Building Global Entrepreneurs
What happens in Chico has the potential to reach around the world. Just ask accounting professor Curt DeBerg. He helps high school students in Bahrain, Burundi, Canada, China, Ireland, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and Zambia, among others, serve their communities—and the world—by starting businesses. The students work through Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship.
In late July, teams of high school students representing eight countries gathered in San Francisco for the 2012 SAGE World Cup Entrepreneurship Tournament. The 150 students presented business ideas designed to change the world—vying for the top spot and $9,000 in cash prizes.
“Instead of competing on speed, strength, or endurance, we provide teens with a chance to compete based on the creativity and impact of their socially responsible businesses,” said DeBerg, SAGE executive director. Prize money was awarded to the top teams, and special awards were presented to teams that created business ventures that best addressed the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.
Each team had, over the past year, developed either a socially responsible business or a social enterprise business. According to SAGE’s definition, a socially responsible business is designed to make a profit; a social enterprise business is to address a social problem by using earned revenue. Each team presented their business at a SAGE national competition—and won a spot at the World Cup. Local sponsors include PG&E, Umpqua Bank, Deloitte, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Sierra Health Foundation, and the Ken Grossman family.
SAGE was founded at CSU, Chico in 2002 by DeBerg and a group of students on the SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) team. It grew out of a SIFE project for a high school mentoring program into a business program modeled after interscholastic sports.
The program has exploded since then, and DeBerg travels during semester breaks around the world starting new high school chapters. SAGE currently serves about 1,100 schools around the world, impacting about 11,000 students each year, says DeBerg. Countries with SAGE chapters include Bahrain, Burundi, Canada, China, Ireland, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and Zambia.
CSU, Chico students serve as mentors to the U.S. SAGE chapters, helping nurture the budding “capitalistic humanitarians,” DeBerg says. They visit Northern California schools in person and mentor other chapters remotely via Skype. They also serve as program staff for competitions, gaining real-life experience in project management, communication, and leadership
The highest concentration of SAGE chapters is in Nigeria, with 800 schools participating. These chapters have raised money for new school buildings, latrines, and water wells across the country.
SAGE also encourages Nigerian high school students to dream big and aim high. DeBerg shares the story of one student, who says, “Before SAGE, I wanted to become a doctor. Now, I want to build hospitals.” In recognition of SAGE’s value to the country, the first lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan, donated a bus to last year’s SAGE champion teams from Jibi Village and Jikwoyi Village, both in the Federal Capital Territory near the nation’s capital of Abuja.
DeBerg himself is somewhat of a star in Nigeria, feted at state dinners and interviewed on major television networks. He was made a buzanga, or chief, of Jikwoyi Village—a major honor in Nigeria also bestowed on Bill Clinton—in thanks for his service to the country through SAGE.
Nigeria was also the powerhouse at this year’s World Cup, sweeping the competition in both categories. One team, Jibi Secondary School, described its shea butter business. The end product is a soothing skin cream produced from the nuts of the shea tree, which thrives in Nigeria. The Jibi team helped form a cooperative of 25 women to help process and market the product. Sales now top 200 pounds per person per month, and each woman’s monthly wages have increased from $56 to $469.
The top prize in the social enterprise category also went to Nigeria. Jikwoyi Junior Secondary School, last year’s returning champion, repeated as the top team in this category. The team focused on repairing cell phones and troubleshooting cell phone problems, earning more than $9,011 in profit.
The United States came in second in both categories.
“SAGE was overall an unforgettable experience,” says Saratoga High School student Jason Li, who won second place for his team project, iReTron, which repairs and re-sells electronics. “Aside from the great hospitality and awesome volunteers and staff, the experience was beyond special. My team and I met so many interesting people, saw many creative and innovative ideas, and had a very successful weekend. The competition was one thing, but meeting people around the world seemed much more valuable to me.
“Along with foreign students, SAGE has allowed me to meet many great people such as Kevin Lee of SOL Republic and many more. Connections are everything in the business world, and SAGE is just the place for it.”
Li and his business partners founded iReTron to help others and the environment. He hopes the company will save communities in Africa and China from becoming dumping grounds for American e-waste.
“Teens are at the height of creativity,” says DeBerg. “When we match them up with mentors, we can empower this untapped army of social entrepreneurs.”■
—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications