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Baltimore City Kids Offer Lessons in Startup Success

Tricia Granata Eisner. Courtesy Photo
Tricia Granata Eisner. Courtesy Photo
Imagine competing for $10,000 in a national competition for entrepreneurs. That was the reality for Baltimore’s Alayna Albertie, who owns organic dog biscuit business, Alayna’s Barking Biscuits.
This rising business owner was in the eighth grade when she took part in the challenge.
Albertie took a semester-long class presented by the nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (or NFTE, pronounced “nifty”). She competed against 29 other students across the country at NFTE’s annual National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.
After spending a summer of refining her dog biscuit business, Albertie, alas, didn’t make it the second round of the competition. One judge told Albertie that Alayna's Barking Biscuits really wasn't something someone so young could handle.
And you thought Simon Cowell was tough.
But Albertie persevered. She is now a sophomore at City College and her business is thriving. She's gone on to compete and win numerous NFTE alumni competitions while maintaining high grades in all of her advanced classes and feeding more dogs than she can keep up with.
Alayna is one of nearly 10,000 Baltimore students whom NFTE has helped to start a business. 
Even though NFTE students range in age from 11 to 18, they possess the drive and grit that any entrepreneur knows is needed to reach for a dream. They learn five very basic and important keys to success — skills that any fledgling entrepreneur can use, regardless of their age.
1) Take calculated risks. We all know that the greater the risk, the greater the return. Students learn to take chances, take notes and to keep good records.
2) Ask questions. Any person who has succeeded in life knows that there were times they just should have listened and times when they should have asked for help. Students enrolled in NFTE classes learn the importance of curiosity and that every encounter could provide an unforeseen opportunity.
3) If you have ever asked for a loan, you know about the “elevator pitch.” Imagine stepping into an elevator with Donald Trump, and you have all of 21 floors to sell him on your idea. Have the pitch ready. Keep it short, and get to the point. You may just win him over. Students learn to present three-minute elevator pitches to panels of judges, preparing themselves for that moment when they might just meet a Donald Trump.
4) Follow through. So Donald Trump likes your idea, hands you a card and advises you to get in touch. Now what? Don’t let the opportunity slip away. Follow up immediately. NFTE students write thank-you cards, send follow-up e-mails and learn that closing the deal is just as important as opening it.
5) Dress for success. My summer intern wore a suit to work every single day, despite the fact that we favored business casual in the sweltering heat. He recently sent me an e-mail, sharing how he spent time on the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange with his mentor from PNC Bank, Chris Nixon. This student dressed for his goal.
Steve Marriotti started the national nonprofit in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of New York City in 1987. Marriotti, a former high school teacher, believed he could take the everyday lessons of math, English and business that students were learning in school and show them how they applied to real-world business opportunities. 
Marriotti wrote a textbook and outlined curriculum that is still the basis of NFTE classes today.
This year, the Baltimore chapter of NFTE celebrates its 10th anniversary. PNC, Bank of America, T. Rowe Price, Brown Capital Management, Murphy Law Firm, defense contractor BTS, Ernst & Young and advisory firm WMS Partners are just some of the companies that have led the way in supporting and mentoring the foundation’s students.
Alayna Albertie is just one of their success stories

Tricia Granata Eisner is executive director of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship's Baltimore chapter. 


Tricia Granata Eisner, executive director of NFTE Baltimore. Photo Courtesy of NFTE.

At NFTE Baltimore's annual fundraiser in 2011, a student from Frederick Douglass High School, who founded A&C Chocolates, discusses her business with a guest. Photo Courtesy of NFTE.
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