When children step foot onto a playground for recess, their excited eyes start surveying the scene. The jungle gym is already full of students’ entangled limbs, the line long at the swirling slide. So, they jump into a game of four square instead.
“As a kid, we are all born entrepreneurs,” says Babson College senior Daquan Oliver. “When a student is placed on the playground, they are never told what to do. They just know.”
In Oliver’s mind, individuals grow out of that mentality, not into it, which is why he founded Recesspreneurs — a nonprofit designed to keep that entrepreneurial energy alive.
When Oliver turned 14, he made a promise to himself. “I always wanted to become successful and give an opportunity to others who didn’t have the opportunity to become successful,” Oliver says.
After arriving at Babson, he started making good on that promise. Oliver had volunteered at an afterschool program, and discovered there was chance to revamp and revise the curriculum in a way that would have a greater impact on at-risk and disadvantaged youth.
“I, hands down, believe that entrepreneurship is something that can be taught, but only during certain stages of an individual’s life,” Oliver notes. At a young age, students’ minds are “free,” and there’s a focus on self-development. “There’s this openness and willingness to learn. And at the backbone of entrepreneurship is self-development.”
Through Recesspreneurs, youth are taught how to build their own companies, create presentations and acquire leadership positions — but not without first defining what success means to them. After all, the steps toward becoming a professional basketball player are different than those of an aspiring artist. So, Recesspreneurs works with students individually to help them create the strategy necessary to overcome challenges.
That strategy is then implemented throughout the course of a semester, and is meant to serve as a reminder that entrepreneurship is a mentality and lifestyle, with lessons applicable to everyday life. Students are encouraged to learn to work within team environments and take initiative during the decision-making process.
In order to spread the curriculum, Oliver says they partner with colleges and schools to implement Recesspreneurs within an at-risk community. Students from Babson, Brandeis and Boston College have already started working with nearby youth, providing a hands-on learning experience designed to foster entrepreneurship.
Within the next year, Oliver hopes to find Recesspreneurs in five colleges — each college serving two or three at-risk sites. Oliver has been reaching out to the presidents of local entrepreneurship clubs to create a network of “student pioneers” who want to help empower the next generation of innovators.
Oliver says he also wants to start forming partnerships that go beyond institutions of higher learning. Recesspreneurs is already working with Artists for Humanity, a fellow educational nonprofit that’s focused on providing under-resourced youth with the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in the arts.
In August, Oliver was named a finalist of Entrepreneur magazine’s “Entrepreneur of 2013” contest, and it’s because of this education he’s trying to instill — one that goes beyond merely starting a money-making company.
“This is not just [about] skills to get a job, or teaching [students] how to run a business,” Oliver says, “it’s about giving them a structure so that, no matter where life takes them, they can always rebuild.”
Featured Photos Courtesy of Recesspreneurs