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Raising a Business Savvy Kid: Advice for Parents

Your child could be the next big innovator – the Henry Ford or Steve Jobs of his or her generation. Here are seven tips for cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit in your kid.

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Set an example

When Pam Turkin first considered the idea of leaving her corporate marketing job behind in favor of starting her own cupcake shop in Michigan, she enlisted her family as support – and her workforce. She tried out different recipes for her kids to sample and critique. At the time, she had two kids in high school in North Farmington. And when her first Just Baked store opened its doors in 2009, her kids were there to pitch in.

"I believe kids mimic what they see at home," says Turkin. Even if you aren't a business owner, look for ways to share your work experiences or passions with your children. They'll learn from your example.

Maximize diversity

Expose your kids to people and ideas from a variety of cultures and backgrounds – not just your own. Linker calls this approach "maximizing diversity" and goes on to explain the reason for it: "Generally speaking, kids are exposed to the same type of people in the same type of socioeconomic circumstances as they are, which leads to a sheltered point of view." Having more diverse interactions can provide kids with a different perspective and a new way of looking at things that in turn can encourage them to think through problems creatively. 

Henry Ford, who was born and raised in what's now Dearborn, used lessons learned from the meat-packing industry as the inspiration for a car assembly line. To construct automobiles, he used insights he gained from gun, watch and bike makers. For your kids, seek out opportunities for them to become more acquainted with other cultures – not just in the sense of people from other parts of the world, but other economic or social backgrounds, too.

Help kids learn to communicate

"Parents really need to teach kids the art of speaking," believes Turkin, who noticed that her younger employees often felt uncomfortable in speaking situations and in meetings. Turkin, who now has 17 cupcake stores throughout Michigan and just opened an ice cream shop called Just Topped, taught her employees how to conduct themselves in meetings – and how to communicate their ideas confidently to a group.

"Everyone can write an email, but being able to talk and communicate is very different," Turkin says. Guide your children into being more comfortable expressing their ideas by giving them chances to share their opinions. Use dinner as a time for conversation, not just eating. In the car, turn down the radio and discuss topics that pique your child's interests – from whether the Silly Bandz fad may come back again to who their favorite character is on a TV show. Tweens and teens might want to share their thoughts on local or world events. The idea is to help them become comfortable talking through their ideas and learning how to express them to someone else.

Celebrate risk taking

Part of fostering a sense of innovation in kids is to cheer on their efforts at trying new things. "One thing I think we as adults tend to do is to be critical or harsh, which creates an environment of fear that can stay with a kid deep into adulthood," Linkner says. Instead, Linkner believes parents should encourage kids to take risks. Through trial and error, kids learn how to develop their ideas. "I think a good required course in every middle school should be 'Making Mistakes.'"

When my tween first started work on her science fair project in eighth grade, she was determined to make a working waterfall. After constructing a design she found online, her waterfall did little more than propel a trickle of water through a complex system of tubing that went from one bucket into another. She scrapped most of the tubing in favor of her own blueprint, which involved a configuration of plastic spoons and PVC pipes. The eclectic design didn't look anything like the sleek versions she had first tried, but the water flowed from the buckets, and the design was all hers.

That message – of working through mistakes and not being defeated by them – isn't just something that's helpful at home. In a greater sense, Turkin sees it fitting into a comeback for the region. "If you look at the drivers of the resurgence in Detroit, anyone who's at the forefront of this will tell you we're really trying to encourage kids to set out to learn from their failures and keep going." After all, that sense of not giving in to defeat is part of Detroit's identity. "We're kind of gritty," says Turkin. "We're able to pick ourselves up, dust off our shoulders and get back to work. We're used to getting knocked down and picking ourselves back up. That's the kind of spirit and drive of Detroit. You can feel it right now when you drive into Detroit and see the businesses popping up. There's a sense that if you have a great idea and you're willing to work for it, Detroit is the place to be."

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