Small Business

Searching for Zuckerbergs: Inside a start-up summer camp

Camp for young entrepreneurs

While some kids attend summer camps, playing sports and experiencing the great outdoors, Jadon Cochran and Teddy Siker are developing a business plan.

The 13-year-olds have brainstormed an app to encourage users to support the environment like picking up trash off the ground. Users send in photos of themselves that document environmentally friendly moves. The green actions, in turn, earn users points that can be exchanged for everything from a free cup of coffee to a video game system.

When asked if he wants to be the next Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Cochran says the flexibility of being an entrepreneur is appealing. "You get a lot of freedom," he said. "You're in control."

The boys are attending EXPLO Startup, a competitive program for middle and high school students at Wellesley College outside Boston.

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The idea is to give kids the skills they need to launch a business including preparing pitches and how to land seed money from investors. EXPLO Startup is in its third year and is a selective program. The 14 students this summer are from all over the world including Hong Kong and Dubai. Parents pay the tuition that's upward of $4,000 for the two-week summer training camp.

"Kids come to us with big ideas and we help them develop those skills for when they go out in the world," says Elliot Targum, head of programs for EXPLO at Wellesley.

EXPLO Startup camp participants (from left to right) include Luca Steinert, Kareena Dani, Amaal Shaikh, Jadon Cochran and Teddy Siker.
Kate Rogers | CNBC

EXPLO is a nonprofit educational company that has been offering summer programming for more than 35 years. It offers a wide variety of entrepreneurship courses for students—from second-graders to high school students.

Famous program alumni include Instagram founder Kevin Systrom. Past program counselors include BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti.

And former participants' achievements as grown-ups are impressive. Twelve of overall EXPLO program participants have landed on the Forbes "30 Under 30" lists for 2015, including Jay Kaplan of Synack, a cybersecurity company that also made this year's "CNBC Disruptor 50" list.

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Programming overall for EXPLO will include more than 3,000 students this summer, and the organization has given out more than $1 million in financial aid during the season.

EXPLO students are also exposed to a variety of speakers and entrepreneurs including Isaiah Kacyvenski, a former NFL player who has since become an entrepreneur. Kacyvenski attended Harvard Business School after leaving the Seattle Seahawks, and is now head of business development and research at mc10, a high-performance wearable tech company based in Lexington, Massachusetts. He's also an investor in multiple ventures.

"There are a lot of stories about entrepreneurs making it really big today," Kacyvenski says. "But there's a process and sacrifice to be laid out—I want them to realize the equalizer for all of this is hard work."

Over the years as more tech founders have reached celebrity status, entrepreneurship training camps—for kids to college students—have exploded in growth. Some entrepreneurs like billionaire investor Peter Thiel have espoused starting ventures and bypassing college and associated debt.

Camp for entrepreneurs

And what would a summer camp be without field trips? The kids visit venture capital firms, start-ups and Google's Boston offices.

"Going to a program like EXPLO will help you in the long run," says 15-year-old Grant Goodman, who attended EXPLO Startup camp last summer. The Long Island, New York, native has launched several apps in the Apple iOS store as well as Macster Software Inc. for the applications.

A hackathon under his belt, he's won two scholarships from Apple to attend the tech giant's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, and got to meet Chief Executive Tim Cook and Chief Design Officer Jony Ive. "It was a really great experience," Goodman said.

This summer, Goodman is attending a coding program at Make School in San Francisco. "I hope to say that all of these camps helped me succeed," he said.

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