When we talk about entrepreneurship and what it takes to succeed in it, social-emotional skills may not be the first thing to come to mind. But the 4th and 5th grade girls we worked with in Oakland, California, proved these skills are foundational to their entrepreneurial ventures. They took healthy risks, showed an awareness of self and needs, and demonstrated an understanding of failure as phenomena that leads to great things.
The Startup Squad is a book series, centered on empowering girls to realize their full potential and follow their dreams through entrepreneurship. The Startup Squad encourages each and every girl to embrace and exercise her entrepreneurial spirit, express her unique gifts, believe in her abilities, and break the proverbial glass ceiling.
Seeing an opportunity to further and deepen impact, Girls Leadership and The Startup Squad dove into a partnership, merging the strong entrepreneurial skills and content of The Startup Squad with foundational social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum from Girls Leadership. The organizations worked together to create a combined curriculum for elementary school girls to be immersed in all of these learnings by threading together social-emotional skills like taking healthy risks, accepting failure as a learning moment, and directly asking for what one needs, with entrepreneurship skills like developing a pitch, creating a brand, and telling one’s story.
Beginning in March 2022, Girls Leadership and The Startup Squad brought this newly developed curriculum to more than 30 girls at Oakland Academy of Knowledge and Yu Ming Charter School, both in Oakland, California. This project-based curriculum guided girls through a 9–12 week process to ideate, brand, develop, price, market, and sell their own products and creations at a “night market” at their schools.
Each session began with a social-emotional check-in to help girls get grounded into the space before diving into the day. These check-ins helped girls realize that every voice matters, as they built community and connected with one another. “I learned to trust more people,” shared one 5th grader at Oakland Academy of Knowledge. The girls also learned to build specific social-emotional skills, such as how to acknowledge mistakes and tools for better communication.
Girls Leadership’s focus on supporting the development of voice disrupts limiting, rigid gender norms and expectations – norms and gender expectations that can surface for girls and women in entrepreneurship. Families continue to tell us at Girls Leadership that their girls experience pressure to be polite and perfect, but the road to entrepreneurship is paved with regular risks and mistakes. Pitching why your product is the best one can fly in the face of the rules of likeability, where girls know they can be punished for thinking “they’re all that.” This ultimately poses obstacles for their sense of self, and overall mental, physical, and emotional health and wellness. Reflection, scenarios, games, and discussions are utilized to help girls recognize and take on these challenges to support the development of societal awareness and skills to help navigate and overcome these obstacles.
With the support of The Startup Squad’s entrepreneurship curriculum, girls were given the tools necessary to dive head-first into their business plans. Girls heard from Startup Squad entrepreneurs and women professionals who had built their own businesses, bringing tangible inspiration and perspective. In order to identify the focus of their efforts, girls spent time exploring issues prevalent in their communities and creating solutions to those issues through their business ideas. “I loved being able to share my ideas and listen to others’ ideas,” shared a 4th grade student at Yu Ming Charter School.
By the end of the program, participants had built out their plans and brought those ideas to life, leading to the final event — the Marketplace — where girls sold their products for a profit. The entrepreneurship topics included discovering their motivation and ‘why’, turning their interests into a business, and understanding business concepts, including products versus services, cost and pricing strategies, product development, advertising, sales pitches, and public speaking.
The girls’ businesses spanned a variety of hobbies and interests that were all imagined, planned, and brought to life top-to-bottom by the girls, including:
- The Yarn Sisters knitted wear with hand- knitted accessories
- Bobafy with cold boba beverages in an array of flavors
- Freshly made Monkey Jam Donuts
- A diverse selection of artwork, jewelry, creative candy creations, nail art, and more
The girls were given seed money ($20) to support their business plans and kept the profits from their sales, with each of the girls’ businesses at least tripling their seed money. “I liked how we students could work as a team to sell. I also liked how we could choose what to sell and that it was a challenge … ‘cause some things are easy and boring,” shared another 4th grader at Yu Ming Charter School.
By the end of the program, girls reported an increased ability to communicate their feelings, willingness to take risks, as well as an increased fearlessness towards failure. The majority of girls in the program reported an interest in starting their own business, as well as an understanding of how to communicate what they feel and need. This included knowing how to speak up for themselves, despite what others may hear or think.
As described by Dr. Kendra Carr, Girls Leadership’s Senior Director of Research & Programs, and Brian Weisfeld, Founder and CEO of The Startup Squad, the value of collaboration between the two organizations was an obvious one. Entrepreneurialism and social-emotional health and wellness for girls worked hand-in-hand to create a fun, engaging, and transformative opportunity for girls to imagine, take risks, and lead courageously to create not just a business, but a contribution of their creativity to their community. We have so much gratitude to our corporate sponsors, Bank of the West and Silicon Valley Bank, for making this important program possible.