BFW 2 picShould we be teaching the mindset necessary for successful entrepreneurship beginning much earlier than college? By postponing the consideration of self-employment until after high school are educational institutions actually discouraging their students from entrepreneurial thinking?

Earlier this week we were honored to be keynote speakers at the 2014 International Council on Small Business – World Conference on Entrepreneurship. Each year the conference brings together the best minds in entrepreneurial thinking and education from around the world.

With the collective recognition that entrepreneurship is the key to world financial health and prosperity, in over a five-day period close to a thousand academic and business leaders addressed a series of cutting-edge topics designed to increase the number of successful entrepreneurs worldwide. They gathered this year in Dublin, Ireland to share best practices and innovative approaches to teaching entrepreneurship.

During one of the sessions we particularly enjoyed, the question was asked, “At what age should students begin learning techniques for entrepreneurial thinking?” The four-person panel was made up of two professors and two successful entrepreneurs from four countries including Jordan, Pakistan, UK, and Ireland. All agreed that entrepreneurial education should begin much earlier than at college level. In fact, they suggested that the mindset could be taught as early as ages 8 through 13.

So what is the entrepreneurial mindset they are advocating? It’s not necessarily promoting entrepreneurship itself as much as it is promoting the kind of thinking necessary to choose it as an alternative form of employment. This choice requires both a level of confidence and risk tolerance. It requires a level of resourcefulness and innovation that enables the entrepreneur to mitigate risk, and to recognize and seize opportunities. By encouraging creativity and problem solving in grammar school, our youth will be better prepared to make decisions about their choices in the future.

Interestingly, the United States was held up repeatedly as a great model that encourages young students to consider self-employment as a valid alternative to becoming an employee. The international group credited that advantage in part to the proliferation of pro-entrepreneurial media in the US. From the television show Shark Tank to magazines such as Inc., Entrepreneur, and Fast Company, entrepreneurs are elevated to rock star status.  They are looked up to for overcoming adversity and achieving success with innovative and disrupting approaches to new goods and services.

The panelists suggested that in the absence of that type of entrepreneurial culture, most students would never consider entrepreneurship as a valid alternative unless it was introduced to them in grade school. They went so far as to say that in most countries, younger students were being groomed by default as employees exclusively. Ironically most employers would rather hire employees with entrepreneurial thinking, employees that understood the business process, and employees who had empathy for the plight of their employer as a risk taker.

We agree with the panelists and believe that creative thinking, resourcefulness, and problem-solving techniques should be taught in grammar school. We think that understanding the business process at an early age can open young eyes to the possibilities all around them and give them the ability to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself – and the confidence to pursue it. Additionally, these skills are essentials for a superior employee. There’s no down side to broaching the subject of entrepreneurship early and often. We wish the attendees of 2014 ICSB World Conference on Entrepreneurship the fortitude to make this goal a reality worldwide.

Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact