You're never too young to learn the lessons of entrepreneurship. Education and business leaders say that even kids who don't aspire to run their own business will have a competitive edge later in life if they're armed with entrepreneurial skills such as innovative thinking, financial literacy and effective communication.
So where can kids today pick up these valuable skills? Here's our list of top 10 entrepreneurship programs for young Canadians, from kindergarten tots to high school teens.
1. A Business of Our Own. Who says a kid can't be a CEO? In Junior Achievement's A Business of Our Own program, elementary school students get to be presidents and CEOs of their own retail business. They set up a stand where they sell their products, track their sales and profits, and distribute their earnings. To build creativity and critical thinking skills, program leaders ask students to map out a business plan, develop marketing material based on analyses of their target market, and manage financial forecasts and business records.
2. Entrepreneurial Adventure. Currently running in Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Entrepreneurial Adventure is a curriculum-linked program, offered by The Learning Partnership, that helps students from kindergarten to Grade 12 develop an enterprising spirit. Students work with their teacher and business advisor to develop their own business and, in the process, learn skills such as marketing, business planning and team building.
3. Summer Company. This Ontario government program is for high school or post-secondary students aged 15 to 29 who want to run a summer business. Participants, who must commit to spending an average of 35 hours a week working on their summer enterprise, get startup funding of up to $3,000 plus advice and mentorship from local entrepreneurs.
4. Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program. Delivered through high schools in seven provinces and one territory, Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program – part of an aboriginal education project founded by former prime minister Paul Martin – works to improve native youth's knowledge of business mathematics, finances, English, accounting, marketing and information technology. Students learn how to start and run a business and qualified participants get access to startup funding for a micro-business.
5. Young Entrepreneurs, Make Your Pitch. Run by the Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Ontario government, this competition invites Ontario students to submit a video pitch of their business idea. Eighteen finalists get a trip to Toronto to present their ideas at the Discovery Conference and Trade Show, a national innovation-to-commercialization conference. Six winners will be awarded reserved spots in Ontario's Summer Company program, which provides business advice, mentorship and up to $3,000 startup funding. This year's submission deadline is March 28.
6. Concours québécois en entrepreneuriat. This annual competition available to Quebec residents includes a student entrepreneurship component for students from elementary to post-secondary levels. Working with a teacher or project supervisor, participants build a business – or make significant additions to an existing project – in the year leading up the contest. Winning entries get a cash of up to $3,000. Last year, more than 51,000 students entered 2,510 projects in the contest.
7. Entrepreneurship – Lemonade. In Alberta, a distance learning course called Entrepreneurship – Lemonade allows high school students to learn about the theory and practice of entrepreneurship from their desktops, tablets or phones. Available as course bundle that counts as five credits towards a high school diploma, Entrepreneurship Lemonade includes a video game or simulation component where students build and run a virtual lemonade stand. Teachers can also choose to offer the courses in the classroom.
8. DECA. Based in Reston, Va., DECA is a non-for-profit organization with a mandate to help students develop as entrepreneurs and business leaders. In Canada, DECA has a chapter in Ontario that boasts more than 8,000 members in about 200 schools. Delivered through extra-curricular clubs and as part of Ontario's secondary schools specialist high skills major program, DECA activities include leadership building, business role playing, and regional and provincial competitions.
9. Global Vision Junior Team Canada. Open to Canadians aged 16 to 25, this program gives budding entrepreneurs and business leaders a global perspective. Youth "ambassadors" get to join trade missions, and attend APEC summits and youth G8 and G20 summits. Last year, delegates visited China, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong as youth representatives of the Prime Minister's office. About 20 to 30 delegates are chosen each year from a pool of applicants across Canada.
10. Shad Valley. Hundreds of high school students each year spend four weeks in residence at one of the host universities for Shad Valley, an enrichment program focusing on science, engineering, technology and entrepreneurship. There's a cost of $4,100 – or $8,000 if you're an international student – to attend Shad Valley, which targets high-performing students in grades 10, 11 and 12, Quebec secondaire IV, V or CEGEP I, or the international equivalent. Bursaries are available to students who demonstrate financial need.