How 25 Teen-Trepreneurs Succeeded And Left World Leaders Perplexed


This is actually a title from a book that I recently bought at a discount. I love discounted books and I have been very lucky that this book is one of the books that I bought at significant ROI – at least 1,000%. I have bought several other books with similar ROI – Fifth Discipline (Peter Senge), Origin of Brand (Al Ries) and Good to Great (Jim Collins). These are great books and I was very lucky. Coming back to this book that I just read, the actual title is “How 25 Teen-Trepreneurs Succeeded and Left World Leaders Scratching Their Heads”. It is actually a compilation of entrepreneurs stories by Sabirul Islam – very prolific young entrepreneur. Check him out.

“Anger, frustration and a serious call for change. This is the reaction of today’s youth on being labelled ‘the lost generation’. But are the youth of today really a lost generation?” This is the opening of the book at the Introduction page. It captures the very essence of “perception” of youth around the world today. I remember attending Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES 2013) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where youth entrepreneurs around the world were a significant force. They are mostly from 3rd world countries and developing nations. Their “solutions” to social problems around them are very straight forward and inspiring. There was one African youth whose business is selling thumb drive softcopy of text books. Another Bangladeshi entrepreneur selling organic fertilizer – which he gave me a bottle to try out. Are they a lost generation?

This book by Sabirul Islam contains 25 interviews of successful youth role models who are true leaders of youth in their fields and have achieved extraordinary success in short period of time. They are the ambassadors of true grit for youth around the world to emulate and get inspired regardless of color and creed. The spectacular part of all these 25 teen-trepreneurs are all under 30 years old! Are they a lost generation?

millenial age children

Let’s find out some of the key highlights (in Q&A format) from the interviews. If you want full stories, I suggest you get this book yourself. 😉

1. What drives you as an individual to continue to do what you do?

“Knowing that I will be making a difference and serving others. The passion to pass along the things that I have been taught. The freedom and flexibility I create in my life by not working for someone else and creating the foundation for a financially secure future.”- Alexandra DiRuscio Cooper (Founder, Your Life Our World)

2. How have personal development programs helped you?

“They’ve had huge impact on my life. When I attended the first program at age 15, I was still a bit reserved and unsure who I was, trying to fit in. But that one event is what I credit that help me to break through. It opened my eyes what I had been missing out because I was playing small, I was holding back and I was uncertain. I gained confidence and determination.” – Alexandra DiRuscio Cooper (Founder, Your Life Our World)

3. What are three most important attributes you’ve developed as a young entrepreneur?

“Persistence, organization and solid critical thinking.” – Ben Weissenstein (Founder, Grand Slam Garage Sales”)

4. If you were the President, what would you do or what would you change to encourage growth in youth entrepreneurship?

“I’d have lots of programs to teach entrepreneurship and also to give seed money to aspiring young entrepreneurs. There are a lot of entrepreneurs who, with little funding help could really get off the ground.” – Ben Weissenstein (Founder, Grand Slam Garage Sales”)

5. What is the best solution for youth who have tried but failed to get where you are today?

“Try again, again and again! Find your passion and desires in it! If you want to a very successful business just find a very huge problem you see and try to solve it for everyone.” – Boris Kolev (Founder JT International)

Its not just jobs, its about passion.
Its not just jobs, its about passion.

6. In today’s world, what would you ultimately is more valuable, education or experience?

“The most valuable is education through experience. We have to define what we mean by the word education because I think experience is a key part of education.” – Boris Kolev (Founder JT International)

7. You seem to have had many jobs before you became the successful entrepreneur, at what point in your life did you realize that jobs weren’t your way forward?

“What I wanted was spare time doing my own thing, work with my own hours and be passionate about what I was doing – do something I loved. It’s hard to do when you have a job. I cant stand people telling me how much money I am going to earn and hours I am going to work. It’s my life so I am going to decide.” – Carly Ward (Founder, Young Entrepreneurs Society)

8. How has social media helped you to become a successful entrepreneur?

“Social media has been an integral part of my business. I have got some friends of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I can reach thousands people with social media. My mentor actually found me on LinkedIn. He is a successful entrepreneur and an angel investor. I got random message from him, “I like what you’re doing, can I help in any way?” and three months later he was my mentor and a non-executive director of my company.” – Carly Ward (Founder, Young Entrepreneurs Society)

9. How did you come with the idea to develop the multi-bucket carrier and what was your vision behind it?

“When I was 16, I noticed that people in Africa mainly women and children were walking in distance carrying two buckets of water. One of their shoulders and another on their hands. Using local materials I design multi-bucket carrier that can carry up to five buckets of water. I later distributed the instructions how to make it for local people to produce themselves.” – Emily Cummins (The Serial Inventor)

10. What have been the major challenges that you’ve faced when developing your products?

“The major challenge was my age. Initially some people looked at me as a younger person but when I showed them I what invented they find it very refreshing especially at my creativity. I also had to convince my parents that I was very capable to go to Africa on my own.” – Emily Cummins (The Serial Inventor)

11. How has travelling helped you to become the inspirational figure that you are?

“I believe the fastest way to inspire someone is to be inspired. The fastest way to inspire yourself is to do what you love and invest in yourself to feel alive. For me I gain that through travelling. I love to fly and be in the air, experience new culture, be in transition, meet new people and be stretched out of my comfort zone. It’s where I find perhaps my greatest appreciation for each moment.” – Emily Gowor, The Word Artist

12. Are the youth of today good enough to be world leaders?

“People will believe whatever they want to believe. People who consider youth to be unfit to be the world leaders are firstly, judging based on their lenses. Is there a rule about what a world leader should look like? If there is or was, I didn’t learn it in school. I haven’t seen any two leaders following the same script. Someday we will be old as well and new youth generation will come.” Emily Gowor, The Word Artist

13. What would you say unique about yourself?

“I consider myself a normal kid. The only difference is that my extracurricular activity has been business instead of sports or music. I helped my mum’s business since I was nine years old.” – Jason O’Neill, Founder, Pencil Bugs

14. Who has provided the most support to you during your journey as a young entrepreneur?

“My parents definitely are my biggest supporters. Without them there would not even have been a business. I sometimes hear other young entrepreneurs say that they run their business alone but that is usually not true. It takes a lot of help from many people to make someone successful. Even the most successful adults have people on their team.

15. How did you manage to pull yourself out from poverty in Brazil?

“The only way you can leave poverty and negativity behind is by being able to rise above your circumstances with your mind first. You need to be self reliant, especially if you have no role models. Leave the bad influences and friends behind, and make replaced them with books as companions. Set goals and not give up easily until you achieve what you want.” – Pedro De Abreu, Co-Founder, Moofaces

16. What are the change society needs for youth at young age?

“It is important that youth and society in general to open their eyes around them. Stop being so self-centered. It seems many focus on unimportant things such as hair, make up, clothes and adults are always concern about money and what their neighbours or friends have. We also judge others (youth and adults like) too quickly. We need to focus on the good in each of us.” Cassandra Perkins, Founder, Global Voices Reaching Out

I have purposely selected the questions and answers to provide breadth of the context and topics. Check out the full interview in this book. “How 25 Teen-Trepreneurs Succeeded and Left World Leaders Scratching Their Heads”

In conclusion, I don’t think our youth is a lost generation wherever they are. In fact youth today is a force to be reckon with and I think we should embrace them with open arms. I also believe the more senior generation that has greater responsibility should reach out more to youth and groom them further through providing various opportunities including the basic such as time and thoughts. Its more than enough for a start.

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Democratization of Education Through MOOC

In the education world it is called Mass Open Online Courses (MOOC). I have been following the movement of open courses and instruction for some years already. My journey with MOOC is rather unique because I stumbled upon it by chance when I was looking for free e-books on the internet. It was 6 years ago where I was looking for Toyota Production System book I stumbled into Khan Academy and several other video portals. I don’t quite remember those portals but they were mainly university lectures made into video format. All these videos (the full length) are available online. I used to be able to download this from iTunes some years ago, I don’t think you can do the same now.

Some trivia on MOOC; many people mistaken it with online videos. It is not. You can find thousands of good quality videos on YouTube or TED Talks. MOOC has online tools that help you to know what you want out of the course (normally there’s a pre course survey). I found the survey help me think through my commitment level. There was a time in the middle of the survey I decided to drop that course because of my overwhelming schedule at that time. MOOC also provides you with online access to several open source tools that you are not aware of but it is only available while you are taking the course. For example there is this online tool that help me create a table of innovation using graphic format. MOOC also has quizzes instead of rudimentary examination. In those quizzes I was given 10 questions and I can answer them as many times until I receive the passing mark to get ahead and earn point. I wasn’t penalized and I learn better. For example rock music consists of drum, guitar and bass. It was in the 1970s where electric guitar was born when rock music morphed into a new beast!

MOOC is not just videos, they are instructional courses that’s made online. MIT has its Open Course Ware where it adopted Creative Common License some time in 2002. From 50 courses published in 2002, now MIT OCW (open courseware) has more than 2000 courses; some with Turkish and Korean translation. It was complicated to register and go through MIT OCW back then. However with better adoption from global citizens, MOOC took better shape with the establishment of another provider, Khan Academy. Variety of disciplines are offered in most MOOC ranging from mathematics, history, language, education, humanities, sciences, astronomy, business, entrepreneurship, music and many more.

Khan Academy founded in 2006, where as a not for profit organization and funded by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, its uniqueness will blow your mind. I love Khan Academy for its content simplification and differentiated teaching using technology. I used to download loads of them on my iPhone. I listen to the lecture while driving and when I have time to look at the screen, I watch how the instructor show me techniques to answer question on trigonometry on his interactive whiteboard. Some special schools adopted Khan Academy as part of its enrichment content. A brilliant strategy, to my opinion.

This democratization of knowledge excites me because I believe education should be customized to personal level. In other words, we can choose what we want to learn and based on our need at that time. It is not necessary for us to go to school or university to get those papers and get stuck by the time it ends. However the very reason that we go to the university is for the accreditation and recognition of our education because without it whatever we do to obtain our real education will not be recognized by the employer or clients. This is where the gap in MOOC at the early stage, where students just learn for his or her own knowledge but unable to demonstrate their knowledge prowess and skills beyond intellectual level; the least they can show it while they do their work if ever they were given chance. The next development of MOOC is something that I truly admire and support.

It was around 5 years I learned about Coursera and much less than that on eDX. These two are providers of high quality university courses especially from American universities. It was when eDX decided to invest several millions into its MOOC development, it creates a new wave of open courses for the global citizens. eDX main founders are Harvard University and MIT. Now they have partners including Cornell, UC Berkeley, Boston University, Dartmouth, Davidson, HKUST (Hong Kong), ANU (Australia) and few more. This is a great development. You should consider visiting their website and enroll in some of the courses. I have enrolled in Innovation and Commercialization from

On the other hand, Coursera started in 2012 founded by Stanford University professors. It is a for profit organization and currently working with Stanford University, Princeton, University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania. There are more than 6 million students on Coursera today and growing. I am currently taking a course on History of Rock Music (University of Florida) and University Teaching 101 (Johns Hopkins University) from Coursera. You should also visit Coursera and have a jam!

"Can MOOC finds a viable business model?"
“Can MOOC find a viable business model?”

What I like most about MOOC today is the convergence of ideas and history has shown us that the moment convergence happens, a big shift is coming soon. I believe other than banking, education is next on the line to experience tectonic shift. It probably take another 5 years or less for Malaysia to see something big coming. It may be a bit late but it is better late than never. Because if change doesn’t happen, there will be serious fall out of competitiveness of the universities and revenue will be impacted as well.

In The Economist, February 2014, says that “online course is its rock-bottom marginal cost: teaching additional students is virtually free. The fixed cost of creating an online course is relatively high, however. Getting started means putting together a curriculum, producing written and recorded material to explain it, and creating an interactive site that facilitates discussion and feedback.” This so true especially for public university. The same article pointed out the obvious that adding another student means adding another block of facility and the need to prepare another accommodation. Besides, to raise the productivity of tenured professors and teaching faculty is already difficult for bigger class means poorer quality. With the perennial concern on graduate quality, best to keep the class at optimum level (depending on courses).

While this may threaten the existing business model, especially for public universities, it doesn’t leave them with much choices nowadays. There is already major financial cut (from 20-30% annually) from the government coffers to finance public universities and it doesn’t seem to slow down. Other than financial savings (maximum 10-15%) from key activities- still not enough to offset the cut; public universities should consider paving the way for MOOC to become the next revenue stream. This could start for students abroad especially from developing countries where it has strong presence. It can be a good brand building before the students make their way to the physical university. I could attest to this when I take courses from Coursera and eDX where I could remember the name of the professors and earn certificate for the classes from the universities.

"University that adopt MOOC fast enough and offer it to the right market will have an edge as the innovation is taking shape."
“University that adopt MOOC fast enough and offer it to the right market will have an edge as the innovation is taking shape.”

In my Rock class from Coursera, there are  15,000 students registered for the course. In my University Teaching 101, there are more than 10,000 students. They come from around the world and with various backgrounds. I read a story of a teenage girl in South Africa where she completed around 15 courses on MOOC and now become the smartest girl in her village. Despite the fact that she never been to school, she is now a village teacher teaching and inspiring other children. She is blessed with her literacy in English and internet connection. This is classic education. A quote from Mark Twain, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” I think public universities in Malaysia should seriously do something about this and start small.

There are many ways to start MOOC because as public university they have many resources at their disposal. What they need a strong will and deterministic vision of the university management to leap forward. I will try to cover more information and ideas on how MOOC could benefit the university and how to go about doing it in my next post.

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The Case for Corporate College

In my previous article, “Reviving Youth Unemployment”, I brought up a new development in global education called corporate college. Here I would like to provide a snapshot of corporate college and how it can be game changing solution for government, corporate and university.

If you Google keyword “corporate college”, you will see a long list of corporate colleges around the world. Predominantly in the United States where each state has at least one bearing the state’s name, while other name such as Corporate College LLC, Global Corporate College which may have different customers appeal. In summation, this is indeed a remarkable improvement and advancement since I first researched about it 2 years ago and brought this idea to my board meeting early this year. This is awesome – at least the quantity of corporate colleges blossoming and lets hope competition will weed the weakest and nourish the quality ones.

Life long learning is a skill and modern workforce has to learn to master it.
Life long learning is a skill and modern workforce has to learn to master it.

In Malaysia, the corporate college term is new and foreign. Even as I speak about it to people around the university, they don’t quite like the idea because it will definitely mixing the academic and industry resources in this melting pot called corporate college. Well, I couldn’t argue further because I could see the reasons for such apprehensive gesture. Nonetheless, by not doing anything it is equally if not more harmful to the nation. I just hope in that kindred spirit to build Malaysia’s talent pool and remedy future’s talent pipeline and marketability, something has to be done NOW NOW NOW.

Corporate college can be easily a misleading concept of training centre or academy. I have seen it many places and work with corporate training centres. In training centres normally they are human resource executives, training executives and administrators. These people coordinate training programs for the organization by engaging external training providers, once a while they call in industry experts to give pep talks and seminars. In training centres they also conduct psychometric assessment to gauge their employees emotional state and when the new top management come, the people in the training centre will also tasked to look for vendors to formulate new workforce development program. They sometimes do this by working collaboratively with the HQ human resource team. On top of that, they are also required to become a business centre where they need to “sell” their internal expertise from the organization (usually technical expertise) to other small medium enterprises or provide some consultancy to other sister companies and so on. This could be a simplistic example but my point is this is not a corporate college and I am sorry to say this is not even a properly run training or knowledge development centre. Sometimes, in the desperate need for us to become “entrepreneurial” and “business savvy”, we forget that we should only sell good stuffs to our customers, not half-baked or questionable solutions that we ourselves are not convinced. If you only let the industry run a training centre, knowledge is for trading. 🙂

On the other hand, in the university not less glaring where its always about research; endless research. Recent article in The Economist, “How Science Goes Wrong”, September 2013; was an eye opener that as much as 50% of publications are almost impossible to be replicated or scale up for mass production. We are talking about billion of dollars down the drain and it is an on-going squandering frenzy unaddressed. On the positive side, university research could provide groundbreaking evidence, clearer direction and profound examples that many industry organizations yet to capitalize. Presently, there is very poor collaboration between the university and industry players because one party requires a lot of money and the other wishes to spend the least possible. Interestingly, both are aiming at the same objectives; building this nation.

Corporate college could be the solution. We can start by revamping community colleges and smaller private entities. Don't let pilot programs fool you.
Corporate college could be the solution. We can start by revamping community colleges and smaller private entities. Don’t let pilot programs fool you.

Corporate college can help to become the middle path solution, at least it helps by converging resources and most importantly the thinking behind how to grow this nation through properly run talent development. In corporate college, there will be academician that could help in the research and act as the knowledge bank of the program. If you have hang around with academicians, you would understand what I mean. They are very knowledgeable, dedicated, smart and they are givers. They like to contribute and they want to make a difference. Most academicians I have met always willing to support nation building cause with small fees to them. The academicians from education could help in developing the program structure, designing the assessment and examination, deciding the path for professional development and act as student guide.

In corporate college, the industry player could help in providing critical information about the direction of the business and what kind of people and skills required to achieve its goals. Since industry players meet a lot of clients, they could also share what the customers want and how is it possible to do it by asking the academicians. I am certain there will be some arguments and debates, and it only takes an objective mind and sincere heart to make the arguments work both ways and benefit both parties. The industry top management and middle managers could also share and teach the young workers. They could learn “how to teach” from the academicians and they will become better teacher very quickly. In the process, the researchers would observe and take note of the opportunities to uncover certain issues or make improvement on current manufacturing practice that could help the company more productive and efficient in the next few years. On teaching, I have this Chinese proverb to quote, “If you plan for a year sow rice, if you plan for a decade plan trees, if you plan for a lifetime educate people.”

In Malaysia, there is a need to have some regulation on the programs offered otherwise the students only get junks and binge-studying. The involvement of government should be considered in the area of evaluating and accrediting the right program that meet the objectives. The Malaysian Quality Assurance (MQA) should be roped in and engaged actively to ensure it is not just paper exercise. In several research university (RU), there’s self accreditation authority that would speed up the process. I strongly believe the university in Malaysia should learn how to use this self accreditation more to enable and boost the development of professional program. Currently, most professional development programs are from other international universities. From what I know, Malaysian researchers are very good and dedicated. I believe we already have many powerful researches that could be scale up or perhaps be given the space to become national exports especially in service related research.

"Your actions express your priorities."
“Your actions express your priorities.”

In conclusion, I believe with an open mindset to work things out, all parties including government, industry and university could work things out; perhaps to do something game changing like corporate college. There’s always opportunity to discuss the business model around it and making it a success. From my observation, the private universities are also making moves into the development of solid professional development and certifications. I have yet to see more involvement of public universities and other smaller private colleges in this space. I always give this silly but true example of a multi-level marketing company (MLM) set up their own academy and dish out a diploma in multi-level marketing, apparently it was widely accepted as the de-facto standard of MLM industry. Jaw-drop if you like but sometimes reality hurts. I would like to end this article with a quote, “The problem with this world is the wise is full of doubts and the fool is full of confident.”

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