Senator Warner, and many other friends and colleagues. I am deeply appreciative of everyone’s support and particularly for Don Peebles, who is chairing the event and who himself is one of the great Washington entrepreneurial success stories. Lastly, I am very excited that some of the kids who have been through the NFTE program are going to have a chance to share their story because I don’t think there are any better spokespeople for the organization than the students themselves.
How can other area executives get involved with NFTE?
Mark Ein: There are a lot of different ways people can get involved — that’s one of the great things about NFTE. Obviously you can be a donor and a sponsor and the gala is a great first introduction to the organization as it was for me. In addition, you can also mentor kids as they work through their business plans, be a judge for one of the business plan competitions, or be a speaker at a NFTE program. I plan on continuing to do all of the above — and I would encourage anyone who reads this to get involved in any one of those ways. You will find it incredibly rewarding.
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