- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

Charles Sanders has kept fish in a home aquarium since he was 6. Cleaning the tank is not one of the 17-year-old's favorite jobs. So when he and his friend Marcus McLain, 17, were trying to think of a way to earn money, they decided to open a business cleaning aquariums.

"We thought about what it was that we could really do," says Charles, a junior at Largo High School in Upper Marlboro. The two friends had taken a business class together on how to become entrepreneurs.

The course, sponsored by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), teaches skills that can be used in the business world. Students learn how to write a business plan, calculate their profits and losses and set competitive prices.

"Our goal is creating universal business literacy among young people," says Steve Mariotti, president and founder of the New York City-based group, which was founded in 1987. "This is what I have been thinking about for the last 19 years."

Mr. Mariotti, a former businessman and teacher, came up with the idea for the entrepreneur training program when struggling to keep order in a math class 15 years ago. He found that his students, who otherwise ignored him, paid rapt attention when Mr. Mariotti talked about his experience as a businessman. He decided then to create a course that would teach youngsters the fundamentals of starting a business.

The NFTE program is taught in several schools throughout the Washington area. Charles and Marcus used the information they learned to start a business they hope can help pay for college.

The students picked up some tips on marketing such as getting a snappy slogan and printing up business fliers.

"Treating your fish like royalty" is the motto of their newly minted company, Aquatic Kings, which promises to deliver, set up and maintain aquariums for customers.

The fliers, which are printed on a swimming-pool shade of blue paper, are the primary form of advertising for the moment.

"Our primary goal is to go after businesses," Charles says.

The Aquatic Kings recently won a citywide business-plan competition sponsored by NFTE. The fledgling company won recognition from some of Washington's top entrepreneurs, who have served as advisers to NFTE counselors locally.

"I've watched and worked with the Aquatic Kings, going from concept to actually operating as a business," says Jonathan Ledecky, co-owner of the Washington Capitals.

"Charles could sell ice to Eskimos."

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