When you think of youthful entrepreneurship, it’s hard to shake that cliche of the lemonade stand.
It’s a cute image, one embedded in North American culture. But in the 21st century, young people aren’t just slinging sweet drinks. They are bubbling with ideas and sometimes starting real businesses of their own — and in the process fostering creativity and independence.
It’s that link between creation and entrepreneurship that took hold of Henry Greenberg. He’s the founder of SOAR, an intensive summer program aimed at youth in grades 7 to 12 that, as SOAR’s website says, 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, still then in grade 11 high school, ran it as part of a competition for DECA, a global organization that promotes professionalism and entrepreneurship among youth.
That project was a proof-of-concept that turned into SOAR. Greenberg approached a former teacher of his whom he had in middle school and proposed transforming the pilot into a full-fledged program. The teacher agreed, and Greenberg launched SOAR in a Grade 7 class in the Oakville school, working with the teacher as part of the curriculum. In its pilot period, students created a toy project, imagining how they might bring it to market.
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 built upon the idea. It is now a summer program that is, for the time being anyway, offered virtually, and focuses primarily on entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity as the core pillars of the program. There are also sessions and guest talks on a range of topics that differ based on the interests of the students, such as marketing, budgeting, networking for students, pitching and more.
My two boys participated in SOAR 2020. This virtual camp is a great introduction to entrepreneurship & project-based learning, while fostering critical thinking & creativity.
— Erica Baker, PhD (@EricaABaker) May 8, 2021
Greenberg’s entrepreneurial ethos came about from a young age. Where most of us were playing video games or riding bikes, he was starting small businesses.
“Entrepreneurship was always something I was interested in at a very young age,” he says. From when he was just nine years old, Greenberg started a dog walking outfit, and went on to organize garage sales on his own initiative, and buy and resell DVDs.
By grade 8, he was tutoring other young people more formally, and it was that mix of interests in both entrepreneurship and education that led to SOAR.
Prior to the pandemic, SOAR ran with Greenberg going into school and running a four- to eight-week program. One such stint saw students choosing a United Nations Sustainable Development goal and finding a problem related to it to try and solve, while another saw students trying to create a toy that would cultivate empathy in children.
Like so many things after the arrival of the pandemic, SOAR switched to virtual. To keep students who may be tiring of Zoom education interested, Greenberg uses a mix of live sessions, guest talks, and also leaves time for virtual group work and time away from the screen.
“I noticed last year that students were really engaged,” says Greenberg. “They were sending emails at night, and they’re invested in developing their own ventures as part of these bigger projects beyond the camp.”
Greenberg tells a story about a student who reached out a year after his time in the camp who was running a YMCA conference in Halifax that included a component on entrepreneurship in part because of their participation in SOAR.
Yet, for all the talk of entrepreneurship, Greenberg says his primary motivation isn’t to get young people starting businesses.
“I don’t see what I’m teaching or the SOAR program as necessarily being a way to teach students to make money or pursue business as a career,” he says. “I see it more as an opportunity for the creative exploration of idea, and a process of self-discovery.”
SOAR is running again this July and August, and students (or parents) can sign up on the website for one of two cohorts this summer.
It promises to cultivate creative problem solving, innovation and more.
“The more students who are interested in entrepreneurship at a young age,” says Greenberg, “the more it will have a long-lasting impact in terms of inspiring people to be problem solvers and changemakers, and embrace that creative energy.”
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