Young entrepreneurs

International organizations help students develop businesses for now and the future


Photo: Ungt Entreprenørskap Norge
Young entrepreneurs: Six engineering students at the University of Southeastern Norway developed EasyZeek, a tool to help repair people, electricians, plumbers, or carpenters find objects in walls and roof panels before they drill. The worker puts a passive technological sticker onto selected objects before the wall or roof is closed. EasyZeek has won many awards. In the back row on the far right is Johan Andresen of Ferd and Grete Ingeborg Nykkelmo, managing director of Ungt Entreprenørskap / JA Norway.

Rasmus Falck
Oslo, Norway

“Dear friends of entrepreneurship. Jakayla Dixon is a 16-year-old high schooler from Fort Worth, Texas. As a young girl, she would visit her aunt, who is blind. During these visits, Jakayla’s aunt would ask her to help pick out clothes, making sure they were color-coordinated. While Jakayla was always happy to help her aunt, she knew that there was a need for a product that could help all visually impaired people match their clothes without having to depend on the help of sighted friends or family members.” So starts the annual report for 2017 from Junior Achievement, USA.

Today, Jakayla is the head of “Feel the Color,” a junior achievement student company that develops braille and coded fabric tags that can be stitched into clothing to help the visually impaired color-coordinate their clothes. With the help of her junior achievement volunteer and mentor, she has worked to turn her idea into a commercially viable product. Today, the organization reaches over 4.8 million students annually in the USA, and an additional 5.6 million students in the rest of the world.

In Norway, Young Entrepreneurship (Ungt Entreprenørskap, JA Norway in English) was reestablished in 1997. The organization covers the whole country and works with entrepreneurship education at all levels in the school system. In 2016, 13,000 pupils in grammar schools, 11,000 students in high school, and 800 students from universities were establishing and running companies as school projects. Last year, 17 percent of all high school students were involved in running a youth company.

The managing director of Young Entrepreneurship (UE) is Grete Ingeborg Nykkelmo. She is something rare as an individual, a world champion in cross-country skiing and biathlon and married to Norwegian men’s cross-country legend Vegard Ulvang. Nykkelmo was marketing manager for the World Ski Championships in Trondheim in 1997 and event organizer for the World Cup Nordic and Biathlon at Holmenkollen since 2016. According to her, entrepreneurship is very similar to sports. “Our ambition in UE is to build a bridge between schools and local businesses and to contribute so that young people learn entrepreneurship that the companies demand. Norway needs to build new companies and new jobs in the future.”

Having an entrepreneurial mindset is becoming even more important as digitalization increasingly affects the world of work. According to the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills, and Labour Mobility Marianne Thyssen, “entrepreneurship education can equip young Europeans with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that open doors to individual fulfillment and career opportunities in times of uncertainty and rapid change.”

Students participate in county competitions and the county winners advance to compete in the Norwegian Championship of Youth Companies. Through Enterprise without Borders, the young people’s companies can connect with peers in other countries. The website provides the venue to meet and sell products. There is also a YE Alumni group so they can continue contact, grow networking opportunities, and contribute to continuing education programs. Since it is a sub-organization of Junior Achievement Europe, there is access to more than 20,000 alumni.

UE depends on volunteers and mentors. Many people from the work world take part on a yearly basis, mentoring a young enterprise. The Oslo Rotary Club, the oldest and largest club in Scandinavia, has signed an agreement with UE to provide mentors. At the present time 40 members have volunteered.

This article originally appeared in the February 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Rasmus Falck

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his masters degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo.