Lemonade stands and liberal arts: What goes into entrepreneurs?

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Are kids who operate lemonade stands and other businesses more likely to grow up to become entrepreneurs? Fast forward and ponder another question: Is earning a humanities or liberal arts degree in college tantamount to professional suicide?

Clearly, parents have a lot to contemplate as they steer their offspring toward success.

I have my own experiences as both a liberal arts major and parent upon which to draw. I’ll have more to say about that in a  moment.

In the meantime, here’s what entrepreneurs and researchers have to say. Many entrepreneurs started their first ventures before they were 10 years old, and their parents helped them with business plans. Contrary to popular belief, humanities majors can and do thrive in corporate America.

Mark Cuban, Shaan Patel and Ian McCue have literally written the book on young entrepreneurship in a publication titled “How Any Kid Can Start a Business.”

Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and “Shark Tank” star, joined with Patel, founder of the college admission test prep company Prep Expert, and McCue, founder of Spark Skill summer camps, in the effort. They offers lessons on how children can start profitable enterprises and how parents can encourage entrepreneurial pursuits.

A lot of children want to start businesses and are looking for guidance to do so, the three say. By one estimate, 7 percent of entrepreneurs started their first businesses before they were 10, and 26 percent said their parents helped them with business plans.

While running a lemonade stand offers a good experience, they say there are other ways children can gain experience in business as well as earn money. Since large sums of money aren’t at stake, children are free to learn from their mistakes and bounce back.

FreshBooks, a company that provides invoicing and accounting software for small businesses, conducted a survey about other childhood traits of entrepreneurs:

Older children are more likely to become entrepreneurs than younger siblings — 34 percent of entrepreneurs reported they’re the oldest children in their families.

Moving around as children made them more comfortable with instability — 78 percent of entrepreneurs reported moving at least once or twice and 38 percent reported moving three or more times.

The biggest proportions of entrepreneurs describe themselves with words not normally associated with their pursuits, including careful, insecure and shy.

What about earning humanities and liberal arts degrees in college? How does that affect successful business pursuits?

Andi Simon, a corporate anthropologist who founded Simon Associates Management Consultants, calls the notion humanities majors can’t thrive in the business world a myth. Simon cities as evidence the prevalence of humanities majors who’ve become famous business executives, among them Home Box Office CEO Richard Pepler, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

Moreover, Simon says the study of humanities promotes creativity, collaboration and a greater understanding of the world. “Through the humanities, we learn about how different cultures value different things, how history is really made and what it means for us into the future. It gives us tools to imagine the unimaginable that is often just around the corner.”

As for my experience as a liberal arts major, I haven’t become a CEO, famous or otherwise. I’d assert, though, my education at Colorado State University has served me well over the course of a career in newspaper journalism that stretches 37 years and counting. While I haven’t grown rich in the process, that’s more a function of the profession than preparation.

As a parent, I didn’t try to persuade my two sons to pursue careers in business — or dissuade them. They never operated a lemonade stand or lawn mowing business.

What my two sons had, however, was a remarkable example to follow in their mother, a lawyer who was as brilliant as she was beautiful and also possessed an indefatigable work ethic. My two sons not only worked at their mom’s practice,  but also took after her in many respects. Thank God.

This is an unapologetically proud father bragging here, but consider the outcome. My oldest son is in the process of earning an Ivy League MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. My youngest son earned a master’s degree in accounting from American University and just passed his last exam required to become a CPA.

It’s not yet clear whether or not my sons ultimately will follow entrepreneurial paths in their careers, although they’ve already demonstrated at least one of the required attributes in the relentless pursuit of their dreams.

What makes successful entrepreneurs? Lemonade stands and liberal arts degrees probably play a role, but I suspect it’s different for each entrepreneur. The only common denominator: Hard work and plenty of it.