NORFOLK — For two weeks this month a group of future entrepreneurs are meeting at the Strome Entrepreneurial Center on the campus of Old Dominion University to learn about what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur.
But these future business people aren’t college students: they’re a group of young ladies ranging from fifth to ninth grade who come from diverse backgrounds but who are all eager to learn about becoming a successful entrepreneur.
The Envision Lead Grow program and the two-week summer camp are the brain-child of Norfolk businesswoman and entrepreneur Angela D. Reddix, the Founder, CEO, and president of ARDX, a federal health care management and technology consulting firm that has been in business for more than a decade.
Reddix acknowledges that she comes from humble beginnings, growing up in public housing as the daughter of a teenage mother, then eventually spending eight years successfully running an organization before becoming interested in the literature surrounding entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. She eventually went back to school and earned a PhD from Oklahoma State University.
Something was missing though.
“In the business literature I didn’t find many studies with participants that told my story, of being in this field at a relatively young age in relation to my peers… of being a woman… and of being an African American woman,” Reddix said.
After some initial work with young female audiences that included intense and focused data gathering efforts, last year she launched Envision Lead Grow in seven cities across the nation: Norfolk, Richmond, Memphis, Atlanta, Greensboro, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and this year in Washington D.C.
The first year 214 girls took part in the free program. This year there are 250.
In all of the locations the participants are given exposure to successful women who serve as role models and also as mentors.
“Once the girls complete the program, Envision Lead Grow doesn’t leave town,” Reddix said. “We remain there through volunteers who are mentors.”
The mentors work with the girls, meeting with them weekly. Each month there’s a webinar where all participants log on and talk. Reddix said the school grades of the participants are collected quarterly.
Problem solving, communication, self-confidence, and self-efficacy are taught and instilled in the participants, as is the importance of ignoring the “instant gratification” of things like boys and boyfriends.
“Because their mind is on something way bigger than what’s going to happen today,” Reddix said. “If the only thing they see is what’s happening on their street or in their neighborhood … the world is so much bigger than that.”
Anyssa Reddix stands in front of a room full of noisy – sometimes loud – but energized young ladies. As program manager of the Envision Lead Grow program in Norfolk, she leads the two-week summer session.
“They all come from a different socio-economic status and have different exposures to entrepreneurship,” she said. “Some have parents who are hairdressers and some have never even heard the word entrepreneurship.”
It’s an intense two weeks for the girls: Confidence building exercises are the order of the day and finding the power to make things happen is preached.
“Some of the girls are very passionate about this before they even get here, but they all start on the same page as far as introducing them as to what entrepreneurship is in the first place,” Anyssa said.
The hardest part of the whole process could be convincing the girls that anything is possible.
“We tell them on day-one that confidence is the first step in becoming a boss or an entrepreneur,” she added. “What you believe about yourself is what becomes true in your life.”
Many of the girls in the program are from places or in situations that are less than ideal.
“A lot of the girls come from communities where you have to leave to become successful. We encourage them to stay in their communities and to become role models for others. It’s social entrepreneurship as much as it is entrepreneurship.”
Anyssa admitted that not all of the girls will go on to start their own business.
But that’s okay.
“The number one thing we want them to learn is the entrepreneurial mindset. It’s someone who goes places and creates things and doesn’t sit around waiting for opportunities to come to them,” she said.
According to the economist Joseph Schumpeter, entrepreneurs are not necessarily motivated by profit, but they do regard it as a standard for measuring achievement or success.
Entrepreneurs exercise initiative by organizing a venture to take advantage of an opportunity; they supply risk capital as a risk-taker, while monitoring and controlling the business activities.