Great article in the June issue of the AFA Journal:
The New American Dreamers
Homeschool families generate fresh wave of entrepreneurs
by Rusty Benson
(Read the original article, with photos, in pdf format here: HomeschoolEntrepreneurs)
Anthony Courter’s business could not have a more appropriate name.
From a small facility on his property in Linden, Tennessee, Courter, his wife, children and a few select team members, manufacture
an ingenious instrument that solar panel installers use to track the amount of sunlight in a particular location over the course of months. Thus, The Solar Pathfinder Company.
But the name also works on a more sublime level to express the real mission of Courter’s business: following the path of the sun – or rather the Son.
Courter is among a growing number of Christian homeschool families across the nation who are challenging old notions that define success in terms of individual prosperity and comfort. Rather, the new spirit is a multigenerational vision in which the family functions as an educational and economic unit, echoing a pre-industrial age model.
But the trend is far more than a nostalgic throwback or an attempt to disengage from the world. Proponents say it casts an exciting vision that builds unity across generations by weaving family discipleship and business mentorship. The result is creating a new wave of entrepreneurs. As a by-product, they say the movement has the potential to impact society by helping to fend off the growing reliance upon government in all areas of American life.
Kevin Swanson promotes this new family paradigm on Generations Radio, his daily Internet radio program (www.generationswithvision.com), as well as in presentations to gatherings across the nation.
“Modern life is far too institutionalized and compartmentalized,” he said. “It’s made up of big schools, big churches, big cities and disconnected lives. The best way to restore a more biblical vision of life is to discover ways to re-establish the family unit.”
Those kinds of convictions flow out of admonitions and portraits of family life found in the Bible, Swanson says. The rub comes in the countless ways the social, educational and economic systems of modern life – built on humanistic philosophies – fragment rather than unify families.
It is against those structures that many Christian families – particularly those who already homeschool – are seeking to build a more integrated family life that encompasses school, business and, sometimes, church.
“Homeschool families have already stepped off the bus in terms of questioning current paradigms,” Wade Myers said. Myers, a homeschool dad and highly respected investment banker, is the founder of New Venture Lab, a Christian business incubator
dedicated to assisting Christian families with their entrepreneurial and business ventures. “It’s consistent with their mindset to ask: ‘What else should we do differently?’” Myers said.
Swanson likes to cite the Greek word oikonomia, which refers to the management of a household and from which the English word economy is derived. Swanson contends that the New Testament use of the word implies that the family, rather than the individual is the basic economic unit. Therefore, families must begin to consider themselves an economic team.
“People ask if we are a one-income family,” Swanson said. “I say, ‘No, we are a seven-income family.’” Swanson and his wife have five children.
But is it reasonable for dad to abandon the cubical, buy a plot of ground, start raising llamas and expect to make a viable family
“In reality, most families will not be able to bring dad home,” Myers admitted. “Many are too far along. The mortgage is too large.
Dad doesn’t have the right education, skills, training or experience.”
But even in those circumstances, he says, parents can contribute to the family unity of future generations by nurturing in them an entrepreneurial spirit. That begins by helping them establish and grow a simple business. Deb Maubach of Nashville, Tennessee, has plenty of suggestions about how to do that.
Mauback operates the Web site Homeschool-Entrepreneur.com, which offers an 8-19-week course titled “How to Start Your Own Business.” Aimed at homeschool teens, the course is written in accordance with the National Standards for Entrepreneur
Education. Each unit teaches a different aspect of business, beginning with researching an opportunity and ending with an up-and-running enterprise.
“Entrepreneurship generally works in favor of homeschoolers,” Mauback says. “Usually they have learned to relate to adults and present themselves well.” For 23-year-old Chad Roach of Denver, Colorado, this proved true.
A lifelong homeschooler, Roach says his father nurtured a desire in him to manage and own his own business and gave him the training and encouragement to follow that dream.
His entrepreneurial journey started at an early age selling eggs from the family farm. When Roach wanted a pay raise, he sold the
egg business to his sisters, bought a lawnmower and started a lawn care enterprise. By the time Roach reached high school, his school work was nearly all self-directed, so he moved his studies from home to a vacant room at his father’s office. In the mornings he would do school work. After lunch he worked for his dad’s insurance agency doing simple clerical work and learning critical interpersonal skills.
“I spent the first two years learning how to talk to people on the phone and how to take messages,” he said.
By age 17 Roach was spending most of his time in sales, an area in which he found a natural affinity. That same year he began to solicit clients for a credit card processing company. Over the next few years that business grew into a viable enterprise. Today
that business is self-sustaining with clients in over 30 states.
But that was only the start for Roach. Always one to keep his entrepreneurial antennae up, Roach noticed that, like himself, several of his friends had invested in gold and silver bullions.
“I learned that if we would pool our money we could purchase in larger quantities and save money,” Roach said. “I took care of the transactions and they all paid me a small percentage for that service.”
Roach said he figured if he could do that for a few friends, maybe he could do it for others – many others. Through free ads on Craigslist (an Internet site for classified ads) and personal contacts, many in the homeschool community, Roach began to
build a substantial business. This year his gold and silver bullion business will do $15-20 million in sales, he said.
“And it’s still a family business,” said Roach, “with my dad, my sisters and even my 12-year-old brother involved.”
So, is the future in precious metal sales? Internet marketing? Small manufacturing? Cleaning houses? Hot dog stands? Fence building? Farming? Coffee kiosks? The answer is yes … and no.
Myers says the process of building a successful family business should not begin with selecting the business model or product, but with an honest evaluation of family resources.
“Families must leverage the training, education and experiences that God has given them,” he said. “Maybe Dad is really good at sales and marketing, while Mom is really good with back office work and customer service. Families must make a list of all these things. They must ask what kind of credibility they already have in a particular business. Then, that list must overlay the passion of their lives.”
Courter’s purchase of The Solar Pathfinder Company in 2003 certainly followed that advice. As a young man his father taught him to lay carpet, one of many skills he has already passed on to his children. That led to years of experience in every area of home construction, remodeling and real estate. He was able to add to those skills and experiences his strong mechanical and administrative abilities, as well as an understanding of the critical importance of LUCK: Laboring Under Correct Knowledge. In other words, Courter did extensive research before purchasing The Solar Pathfinder Company. Still, motivating the entire effort was simply a father’s desire to disciple his children in the context of daily life as Deuteronomy 6: 6-9 teaches:
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (ESV).
Myers says minimizing risks is always a crucial consideration in the entrepreneurial process. “I always tell fathers not to quit their day job, but begin by thinking creatively about what God has given you and where He has placed you. Then consider how you can solve a real problem for your customers and begin to build a revenue stream around that.”
Ready, set … research
“Sounds interesting, but this is all new to me. Tell me more about a multi-generational family vision.”
www.generationswithvision.com – This is the home of Generations Radio show. The site also includes Kevin Swanson’s blog, relevant articles and ordering information for Swanson’s books and video presentations including DVDs from the 2010 and 2011 Family Economics Conferences.
http://store.afa.net – AFA’s online store offers a large selection of homeschool resources including several that address issues of discipleship and building family unity. Of special note is Homeschool Journeys that profiles families who have started home businesses.
“How can I teach my children to have an entrepreneurial mindset?”
www.Homeschool-Entrepreneur.com – This site includes information on the HomeSchool Entrepreneur curriculum, stories of youngsters who are managing their own businesses, online tutorials of software programs, home business ideas and a library of articles on entrepreneurship.
“I’m fired up! How can I jump on the entrepreneurial fast track?”
www.newventurelab.com – New Venture Lab describes itself as a “virtual, Web-based business incubator that provides resources, support and training for entrepreneurs that are interested in integrating faith, family and business.” It also includes information about Venture Academy, a mini-MBA program for Christian entrepreneurs designed by Wade Myers.
Venture Analysis is an online automated in-depth analysis engine aimed at helping entrepreneurs evaluate business opportunities. It is a remarkably valuable high quality free resource.
Family Works is a new DVD from New Venture Labs. It features profiles of real life family businesses and includes practical insights on day-to-day operation and challenges of family businesses.
Billed as “Pilgrims Progress meets The Little Rascals,” Runner from Ravenshead is a full-length family movie written and
produced by the Steeges, a homeschool family in Oregon. The children play all the roles.
Through only two Christian outlets, the film has sold over 7,000 units to date. A wider release is planned for later this year. For a review of the movie, see AFA Journal 01/2011 at www.afajournal.org.
Reprinted with permission