Designing A Summer Camp for Kids To Learn and Try Out Startup Skills

April 4, 2019

A summer camp on skills in entrepreneurship for kids and teens must transcend the cliched business plan, pitch parties and participation trophies. AlligatorZone Academy’s summer camp and after-school enrichment programs aim for a real-world take on imparting startup skills to young minds.

Both 4th graders were good at baking, they had told me. They want to sell baked delicacies. However, in this week’s class, they were simply out of ideas on what to name their bakery. These kids are part of an after-school program that we are piloting to help late-elementary and middle-school students create something of value and make a difference in their world. An outcome of this pilot is going to be the design of a fun and educational workshop to help kids understand startup skills that will serve them in life, no matter what their calling.

School projects are usually done to earn a grade from a teacher. Students sharpen their focus on understanding what is expected of them from the teacher, and they learn to just meet or maybe exceed those expectations. School projects often lie undiscovered, tucked away in notebooks. If they are lucky the students’ projects may get to see the outside world in a parent-conference, or in an exhibition put together by the school, with tri-fold display boards and bright eyed kids standing proudly explaining their projects to distracted parents politely saying “Great job!” before rushing back to work.

Let’s look at a different possibility. What if the child’s project is steered by real entrepreneurs in such a way that it is readied for the market, allowing real customers to support it with their wallets?

Going back to the story of the two girls and the bakery project, one of the exercises in taking their work to the market was trying to come up with a memorable name for their bakery. We went through a few exercises to help them think of names for their bakery. The one thing I do not do as the coach, is to provide them with names to pick from. As a coach my responsibility is to help the students find the joy of discovery, and not deny it to them by spoon-feeding them. I could see the kids becoming quite frustrated because the names they thought of were already taken and could have been confused with random businesses such as a building supplies company. I left them alone to think about it, while I went about attending to other kids in the program.

Wouldn’t the Fedex business plan have earned an A+ if it had been tested out in the real world instead of being graded as a theoretical paper?

As we were about the wrap up the afternoon’s session, both the kids ran up to me in excitement and somewhat breathlessly said “We think we have a name”. It was a catchy name. It was something they had come up with, and I could sense not just their relief, but also their renewed enthusiasm and sense of ownership for their whole project.

Can education for school-age students tap into the joys of discovery through entrepreneurial decision making and be allowed to be scored by the validation of delighted customers instead of grades being handed at school? Wouldn’t the Fedex business plan have earned an A+ if it had been tested out in the real world instead of being graded as a theoretical paper that never left the classroom?

The Summer Camp that we are designing for 2019 is aimed at helping parents and families with tools to encourage their kids to take their creations to the real world while trying to make a difference. That means, the kids will not only have to pick projects that they like, but also something that their world outside would care deeply about, and want it enough to be willing to pay for their creations.

The summer camp for 2019 in Tampa Bay will be held at the inspirational Entrepreneur Collaborative Center in Ybor City in Tampa, Florida, a very dynamic group that has been extremely supportive of AlligatorZone’s work in connecting kids with the world of startups to build channels and communities of learning.

Click here for details of the summer camp, called AlligatorZone Academy’s Summer Workshop on Startup Skills for Kids, or enroll your child (ages 10–15) here. The summer camps help defray some of the costs of the free public event-programs by

The author is entrepreneur and educator Ramesh Sambasivan. principal designer at design and innovation firm SiliconGlades, creating learning experiences and environments for companies and communities.