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Posted by bcopple on July 25, 2009

We all know that starting a business can make you rich. Or famous. And you probably are aware that entrepreneurs are the fuel that makes our economy run. Startups account for 3% employment growth each year, almost double the average overall rate of 1.8% — meaning that new businesses are creating jobs while big companies eliminate them. Entrepreneurs drive most of the innovation in our lives too: from the airplane to Google, just about any invention you can think of came from an individual or small team working alone, not from some corporate lab where the only ideas come from focus groups.

But beyond it’s economic and social power, entrepreneurship can also be a force for personal growth. Building a business requires creativity and ambition, balanced with discipline and persistence. It takes courage and it takes hard work. (Of course, there’s a dark side.)

I was reminded of all this a few months ago when I helped judge the finals of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship‘s citywide business plan competition. When I agreed to do it, on the request of a good friend, Clint Coghill, I had no idea what I’d signed up for. The other judges were Chicago business heavyweights like Larry Levy and Joe Mansueto. And the kids — wow.

We saw six business plans, all written by Chicago high school students from the 35 public schools that offer an entrepreneurship class using the NFTE curriculum. Every plan described a product, a market and the economics of their business. The kids presented their idea, projected their return on investment and detailed their strategy for marketing, distribution and sales.

NFTE's 2009 Business Plan Finals: contestants and judges
NFTE’s 2009 Business Plan Finals: contestants and judges

All the judges were blown away by each kid’s poise, eloquence and ambition. The winner, Zoe Damacela, stood out in large part because she’d already started her business. She took the $2,000 prize and inspired me to tell her story in an Entrepreneurs in Action video. It’s a story about how entrepreneurship can give a creative, hard-working kid something to latch on to.

Zoe’s an inspiration. Ten years ago she and her mother, Farah, were living in relatives’ basements and Section 8 housing in California. Now Farah has a college degree and a good job at a nonprofit; she just bought a condo in the West Loop. And Zoe is running a fashion business that could gross $30,000 this year. She’s planning on college (at the School of the Art Institute, she hopes). As Larry Levy told me after he saw the video, she’s “a girl we should all keep our eyes on.”

Here’s the video:

Zoe Damacela: Young entrepreneur

Zoe Damacela: Young entrepreneur


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