- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2000

My son has opened a hardware store in my husband's metalworking shop. He charges a lot for every screw, nail and tool within his reach. The items are neatly labeled and carefully inventoried. All sales are final and dutifully rung up on an electronic cash register.
Although his customers are family members, he is learning some real lessons about running a business. Mainly he has discovered the joys of a captive market and keeping his own hours.
As Steve Mariotti sees it, these are the first steps toward a successful career as an entrepreneur. Mr. Mariotti is a New York businessman who has founded a nonprofit group to teach children how to start their own businesses. Though he specializes in coaching children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, his advice applies to any family that wants to give its children a good financial education.
"No matter who your employer is, managing your money wisely is not unlike being in business for yourself," Mr. Mariotti says in the introduction to his recent book, "The Young Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting and Running a Business."
Mr. Mariotti got started on the youth-entrepreneurship track in the mid-1980s when he taught at a high school in one of New York City's roughest districts. Hired to teach a basic math course, Mr. Mariotti found himself barely able to speak in the din that surrounded him.
Students shouted and lobbed spitballs at the blackboard. Two girls practiced dance steps in the back of the classroom. One day, his charges locked him out of the classroom. Another day, a student set fire to another pupil's coat. None of his students was interested in learning from the textbooks Mr. Mariotti was using.
"One day, I was desperate. I got hit in the back of the head with a spitball," he says. "I then decided to wing it I gave a mock sales pitch, offering to sell my watch for $6." The class quieted down. He used the lesson to explain the concept of profit and loss and soon had a rapt audience. "Suddenly, I had their attention," he recalls.
Many of his students were "street smart." They might not be able to read past a third-grade level, but they had an innate understanding of the laws of supply and demand. They knew how to barter and negotiate. Building on those skills, Mr. Mariotti designed a curriculum that taught the basics of running a business.
A summation of his lesson plans is included in his book along with stories about the experiences of successful entrepreneurs such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Sam Walton of Wal-Mart and Anita Roddick of the Body Shop.
The book is written on a level that a middle school or high school student can understand. There are chapters devoted to understanding economics, determining market share, identifying business opportunities and writing a business plan. These lessons are interwoven with stories of students who started with a simple idea and became successful in business.
In 1987, Mr. Mariotti founded the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit group that teaches the basics of business to youth. The program is taught all across the country in public and private schools. The classes range in length from one week to a year. Youngsters get the opportunity to compete for venture capital. In the District, students can attend an entrepreneurship lab where volunteers from the business community offer their advice.
Mr. Mariotti's book contains the core curriculum of the classes and includes a sample business plan that takes readers through the step-by-step process of starting a business. The book helps students think up ideas for businesses and tackles details such as drafting a yearly income statement.
The book's blueprint for starting a business, which includes a workbook and sample calculations, is something a high school student could manage with a little help from a parent. Most of the business ideas are practical and inexpensive to initiate.
Each chapter includes a bibliography of business-related reading or Internet resources. A chapter on understanding the financial markets explains how the Dow Jones Industrial Average is calculated and why it is used as a benchmark for daily stock market activity.
The book tackles the legal aspects of running a business and the tax liability, depending on the type of business. Some discussion also is focused on the types of permits local jurisdictions might require for small businesses. Finally, for those in search of an idea, the book includes several suggestions for actual businesses and tips on how to identify a business opportunity.
Have a question on work or family finances? Get in touch with Anne Veigle at 202/636-3014 or e-mail ([email protected]).

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