Why is the New York Life Foundation Investing in Young Entrepreneurs?

The latest news of big foundation funding to create tomorrow's workforce comes from Virtual Enterprises International (VEI), which is starting a VE Junior Ventures Career Academy for middle schoolers to immerse them in hands-on entrepreneurial and work-based learning experiences. The funding for this expanding effort will come from the New York Life Foundation, which will invest $1 million over four years to support the Academy. 

We've featured the New York Life Foundation's work before, particularly its massive support for childhood bereavementhelping children navigate the difficult terrain of loss and the accompanying emotional adjustments. With this new grant, the foundation is more focused on youth educational enhancement rather than emotional support, and this time it is filling a critical niche in the path of young people into productive careers.

Of course, this is a challenge much on the minds of funders lately, and especially funders in the financial services industry. These funders come at young people with two underlying motives that relate to their industry: first, to expand the pool of young people with the skills to work in financial services; and second, to expand expand financial literacy among young people and engage them early with such products as retirement savings accounts and life insurance policies. Helping nurture the formation of new businesses also benefits the financial services industry, which tailors many products to businesses. 

We're not taking a cynical stance toward corporate giving along these lines, but rather explaining some of the forces that pull particular corporate funders in specific directions. 

VEI has had a long-standing partnership with the New York Life Foundation. The foundation gave VEI $1 million in 2012 for expansion of its business education program in California, Florida, Illinois, and New York and to provide support for competitions and extended learning experiences where students can demonstrate their new skills. The foundation also gave another $1 million total over four years from 2011 to 2014 to support its Expanding Educational Opportunities program and the 2014 National Business Plan Competition.

A national nonprofit, VEI transforms learning by "bringing the workplace into the classroom" and helping to foster an "entrepreneurial mindset" in students. With a year-long credited course provided through "live global business simulation," over 11,000 high school students in 350 schools across 18 states are learning about business through this innovative platform. With the platform, students can practice establishing and running a business and participate in a  "dynamic global economy of 5,000 student-run companies worldwide."

To develop their business skills, students conduct market research, develop and write a business plan, design and implement an e-commerce website, and recruit and market to clients and customers. Students also participate in regional and national business plan competitions and trade shows that allow them to network with other VE companies in person and apply and hone their business and communication skills. 

The new VE Junior Ventures Career Academy will be an in-school program facilitated by classroom teachers and will start with engaging seventh graders in real-world business projects that build applied technology skills. By the time they get to eighth grade, students will create and run simulated companies that replicate the functions and demands of a real business. Students will receive business coaching from VEI’s business partners, including employees from New York Life, as well as high school students in the VEI program.

The VE-JV Career Academy will also focus on fostering problem solving, decision-making, time management, public speaking, financial literacy, teamwork, and applied technology skills. A Summer Business Leadership Camp for rising eighth graders will be hosted at a local college, where students will be introduced to the basic concepts of entrepreneurship and will have the opportunity to pitch their business idea to college faculty and mentors serving as “investors.”

Sounds neat, right? 

This is all part of VEI's larger plan to scale up programs that start enhancing education in middle school through college. New York City will be the home of the first academies in 2015, and two additional cities will be selected as expansion sites between 2016 and 2018. In New York City, the pilot sites include William McKinley IS 259 (Brooklyn), In-Tech Academy MS/HS 368 (Bronx), and MS 137 America’s School of Heroes (Queens). New York Life’s funding will allow VEI to expand its services to 1,000 middle school students over the next four years and will position the organization well for further expansion.