Culture Spotlight: Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (Join Us October 11th for Back-to-School Back-to-Business!)

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship ( provides programs that inspire young people from low-income communities to stay in school, to recognize business opportunities and to plan for successful futures.

Founded in New York City in 1987 by Steve Mariotti, a former entrepreneur turned high school math teacher in the South Bronx, NFTE began as a program to prevent dropouts and improve academic performance among students who were at risk of failing or quitting school.

Combining his business background with his desire to teach at-risk students, Steve discovered that when young people from low-income communities are given the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship, their innate “street smarts” can easily develop into “academic smarts” and “business smarts.” Through entrepreneurship, young people discover that what they are learning in the classroom is relevant to the real world.

To date, NFTE has worked with nearly 350,000 young people from low-income communities in programs across the U.S. and around the world.

Today, I am spotlighting NFTE’s DC Region ( which launched in 1994, and has reached almost 23,000 students from low-income communities with entrepreneurship education programs.

Julie Kantor, NFTE DC’s Executive Director, talks with us about her passion for NFTE, and shares information about a not-to-be-missed event on October 11, 2011: the Back-to-School, Back-to-Business event (


Tell us about your background, and how you came to NFTE.
I attended a conference I wasn’t suppose to be at. It changed my life! It was in DesMoines Iowa 1991, the Inc. 500 conference. I was really into black and white photography and was working in Boston for the Magazine for growing Companies.  My whole department didn’t go to the conference but I really wanted to go to get a better feel for my new employer.  The department I worked for was responsible for marketing books and guides and videos to help entrepreneurs grow their companies.  I offered to sell the products at the conference plus take pictures and they let me go! 

We had a softball game on the Field of Dreams field and I met all these kids from LA and Newark New Jersey who had business cards. They each were President or CEO of their companies. They each had a dream and were using their businesses to exit poverty. 

I asked them how they learned about business, and they said, “at school.” They told me I had to meet “Steve.” The Steve they were referring to was Steve Mariotti, an entrepreneur who got mugged in NY and realized America’s youth were not learning much about business.

He sold his company and became a full time public school teacher. At a time that only 1 in 18 kids were graduating from special ed programs in his school, the Jane Adams Vocational High School in the South Bronx. Steve built a Mini MBA curriculum for at risk kids so they could envision a pathway to prosperity.   He used business teaching as an anti-drop out engagement program and realized we could teach reading, writing and math around something real. A small business venture.

Steve was the keynote speaker the next day at the conference and I can honestly say his speech changed my life. It was practical, it made sense, it gave me hope. My father escaped to America from Hungary for the American Dream, and Steve and the organization he founded, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) was bringing it to the kids who are often left on the sidelines.

I decided I wanted to volunteer and help build NFTE.  Six months later I became the youngest executive director and started NFTE Boston out of my apartment. I started teaching hundreds of kids in several new England cities and built a Board to help me get the funds to grow NFTE.  

I was promoted in 1994 to come back home to the DC Region where we have now trained over 24,000 kids amd raised over 16 million for this amazing cause with an extraordinary local and national team.

NFTE has now trained 350,000 kids globally and many of the models we are building locally have become the national model. We were often viewed as mavericks, but now the risk and results have become the innovative norm.  it’s amazing to see the organization grow and scale.  

What is the culture like at NFTE?

Strategic! We have evolved a lot in my 19 years from wild Indians around the fire to smart goals, research, data driven decisions, collaboration and a big spark and value on innovation.

We have an intense work hard, play hard, high performance, and transparency-valued culture. In DC, we view ourselves as Maverick Social Entrepreneurs building and innovating locally while building best practice models that can and have scaled nationally. Increasingly we work more collaboratively on strategy nationally and it’s making us much stronger 

Explain a day in the life at NFTE.

 I can just say that in 19 years every day has brought something new and unexpected! The big thing for a social entrepreneur is that once you really build, you realize you have a army of amazing business leaders and executives that are part of you and this movement and that you need to hold a space for hundreds if not thousands of people to make a difference.

That’s what’s happening today with NFTE and I am absolutely blessed to get to work with our students, board, teachers, supporters, parents, school administrators, policy leaders and my amazing staff and board to create a once in a lifetime experience for 1,000 low income youth in the DC Region this year.

What is the idea behind the Back to School-Back to Business Event?

 Shine a light on our 25 school partners and kids! Each school gets to have one youth present their elevator pitch to an amazing panel of 25 judges!

It will be in Capital One’s stunning facility at Tyson’s Corner. The audience will even get to vote. I am also really excited that we will be recognizing a group of my heroes, the NFTE Adopt-a-Class Sponsors.  Anyone can write a check, but these 17 individuals and companies are going onto the front lines to coach and mentor NFTE students bi-weekly for a year and sponsor the class. 

Why should the business community support NFTE and attend the October 11th event?

 Network with over 250 guests and be inspired by our youth entrepreneurs! It will be a great night. 

What can the business community do to get involved with NFTE?

The first Wednesday of each month from 9:30 to 11:00 am we have a START IT UP Morning at NFTE DC Region Headquarters. We discuss the big picture and how people can get involved. Email [email protected] and she can share with you the dates and more. 

Are there any misconceptions or little-known facts about NFTE that you want to share?

Great question! We did some research with Harvard and one of the big findings was that kids who went through NFTE Ssignificantly increased their interest in going to college by 32% and the comparison group declined in interest 17%.

I think it’s important that we look at entrepreneurship as core to Americas educational system and teach it like we teach the 3 Rs… We can reinforce the 3 Rs by adding an E! Especially at a time that our kids need to know that they can MAKE A JOB and be job creators. Not just TAKE a job. I’d also like to see an extra E in STEM. Add entrepreneurship for Americas youth so they can compete. Make it STEEM (Science, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Engineering, Math)!
What is the one thing you want readers to remember about NFTE – above everything else?

 The words of Michelle Araujo, a young woman I net my first week at NFTE. A teen mother who overcame poverty and a life of public assistance, she left a message for my mentor Mike Caslin and me, who worked at NFTE for 20 years. Her words were: “My dream is not to die in poverty but to have poverty die in me.”

Her words have kept me going for 19 years and they ring more true for our kids now then ever. 

Please join me at the NFTE Back-to-School Back-to-Business event on Tuesday, October 11th, where I am proudly serving as a judge. Hope to see you there – click on the link below to register!


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