Students from the Dallas Chapter of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) embodied the real possibility and spirit of entrepreneurship and opportunity that each and every individual has the right to pursue, according to Connie Tang, President and CEO of Princess House, Inc., one of the nearly 100 direct selling executives who joined DSEF staff and members of NFTE for the Entrepreneurs in Action Walkathon.

The three-day event, hosted by DSEF, was held this month in Grapevine, Texas, during the DSA Annual Meeting. DSEF chose NFTE to be the recipient of its annual charitable effort for the work it does in helping at-risk students stay in school. NFTE, which was founded in New York in 1987, currently has 11 affiliate offices throughout the United States that provide programs that inspire young people from low-income communities to graduate from high school and to learn the necessary skills for creating their own business plans—in essence, helping to shape them into the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

During the Annual Meeting, DSA members had the opportunity to support NFTE’s goal of helping youth find their pathways to a brighter future through the walkathon, and meet some of the students who participate in the organization’s programs.

“Participating in the DSEF Walkathon was a wonderful experience that provided a firsthand connection to the children who benefit from the NFTE Program,” says Tang. “The program is proof positive that environmental circumstances and situations are not the be all and end all to a child’s future. Access and exposure to mentors, genuine care and quality curriculum in a challenging yet nutritive environment can foster the most amazing innovation in our future leaders. We saw it there in Dallas—from a shoe product, balloon-encased creations and eco-friendly lawn care to Spanish-language development for teachers to support ESL students.”

Karen Ezell, Program Director for NFTE, says the walkathon was a complete success for NFTE and her students. “The kids absolutely loved it,” she says. “They thought it was so inspiring to see so many successful entrepreneurs. They were so motivated by what people can accomplish when they put their minds to it.”

What was particularly inspiring to Ezell was to see the interaction between the NFTE students and DSA members. “It was a great event to teach young people how to talk confidently with an older generation, and to make that connection through business and business ideas. It was nice to see a group of young people confident enough to be able to do that. I think it is a testament to NFTE’s program and its teachers that they have trained young people to feel confident and secure.”

It is also a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of DSA member executives, who Ezell sees as mentors and coaches who can help inspire young people to be successful entrepreneurs. “That is what is so great about the direct selling industry and DSEF—the opportunity to have such a wealth of knowledge at young people’s disposal. These young people we are teaching and training to be entrepreneurs could be the next people running the Mary Kays, the Avons, the Pampered Chefs. I think there is a great synergy between the two.”

DSA members were appreciative of the event as well, particularly for the opportunity to meet the NFTE kids. “It was wonderful to participate in the DSEF Walkathon supporting young entrepreneurs,” says Cari Christopher, President of Signature HomeStyles, one of the sponsors of the event. “Seeing these young students take action and create a business of their own was inspiring!”

NFTE’s Youth Entrepreneur Challenge

NFTE helps students develop the skills necessary to become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. As part of its curriculum, NFTE holds the National Youth Entrepreneur Challenge annually in which students are encouraged to develop business plans and create 30-second sales pitches to promote their businesses. Regional winners attend the nationwide business competition held in the fall.

The direct selling industry was well represented at the Dallas Youth Biz-Plan Challenge, held June 1. DSEF Executive Director Charlie Orr served as a judge along with Kate Gardner, Chair of the DSEF Community Partner Program and SUCCESS Foundation Executive Director; Allison Levy, General Counsel for AdvoCare International; and Kerry Tassopoulos, Vice President, Government Relations & Compliance for Mary Kay Inc. The judges had the difficult task of selecting the two regional winners who will go on to compete nationally this fall.

“Judging children on their fledgling entrepreneurial endeavors is a combination of daunting and gratifying,” says Gardner. “These kids were intimidating. They were brimming with confidence, which speaks volumes to the work NFTE has done with them.”

At Sunday’s brunch, 14-year old Guadalupe Gamino, the first place winner in the Dallas round of the Challenge, presented her plan for a business called Tranzparent Heel Holderz, which helps women who struggle with keeping dress shoes on while walking by providing clear bands to keep the heels in place.

Guadalupe will travel to New York City in October with second place winner Oliver Gomez to compete for up to $10,000 in the nationwide competition. Oliver, who is also 14, created a business called Why Can’t We Talk, which is aimed at teaching Spanish to teachers and other community leaders to more effectively communicate with parents.

“So many people came up to me and congratulated me,” says Gomez. “It made me feel good about myself. They asked me questions about my business, and they told me that to be a successful entrepreneur you have to take risks and go for your main goal—not let people bring you down and just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Entrepreneurs in Action Makes Headlines

Coverage of DSEF’s Walkathon appeared in the Dallas Morning News, on NBC’s Dallas affiliate station NBC5 and on Univision.