Meet Reuben Steiger. He’s a charismatic, smartly suited, archetypal silver fox. And he happens to think your little one might just be the next A-list entrepreneur; a budding Bill Gates, the next generation Tory Burch or perhaps Mark Cuban in training.
Steiger – who’s a serial entrepreneur himself (Linden Lab, Millions of Us and Virtual Greats all lay in his wake) – is the founder of 8 And Up, an educational program designed to change the way kids think about their own potential. The concept is simple: armed with a $50 budget, children meet over the course of six weeks and by the end, they have a product they invented that they sell.
Inventions range from cute Etsy-style Sorigami (a scent-filled pack of origami paper) and MoneyBags, a wallet made up of three pouches marked ‘Spending’, ‘Saving’ and ‘Charity’ that helps kids categorize their allowance to the multi-purpose Rock, Paper, Scissors shirt, a game and apparel all-in-one which looks like it’s going to get some serious funding.
Last September, Steiger expanded from his headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey into the heart of Brooklyn – finding digs within the swish 20,000 sq ft NY Media Center in Dumbo. The response has been pretty unanimous from the word go. All 22 seats for the first semester filled up within 24 hours.
The 8 and Up team have also noticed that the city breeds a particular type of business nous. “In Brooklyn, we’ve had some things you wouldn’t see in the burbs,” says Steiger, “for example, a girl invented something called the Apartment Archery Set – a homemade bow with padded arrows and a foldaway target. A boy named Milo, took the game of soccer and put his own twist on it – Park Ball involves a modified toddler tunnel (the kind that fold flat and accordion out), he then made a ball of duct tape and wrote new rules for a game that allows kids to bring soccer to the park without lugging cones or nets.”
It was Reuben’s own children who inspired the creation of 8 And Up in the first place. “I wondered what the world of 2023 would look like, when my kids will be going to college,” he says, admitting the idea of only relying on the traditional route seemed quite limiting. “Rather than trying to predict, we just launched into trying to create some sort of solution and it’s turned out to be something lots and lots of parents believe passionately in. The world of the future requires a different form of education. Understanding how to create value, how to invent companies and invent things – our educational system isn’t geared towards that.”
Pushing children to unleash their business creatively is largely neglected by the school system. Reuben encourages parents to look into the 21st Century Skills movement – a broad set of principles designed to prioritize a different framework of learning and teaching. “The fact that entrepreneurship and the ability to create both novel ideas and opportunities is absent from the curriculum is why 8 and Up exists. It’s a macro trend and enormous need – and very hard to incorporate into schools already struggling to keep pace with the increasing demands of STEM guidelines and the Common Core.”
Planning to take your small fry up to the next level? “Give us a call” says Steiger. “Sign up and volunteer to help out. This is turning out to be bigger than we can handle and that’s really the fun – in some ways the parents have as much fun as the kids (or more). It’s one of the nicest things you can share with your kid – the creative process.”
PS. Three tips for parents who wish to encourage their children to become entrepreneurs: “Here’s how we start the answer and begin our program. A) An entrepreneur creates the future by asking “What If?”; B) Make something people want and finally C) All inventions are just something someone made up.”
8 And Up’s next semester begins February 2, Superheroes (Sundays, 2pm) and What If? Trash To Treasure (Sundays 4pm) at the Made in NY Media Center, Brooklyn. There are also classes at WeWork in the Financial District and at the Grind in Midtown. Course fee: $350/6 weeks. 8andup.com