An Interview with Dr. J.D. LaRock: How Youth Involvement in Social Entrepreneurship Makes it More Valuable

Entrepreneurship is central to economic growth, job opportunities, and economic recovery.

This is how Dr. J.D. LaRock, President & CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), starts this exclusive interview with Youth Time, where he speaks about the crucial role of entrepreneurship in economic growth, job opportunities, and economic recovery during a pandemic.

In this interview, he also speaks about the role of young people being involved in social entrepreneurship and how this contributes to society on a larger scale, and also introduces us to the new NFTE program Start it Up!, created with the main aim to help adults who are looking to reinvent themselves in their careers as entrepreneurs.

Read on for a unique perspective from Dr. J.D. LaRock on these issues and others. His words become even more valuable for our magazine when we acknowledge that NFTE has reached over a million young people around the world since it was founded.

COVID-19 as Momentum for Entrepreneurship

Initially, he recalls that oftentimes people think about big corporations when they think about economic growth in the United States or in Europe.

Dr JD LaRock with NFTE classroom students 886x1024 1
Dr JD LaRock with NFTE classroom students

“But the truth is, most of the economies in Europe and in North America are powered by small businesses, and the smallest businesses in Europe and North America are actually one- or two-person businesses,” said Dr. LaRock. “Therefore, whenever we experience an economic shock, like the shock brought on by COVID-19, the ability of entrepreneurs – particularly small business entrepreneurs – to rebound is at the heart of economic recovery.”

He further adds that COVID-19 provides an interesting moment for entrepreneurship.


“That is because, as we are seeing in the United States with the so-called Great Resignation, the pandemic has prompted many people to reassess their careers and their lives. Many people have decided that they do not want to work in the sectors that they were working in before the pandemic, but instead want to do something that is authentic to them – oftentimes that manifests itself with people leaving jobs to become entrepreneurs and pursue an idea or passion that they have had for many years.”

That is one reason why NFTE created a program called Start it Up! to help adults who are looking to reinvent themselves in their careers as entrepreneurs.

“At the outset of the pandemic, we saw that this opportunity and need existed, and offered this program as a free resource. We were delighted to see that tens of thousands of people all around the world, including Europe and the U.S., took advantage of this opportunity.”

He believes this is just another reason why entrepreneurship will be central to our continued recovery from this pandemic.

Societies Benefiting from the Build Back Better Bill

While speaking about economic recovery or growth amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, he notes that societies around the world have reinvented themselves–at least to some extent.

Examples of this are the recently passed infrastructure bill and forthcoming Build Back Better bill in the U.S. Dr. J.D. LaRock speaks about whether it benefits working-class people, and if so, why and how?

Dr. LaRock said, “There is no doubt that the recently passed infrastructure bill will benefit not just working-class people in the U.S., but ultimately all people around the world.”

“That is because it invests in things that facilitate domestic and global commerce, such as long-overdue investments in roads, bridges, and waterways, as well as investments in clean water and the fundamentals that people need to make their lives work. Importantly, it also invests in broadband internet for communities across the U.S. that have not yet benefited from modern, up-to-date internet.”

According to him, all of this is important because it facilitates our ability to go about our lives and with the running of our businesses.

“When businesses are helped with good infrastructure in the U.S., that also benefits businesses outside the U.S. because of our globalized economy. So, there is no question that the infrastructure bill will be a benefit for many.”

However, he goes on to point out that it is hard to know to what degree the Build Back Better bill will benefit people in the U.S. because it has not yet passed the United States Senate at this point, and it has been significantly scaled back from its original ambitions.

“I was personally disappointed that a key provision of the original bill, which would have provided taxpayer-funded community college, has now been left out of the bill. I think that provision in particular would have been a real benefit to people and communities in the U.S. who have been excluded from the full promise of public education in our society.”

“Taxpayer-funded post-secondary education is also helpful because in today’s economy, one simply can’t earn a living with only a secondary degree. The data on this are very clear: seven out of ten jobs in today’s economy require some form of post-secondary education, and the earnings premium for people who have at least a two-year postsecondary degree is much higher than for people who have no more than a high-school degree. [… ]”

Youth Involvement in Social Entrepreneurship

Dr. LaRock believes that youth involvement in social entrepreneurship is not only important, it is really the driver of social entrepreneurship.

“At NFTE, it is quite common for our learners to come up with business ideas that are responding to a need in their communities, their schools, or their families, and that is what social entrepreneurship is all about.”

He notes that they also find among their learners a very great care and concern for groups of people who have been excluded from societies.

For example, both the 2021 and 2020 NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge winners had businesses focused on people with autism.

More precisely, in 2020, José Rodriguez’s winning business was Tasium, a clothing company that features fidget toy-infused clothing that helps people with autism deal with their environment. In 2021, one of NFTE’s national winners, Madelyn Jackson, created an app called P.A.C.A. (Personalized Autism Communication Application), which is meant to facilitate communication between people with autism and people who do not have that disability.

“Social entrepreneurship runs strong in the NFTE world and it’s no surprise,” says Dr. LaRock. “It is wonderful to see so many of our young people focused on businesses that can do well by doing good.”

Never Giving Up

And if you are a young person in this journey but face obstacles, then Dr. J.D. LaRock has an uplifting message for you.

“Do not be dissuaded from pursuing your dreams or business ideas just because you do not see the resources that you think you may need in front of you today.”

The very definition of entrepreneurship, he recalls, is creating something without respect to the available resources today.

“If you have a passion that is driving you, if you have an idea that you cannot stop thinking about, if you have a solution for a problem in your life or the life of your community and you want to do something, do it! Take the first step. Talk to a parent, a teacher, or someone in your community about how to get started.”

You could also go to the NFTE website and see how you can benefit from the free resources they have to help people develop their business ideas.

“What you will find is that once you take a first step, you will be inspired to take further steps, and some of the things that were not clear at the start – like how to solve all the problems or generate all the resources – will become clearer with each successive step.”

JD Zoom image
JD Zoom image



Youth Time first introduced you to the amazing work of NFTE back in June 2021. Spare five minutes of your time reading about their wonderful work.

NFTE: Helping Youth from Low-income Communities Succeed

NFTE: Helping Youth from Low-income Communities Succeed


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