The Pathway to Entrepreneurship: Financial Literacy
As a reader of TK Business Magazine, you probably started thinking about money and finances a long time ago. Most likely you learned some hard lessons along the way.
Unfortunately, far too many young people and even adults struggle with their finances, their careers and making financial choices in life. The evidence is abundant.
So, how do we begin to turn the corner on these issues? We need to stress financial literacy. The National Financial Educators Council defines financial literacy as: “Possessing the skills and knowledge on financial matters to confidently take effective action that best fulfills an individual’s personal, family and global community goals.”
When did you learn to read? Most likely at a young age, probably with the help of your parents and then teachers in your early grades. You initially sounded out words, then sentences, and before you knew it you could read for comprehension and deeper meaning.
Today you read to expand your thinking, your knowledge and sometimes just for fun.
Math was the same—one plus one eventually became subtraction, multiplication and long division. Your friends, Algebra and Geometry, followed as you became a teenager. Developing financial literacy is really not all that different. It starts early and builds over time. We all want our children and grandchildren to be able to read, write and do math. We also need them to be smart in financial matters.
Topeka has solutions. We have a number of resources here in Topeka to help our young folks build financial literacy skills. A great asset is having one of the country’s premier Junior Achievement (JA) programs. JA Kansas serves 26,000 Kansas kids each year, with 12,000 of those being right here in Shawnee County.
JA programs begin in kindergarten and continue through middle school. Through great cooperation with teachers and principals, every USD 501 K-8 student will have a JA experience each year, and many other local school districts also have an array of JA opportunities.
Volunteer JA teachers from our business community spend hours with these students in their regular classrooms helping them to learn about our economic system and money matters related to personal finance. Having a prominent banker or successful saleswoman working with kids in some of our challenging school environments is something that sets JA apart from other financial literacy programs. In addition, the curriculum is designed to be age-appropriate. For example, the middle school curriculum covers topics such as education and career outcomes, household budgeting, debt and FICO scores, and even some basics on insurance (14 year-olds seem to have a budding interest in car insurance for some reason). Skills to Achieve, a new JA program for seventh, eighth and ninth graders, helps young people develop skills needed to be job ready in our local community.
Many of our local high schools offer curriculum pathways—concentrations in business-related courses students use to complete their diploma requirements. This coming fall the Washburn University School of Business and the Business Department at Washburn Rural High School plan to offer a pilot, college-level course in consumer finance. Students will develop a much deeper understanding of personal finance and consumer economics, while at the same time earning college credit (if they so choose.)
Financial literacy programs continue at the college level. Every new Washburn freshman is introduced to financial literacy basics in the required first-year experience class. The course module covers everything from career options to wise-spending practices to retirement planning, but major emphasis is placed on limiting student loans and other types of debt (autos, credit-card) that seem to bedevil college students.
Financial Literacy is Key to Entrepreneurship Having a fairly high level of basic financial literacy is necessary for success in life, as everyone has to make financial choices each day. For those who want to strike out and develop something new, an idea, a product, or a business, financial literacy is even more important. Topeka has a resource base to help those who want to become entrepreneurs, beginning even at the high school level.
Youth Entrepreneurs(formally known as YEK) is offered at USD 501, Seaman, and Silver Lake high schools and teaches students the basics of starting their own business via the creation of a formal business plan. This year 174 local students are enrolled in the program. Local entrepreneur Betsy Johnson developed her Swimzip concept through the YE program. Topeka High School YE teacher, Murray Moore, was designated one of NFTE’s 2014 Global Enterprising Educators.
Washburn University School of Business has a new undergraduate degree program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and also offers a certificate program for nonbusiness majors.
Washburn University Kansas Small Business Development Center offers a variety of seminars and educational programs. Its main emphasis, however, is on one-on-one client consulting using both in-house and external expertise.
Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce/GoTopeka offers a variety of seminars and educational programs through its Entrepreneurial & Minority Business Development programs.
Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library has data every small business owner and entrepreneur needs, and will help you find it! Librarian Terry Miller offers a number classes and seminars on topics ranging from investment basics to small business start-ups.
Why tie Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship together? Poor financial choices early-on in life will limit outcomes later in life. Karl Klein, director of the Washburn University Kansas Small Business Development Center, will tell you he meets with prospects every day who might have a viable business idea, but that their own personal financial situation is a mess. They can’t generate their own capital, or access that which is available from others—lenders don’t like to loan money to poor risks.
So, if entrepreneurship is to flourish in Topeka, increasing financial literacy is key.