Mark L. Rockefeller: Three holiday gifts that might just save America (yes, really)

Are you concerned that American values, such as individual liberty, freedom, and limited government are slipping? Do something about it. 

Are you concerned that American values, such as individual liberty, freedom, and limited government are slipping? Do something about it.

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This holiday shopping week, let’s give the gift of entrepreneurship.

Join me in shopping for gifts that encourage and prepare the next generation to become independent business owners and entrepreneurs.

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Building a new generation of entrepreneurs and business owners will strengthen American values. Here’s how:

First, studies show that business owners are open-minded, pragmatic, and fiercely independent. What could be more American than that?

A 2018 survey from the National Small Business Association found that business owners identify strongly as “conservative” on the issues of taxes and the economy (66 percent “conservative” vs. 19 percent “liberal”). Moreover, the defining characteristic of business owners is their independence.

According to the same study, a whopping 77 percent of small business owners don’t vote a straight party ticket.

I don’t know about you, but I think fiscal responsibility and fiercely independent minds are traits we could use a bit more of in our country today.

Second, numerous studies show that the United States is falling globally in innovation. Despite being the country that invented the airplane, mass production of the automobile, the personal computer, the internet, and the iPhone, we’re slipping behind.

Why? Government red tape is part of it. The other part: we simply need more entrepreneurs.

So, here are three gifts that may inspire your child or grandchild to innovate, build, and even start their own business.

1. Entrepreneurship Training for Children. 

This is the gift of perspective. Most entrepreneurs, including myself, had an “ah-ha” moment when we realized that we would rather start our own company than work for someone else.

Prior to that moment, most entrepreneurs had never thought about business ownership as a career path. It is therefore no surprise that many business owners come from families where one or both parents owned a business. Whether or not you own your own business, any parent or grandparent can inspire that “ah-ha” moment by showing our kids that business ownership is an option and a great career path.

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Gifts to encourage young people to become entrepreneurs include the Kidpreneurs Academy, which has a blog with articles on sample business ideas and how to encourage creativity. Kidpreneur.org also has great books and kits to explore entrepreneurship. For older kids, the Teen Entrepreneur Toolbox from Dave Ramsey is an excellent resource.

2. Coding classes. 

This is the gift of knowledge. Coding is the future. And possessing basic coding skills makes a young person infinitely employable and sets the foundation for future self-employment. I was at a dinner last week with fellow technology startup founders. One CEO said he pays first-year software engineers in particular high-demand specialties a starting salary of $170,000. More importantly, a solid background in coding creates the foundation for your child or grandchild to start their own business down the road.

To give your children and grandchildren the gift of coding, check out code.org, a nonprofit that matches kids with coding classes in your area. Many of these classes are fun, based on video games or robotics that children already enjoy. If you want to get them started really early, check out the Daisy the Dinosaur App to teach children as young as 4 the basics of coding.

3. Travel and new experiences. 

This is the gift of time. Travel expands our minds and makes us curious, both key traits in an entrepreneur. Travel with your child or grandchild. But when you travel don’t just passively take in the sites. Instead, teach your child or grandchild how to spot problems in need of solutions.

For example, a few years ago I was on a walk in New York City with a 13-year-old relative. Amidst the chaos of a bustling midtown street, I asked him: “What do you see that people are struggling with? What can you spot that seems broken or inefficient?” As he spotted problems (e.g., garbage piling up on the streets or a woman struggling with a heavy package), I asked him what services or inventions might solve that problem.

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This is how entrepreneurs think. He didn’t know it yet, but I was giving him the gift of thinking like an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs go through life in search of problems to solve. The bigger the problem, the greater value that the entrepreneur can add to the world by creating a solution to that problem...and the bigger the payout for the entrepreneur.

This is how great ideas start, and this kind of thinking can be taught. It just requires a little bit of practice.

Your holiday gifts can not only bring a smile to a child’s face, but also inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. That is great for them and good for America.

Get lucky, and you might just inspire the next Elon Musk, Peter Thiel or Bill Gates, which is not only a national service, but may also one heck of a retirement plan!

This year, let’s inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.

Mark L. Rockefeller is the Co-Founder & CEO of StreetShares, a startup that uses technology and social loyalty to improve financial services for the military and veterans community.  Following military service, Mark joined the Wall Street law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. He left the firm in 2013 to co-found StreetShares with former Capital One executive Mickey Konson.  StreetShares launched in 2014 and has won several awards.

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