Teens hone their entrepreneurial skills at an innovative online camp

When you think about youth entrepreneurship, it’s hard to get rid of that lemonade stand cliché.

It’s a cute image, rooted in North American culture. But in the 21st century, young people are not just offering sugary drinks. They are bubbling with ideas and sometimes create real businesses on their own – and in doing so, they promote creativity and independence.

It is this link between creation and entrepreneurship that took hold of Henry Greenberg. He is the founder of ASCEND, an intensive summer program for youth in grades 7-12 that, as SOAR’s website puts it, aims to help students “discover and realize their full potential through the powers of entrepreneurship and innovation”.

Just as intriguing as the program itself, however, is its founder.

SOAR began in 2018 when Greenberg, then in 11th grade, started it as part of a contest to THIS SIDE, a global organization that promotes professionalism and entrepreneurship among young people.

This project was a proof of concept that turned into SOAR. Greenberg approached one of his old professors he had in college and offered to turn the pilot into a full-fledged program. The teacher agreed, and Greenberg started SOAR in a 7th grade class at Oakville School, working with the teacher through the program. During its pilot period, the students created a toy project, imagining how they could market it.

The first iteration of SOAR saw students from other classes wanting to be included. Greenberg took this as a sign of the program’s potential, and refined and developed the idea. This is now a summer program which is, for the time being anyway, offered virtually and which mainly focuses on entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity as central pillars of the program. There are also sessions and lectures on a range of topics that differ based on student interests, such as marketing, budgeting, networking for students, pitching and more.

Greenberg’s entrepreneurial spirit was born at an early age. Where most of us played video games or rode bikes, he started small businesses.

“Entrepreneurship has always been something that interested me at a very young age,” he says. From the age of nine, Greenberg started a dog-walking outfit, and later held garage sales on his own, and bought and resold DVDs.

By Grade 8, he was more formally teaching other young people, and it was this blend of interests in both entrepreneurship and education that led to SOAR.

Before the pandemic, SOAR ran with Greenberg going to school and running a four to eight week program. One of these passages saw students choose a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal and find a problem related to it to try to solve, while another saw students trying to create a toy that would cultivate the empathy in children.

Like so many things after the pandemic hit, SOAR has gone virtual. To keep students who may be tired of Zoom education interested, Greenberg uses a mix of live sessions, guest lectures, and also leaves time for virtual group work and time away from the screen.

“I noticed last year that the students were really engaged,” says Greenberg. “They were emailing at night, and they’re invested in building their own businesses as part of those bigger projects beyond camp.”

Greenberg tells the story of a student who reached out a year after his time at camp and organized a YMCA conference in Halifax that included an entrepreneurship component in part because of his participation in SOAR.

Yet despite all the talk of entrepreneurship, Greenberg says his primary motivation isn’t to inspire young people to start businesses.

“I don’t see what I teach or the SOAR program as necessarily teaching students how to make money or have a career in business,” he says. “I see it more as an opportunity for creative exploration of ideas and a process of self-discovery.”

SOAR is running again in July and August, and students (or parents) can register on the site for one of the two cohorts this summer.

It promises to cultivate creative problem solving, innovation and more.

“The more students that are interested in entrepreneurship at a young age,” says Greenberg, “the more it will have a lasting impact in inspiring people to be problem solvers and embrace that creative energy.”

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