NFTE: Helping Youth from Low-income Communities Succeed

Supporting more than 100,000 young people with education around the world, we find out how NFTE is teaching entrepreneurship to the globe.

Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) is a global educational non-profit focused on bringing the power of entrepreneurship to youth in low-income communities.

Since its founding over 30 years ago, NFTE has trained thousands of teachers and educated more than a million young people worldwide, helping them launch businesses of all sizes.

With its home office based in New York City, NFTE works with schools and community-based organisations in 25 states across the US and 12 countries. It reaches nearly 100,000 middle and high school students annually.

In this exclusive interview, Youth Time speaks to Stephanie Alvarado, Senior Manager, International Services, NFTE, who elaborates more on their programmes and how NFTE engages and empowers students by making learning relevant.


The Beginning of a Wonderful Journey

Initially, Alvarado recalls NFTE is closely related with the name of Steve Mariotti, who founded the organization in 1987, leaving a corporate job to teach in some of the most disadvantaged outposts of the New York City public school system. 

“Many of his students were disengaged and unmotivated, even disruptive, but Steve quickly found that the idea of running a business intrigued them. 

“Over the years, NFTE programmes have literally saved lives, giving at-risk students an outlet for their creativity and creating a pathway to an independent and successful future,” she asserts.

Steph Alvarado Headshot 2021
Changing Lives: Steph Alvarado

“We nurture emerging entrepreneurs, preparing them to launch businesses, enter the workforce, or set their sights on college and career. 

“Many of our programme alumni not only achieve success in their business and professional lives but also continue to give back to the community by mentoring the next generation of NFTE students.”

Some of the best-known names on NFTE’s alumni roster include Robert Reffkin, Founder and CEO of Compass, the revolutionary technology-driven real estate platform; Jasmine Lawrence, Founder and CEO of Eden Bodyworks, manufacturer and distributor of all-natural hair and body care products; and Ryan Williams, CEO and Co-Founder of Cadre, a financial technology platform for the real estate market.


Empowering Youth to Succeed in Life and Business

As NFTE focuses its work on under-resourced communities, with programmes in 25 states across the US and 12 other countries, Alvarado further elaborates on their key programmes, helping NFTE students to thrive in the innovation economy.

The World Series of Innovation competition is another free program open to young people around the globe – whether or not they’re NFTE students. 

“The World Series challenges are aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and offer young people a chance to practice design thinking as they brainstorm solutions to some of the most critical challenges facing humanity today, including poverty, hunger, climate change, equity, and justice.” 

The challenges rotate every year, and many competitors return year after year to develop inspiring and innovative ideas to address the world’s most pressing problems. Anyone between the ages 13 to 24 is welcome to compete.

According to Alvarado, NFTE does more than just teach start-up skills; they empower young people to succeed in business and in life by activating their entrepreneurial mind-set.

“NFTE students develop competencies in eight key areas: Critical Thinking, Flexibility & Adaptability, Communication & Collaboration, Comfort with Risk, Initiative & Self-Reliance, Creativity & Innovation, Future Orientation, and Opportunity Recognition,” she adds. 

Also, NFTE offers both traditional classroom-based programs and a variety of unique out-of-school programs (including summer camps, after-school and weekend programming) for middle and high school students – as well as online and in-person entrepreneurship education for college students and adult learners.

NFTE Global Showcase speaker
On Stage: An NFTE Global Showcase speaker

One of the most popular free programs is Career Relaunch, a short online intensive designed to teach older learners the essentials of entrepreneurship.

“The course is self-paced but most people can complete it in two weeks. It will prompt you to think creatively about the skills and talents you can leverage to build a career. 

“You will also learn about doing market research, refining your business plan, funding a start-up, and promoting your business. It’s perfect for new grads or young people taking a gap year and can be helpful for anyone who is unemployed or underemployed.”

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Without a doubt, the past year has been a challenging one for NFTE’s students and teachers, with profound disruptions to school and home life.

But, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected NFTE’s work and how has it adjusted to this new challenging situation?

“Although NFTE is a global organisation, our home office is in New York City, which was hit hard by the pandemic early on. 

“We responded swiftly to implement a wholly virtual model for our student competitions and expand online business coaching by our volunteer corps,” Alvarado says, further emphasising that NFTE also developed resources and guides to help school communities adjust to remote learning. 

Besides the COVID-19 pandemic becoming a challenge, speaking from experience, Alvarado shares some of the biggest challenges and shortcomings faced by youth today in the US, and how their work tackles those challenges.

“The young people we serve, particularly those from disadvantaged or historically marginalised communities, are often underestimated learners,” Alvarado explains.

She brings into discussion that the youth NFTE serves in its core programs have tremendous creativity and energy, but want and deserve more fair access to financial opportunity.

“It’s hard to get a leg up when you have plenty of talent but lack resources and connections. NFTE’s goal is to build the next generation of diverse young entrepreneurs in order to promote inclusive economic growth in the communities we serve. 

“Helping young people to develop an entrepreneurial mindset is the key.”


Young People Supporting NFTE

We have seen how NFTE assists and empowers young people in various forms. Below, we are listing a few ways youth can engage, support, and donate for NFTE’s cause:

Get involved. The best starting point is entering a challenge in the World Series of Innovation. You can compete solo or invite a few friends to join you and compete as a small team.

Get connected. Follow @NFTE on social media or sign up for their emails to get news about scholarships, fellowships, volunteering opportunities, design thinking challenges, and business plan and pitch competitions for young entrepreneurs.

Give. You can make a gift at or you can support NFTE in other ways, by subscribing to their Twitch channel or by making NFTE your designated charity on eBay or Amazon Smile. 

Visit NFTE online at or follow them @nfte.

Another inspirational story right here:

How Global Dignity Empowers a Greater Sense of Humanity

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