A 'Nifty' Idea
by Anthony Stasi
Jun 06, 2012 | 799 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
More than 20 years ago a Bronx high school teacher in charge of “dropout kids” came up with an idea to give students who may not have been on the college track a purpose.

He developed a program that would teach students the elements of entrepreneurism. By 1987, Steve Mariotti founded the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). NFTE (pronounce it “nifty”) is a mentoring and educational innovation house that works with public schools to offer something other than the traditional route to success for students.

Each year, NFTE holds a competition in the various regions where they have a foothold, and New York City is where it all started. The NFTE Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge and the finals in the New York Metro area were held last week at the Scholastic Building in Manhattan. Two of the three finalists were from Queens, and one was from Brooklyn.

Matthew Howard gave his presentation on his idea to create a website where artists (poets, musicians, etc.) can showcase their work. CreaTist Zone is his idea. He not only spoke about it, but he explained how long it would take to earn a profit, while explaining his extremely professional business plan.

The second participant was the team of Eric Lambert and Elijah Ellis, who designed a plan to recapture text books for schools from students who were delinquent in returning books called Book Repo. Lambert, Ellis, and Howard are all students at Queens Academy High School.

Glenda Ascencio was the third contestant with her English Service, which is a business targeting Hispanics who do not speak English. The plus side to Ascencio’s idea is that it is already in operation. She teaches out of her parents’ home and attends Brooklyn International High School.

Howard won the day with his CreaTist Zone plan, and all three won a monetary award and will most likely face each other in another competition. The ideas were good, but what stands out is their drive. There does not need to be only one path to learning, and when these students get connected to volunteer mentors from companies such as Ernst & Young, they get advice and mentoring that can help them develop skills.

All of this brought me back to my first job at Viacom, working for veteran television executives. At some point, I had saved up some money and decided to open a mutual fund. I went over which would be good for me with one of my bosses. When I opened the account, a guy named Bruce Hoffman said “you are officially a part of the American economic system.”

Whether Book Repo, CreaTist Zone, or Ascencio’s English Service takes off or not, they are all now a part of the economic establishment. They know more about opportunity costs, bottom lines, and pitching ideas than many college graduates. This a good program because it gives students access to the American dream.

Just as important is how nice these students are when you approach them. They all presented their ideas well, which is impressive since Ascencio’s first language is not English. A big part of education at the beginning of the 20th century involved public speaking – the ability to articulate an idea. We got away from that value in modern education, and now – in programs like this – it is back.

Soda Wars Bubble Over

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to curb the sale of large-sized sugar beverages should come as no shock to anyone. When the beverage tax, which called for an increased tax on sugar drinks failed to get traction, the mayor turned to Plan B. That is what he does. This strategy is why he is successful – he finds a way to win.

The debate over whether this is a step over the line of free choice is the story in much of the press, but to watch a politician like Bloomberg operate is a lesson for any student of politics. In the thick of writing a Ph.D. dissertation on government reform, I have found some basic traits in big-time reformers. One trait is that they often come from the political center (Theodore Roosevelt, Rudolph Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, Ed Rendell).

Another trait that reformers sometimes share is that there are small issues that eventually grow into larger issues. They start small (think Giuliani and panhandling window washers) and then the reform momentum grows from there.

Bloomberg is not at war with the soda industry, even though some unions may argue that this will hurt bottling and delivery jobs. He is at war with sugar. He knows that once he is gone, no free-enterprise Republican or union-supported Democrat will be willing to touch this issue.

No matter what happens with the mayor’s soda ban, this is a lesson in getting things done, and that is what reformers do.

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