The CEO Academy

By Sarah Barton, Sagamore Institute Center on Faith in Communities

Adapted from Entrepreneurship Education: Learning By Doing, published by The Appalachian Regional Commission with support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, 2004.

Roughly a decade ago, Terri Chapman was teaching economics to teens in an inner-city school. To generate interest among her students, she led the class in launching a successful business venture. To the disappointment of Chapman and her students, the school ruled that the profits of the venture belonged solely to the school. So she decided that she should start a youth entrepreneurship program outside of the school system.

Thus was born The CEO Academy. Located in Nashville, TN, the Academy teaches entrepreneurship to kids in grades 2 through 8. Chapman started the non-sectarian faith-based program utilizing small grants. The curriculum incorporates character education, social skills training, and hands-on instruction in business creation. Almost 100% of participating children are African-American. Although most come from middle-income, two-parent families, a significant number of the children are from low-income or single-parent families.

The program has three main components: Front Row Learning Center, Millionaires in the Making, and Camp CEO. Front Row Learning Center is an after-school tutoring program. Participants must attend at least two days per week and may phone and email tutors for additional help with homework. Parents also play an important role in this program and are expected to be actively involved. They learn how to help their children without doing their homework for them. Front Row’s goal is to encourage students to get ahead rather than being content to just catch up with their school work. Participants earn cash-valued credits that can be spent at a snack bar or saved for purchases on field trips. If a student doesn’t complete his work or misbehaves, his account is debited.

Millionaires in the Making is a smaller leadership program that meets on Saturdays. Groups of six to twelve children study business practices guided by Christian principles. Successful entrepreneurs talk to the children about the role faith plays in their lives and work. The children explore business ideas with the help of “business consultants” – they may end up developing the business ideas further in The CEO Academy’s summer program, Camp CEO.

Camp CEO consists of two three-week sessions. During the first session, children work on a written business plan that is submitted to a panel of judges. Business plans are expected to include a tithe of gross profits, and the rest of the profits can be divided between reinvestment, savings, and spending money. The children and their parents decide upon the percentages devoted to each. For the second three weeks, the children develop marketing materials such as business cards and flyers. The camp culminates with a “Show and Tell” day at a busy shopping mall and a black-tie dinner where participants receive prizes and opportunities to compete at higher levels. During the final competition, students must make a 60-second presentation promoting their ideas and be prepared to answer questions. Winners of this competition have traveled to Milwaukee to compete against other, usually high-school aged, young entrepreneurs from across the nation. Despite being several years younger than most other participants, children from The CEO Academy have consistently placed in the top five percent of their events.

Chapman makes no apologies for the high standards and competitive nature of the program, believing that it is necessary for an entrepreneurship program to be as realistic as possible. She attributes the program’s success to its “four P’s”—passion, preparation, parents, and prayer.