Tim Ferriss imparts entrepreneurial wisdom at Boston’s Burke High School

Ferriss at Burke

Entrepreneur, author, blogger, and prolific angel investor Tim Ferris, who is speaking at non-profit BUILD‘s annual gala tonight, popped into an entrepreneurship class at Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester today to judge a startup pitch contest with students. His goal? To spark their interest in building businesses from scratch.

BUILD promotes entrepreneurship in schools through hands-on business training programs for students. Their mission is to use business principles to push students in low-income areas to take more interest in their education. The program offers its “Intro to Entrepreneurship” class, what BUILDBoston‘s Ayele Shakur called the “junior MBA,” in four schools across the Boston-area.

At Burke, the 20 students in John Bernier’s entrepreneurship class were treated to an intimate discussion with Ferriss (who many young entrepreneurs would love to have a chance to spend even a few minutes with). Ferriss, who is best known for his bestselling books The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body, seemed to throughly enjoy himself while watching the students’ presentations. The groups each put together a live “commercial” to promote the product they had built using coffee filters, straws, and forks, among other objects. The project is a standard part of the BUILD course’s curriculum.

Ferriss, who first connected with BUILD in Oakland, said that his interest in the program, especially as it tries to make a difference early in the high school lives of students, connects to his interest in behavioral change (which informs much of his writing).

Ferriss talked about how trying to get people to lose 20 to 200 pounds doesn’t work if the goal is the prevention of heart disease or diabetes. “What does work,” he said, “is selling looking better in a pair of jeans. That’s the Trojan horse that you use to achieve the avoidance of heart disease and diabetes, but that’s not what you sell.”

“Similarly, for students, particularly those who don’t have the family or societal support, who have not had expectations for them set very high, selling college is like selling heart disease prevention,” Ferriss added.

He said that entrepreneurship can harness self-interest and a vision of creating a future for students in a way that is very tangible. “And the side effect is that you have a higher matriculation rates and higher number of students going to college.”

“I believe that entrepreneurship is the soul of value creation in the U.S., and if you want people to thrive in a competitive, free-market society, and you want them to enjoy the ride, have them build something real, have them be stakeholders in something, beholden to something.” Ferriss said.

“A lot of kids, particularly those in economically disadvantaged areas, feel disempowered. When you give them something that they have crafted that they are steering, it leads to other types of ambition.”

It was clear that Ferriss not only enjoyed the in-class prototype demonstration, but also relished the opportunity to interact with the students. At the end of the session, he asked each of them what they hoped to be when they grew up, then pushed them to imagine a concrete path to fulfill their dreams.

It was quite a scene, and one that, on a day when former Mayor Thomas Menino passed away, showcases the fusion between the City of Boston and the technology and innovation community. It was further evidence that Menino’s dream had been fulfilled.

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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