Innovation for everyone • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Innovation for everyone

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Youth entrepreneurship isn’t about helping kids start businesses but teaching them skills to think big

Jason Williams
Jason Williams

The kids are not alright. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of U.S. teens with major depression has increased 145% for girls and 161% for boys since 2010. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated challenges faced by young people and limited their potential positive impact on development.

Research is quite compelling about the long-lasting impact of the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45% of high school students were so persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 that they were unable to engage in regular activities. Almost 1 in 5 seriously considered suicide, and hospital emergency room visits spiked for suspected suicide attempts.

One study found that the stress of pandemic lockdowns prematurely aged the brains of teenagers by at least three years and in ways similar to changes observed in children who have faced chronic stress and adversity.

Research also found thinning of the tissues in the cortex, which is involved in executive functioning. The brain’s executive functions are specific types of self-regulation or self-directed actions that people use to manage themselves effectively to sustain their actions (and problem-solving) toward their goals and the future.

Additionally, the pandemic has had a particularly severe impact on youth employment, owing to disruptions to education, job layoffs and income losses, and increased barriers to job market entry. For those young people who are still pursuing education, the pandemic is likely to result in unprecedented new inequalities upon graduation.

When discussing youth entrepreneurship, it is common to think about helping students learn how to start a new business. Learning how to run your own business is important, but it is entrepreneurial thinking that our students need the most.

Innovation and economic growth will depend on future leaders with entrepreneurial skills and attitudes. Youth entrepreneurship is a key tool to developing the human capital necessary for the future, unleashing the economic potential of youth and promoting sustainable growth. It is critical to the ongoing development of Northwest Indiana’s economy, particularly during this period of dramatic upheaval and increasing uncertainty.

Helping young people tackle skills shortages could provide a future-proofed way to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic. Investing in youth entrepreneurship is not only critical for securing the livelihoods of young people but also for building a more sustainable, inclusive economic future for Northwest Indiana.

Society of Innovators

The Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest recently was awarded a $470,000 READI grant by the Northwest Indiana Forum Foundation and the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to develop a youth entrepreneurship ecosystem across Northwest Indiana. In partnership with the Leadership Institute at PNW, we are focused on building entrepreneurship, leadership and innovation skills in high school students across the Region.

Accumulated from a variety of academic research, industry studies and job skills reports, the Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest has identified 36 key skillsets, such as collaboration, adaptability, curiosity, problem-solving and self-confidence, that underlie all programs and activities. Our goal is to prepare students with the skills necessary for an increasingly uncertain future.

Furthermore, we aim to address health and well-being, as well as much-needed mental health awareness. An increasingly important function of our youth programs is to help improve these aspects of our participants’ lives. Studies show that student well-being is significantly better for teens who report feeling connected to their schools, peers and communities. Building strong bonds and relationships with adults and friends at school, at home and in the community provides youth with a sense of connectedness.

Innovation is a team sport. No one organization gets to own “innovation” or “youth entrepreneurship.” Collaboration and partnerships with organizations like the STARTedUP Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana, ECIER Foundation, Future Cycle Breakers and others will be essential to helping every student in Northwest Indiana meet their potential.

All students deserve a world-class, well-rounded education, and entrepreneurship is an integral aspect of this goal. That is why we must break down barriers to innovation and entrepreneurship. It is critical for our Region’s 21st-century economic success that all students are not just prepared to take jobs but to create them.

It is not just good enough to say that anyone can be an innovator. The time is now to engage with young people and develop their skills so that everyone has the real opportunity to be an innovator.

Click here to read more from the April-May 2023 issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


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