Dennis works in a furniture shop while crafting a plan to run his own business.
a year and Dennis would have presented his design and pricing estimates on a piece
of paper. Now, he is creating a 3D illustration on his computer. He’s making an
Excel spreadsheet that calculates the cost of his labor and materials. And he’s
moving it all into a PowerPoint slideshow he will present to the potential client.
The digital presentation shows how far Dennis has come. A few years ago, he was
unsure of his future, attending part-time classes at a vocational school and working
at a furniture business. He knew he liked to work with wood but was struggling to
figure out how to make a career out of it. Now, he is working a full-time job, creating
unique pieces for independent clients, and has plans to open his own antique restoration
credits this progress to the Network
For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a program he signed up for during
his last year of school. The 60-hour training program (now called YouthStart Belgium) targets high school dropouts who lack computer skills and gives them the tools to
carve out a future.
“When I came to the program, I didn’t have any computer skills,” says via
Skype, the video chat itself a sign of how much he learned through the program.
“If I hadn’t done this program, I’d still be doubting what I’d do with wood work
or what I would do later on.”
NFTE aims to inspire young people from low-income communities to stay in school,
to recognize business opportunities, and to plan for successful futures. Participants
set up a business plan, and in the process, they learn technical skills such as
creating presentations and setting up financial spreadsheets.
Dennis joins other Belgian finalists at the Bizplan competition in Dublin, Ireland.
YouthSpark sponsors the program financially, as well as contributing all the software
for the program’s laptops. In addition, many Microsoft employees help with the lessons
and office support. Belgium has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Europe,
with nearly 30 percent of young people without jobs. In some neighborhoods, that
number is as high as 50 percent. Through programs and partnerships with nonprofits,
is helping to reduce that by teaching young people like Dennis the skills that can
help them find jobs or start businesses.
Students take classes two days a week and spend three days a week doing an internship.
When they complete that work, they get an equivalent high school diploma. To participate
in the NFTE training program, students have to be committed. They have to be present
and on time; actively participate; show respect to others; and in the end, present
a business plan.
“What we say to the young people: you can not only be the CEO of your own company,
you also have to be the CEO of your own life,” says NFTE director Erik Dauwen. “Dennis
is a typical student who starts with us as a rather shy, young person. And then
you see him opening up and gaining self-confidence.”
who immigrated to Belgium from Ghana at age 9 with his mother who was seeking a
better education for her son, agrees that the training gave him the confidence he
needed to start his journey to becoming a business owner. Beyond computer skills,
Dennis feels trained as a future entrepreneur.
My mind is always channeled to business right now,” Dennis says. “I was always doubting
whether I wanted to start my own business. But the program gave me more motivation
and determination to go for it.”
At his furniture-crafting job, Dennis creates modern pieces including cabinetry,
wardrobes and chairs. But he still has a passion for antiques, and that’s where
he’s aiming his future business. Dauwen coached him into entering his business plan
in an NFTE-sponsored international business competition in 2012 in Dublin, Ireland.
Dennis hand crafted this wood carving piece from birch.
20 to 25 students — two to three students per country — were chosen to present their
business plans. Dennis created a PowerPoint presentation on his antique restoration
business plan to judges, and showed off his first wood carving piece, a toucan made
from birch featuring colors from his native Ghana.
The chairman of the judging committee was so impressed that he offered Dennis a
job. He said if the young woodworker was ready to come to Dublin, he could teach.
Dennis would have considered it if it weren’t so far from his home in Mechelen.
“I would definitely like to combine teaching with my business,” he says. “The youth
(of today) lose the touch of handiwork.”
Dennis plans to put his business plan into action within the next two years, creating
a space for restoring antiques and also creating new pieces, like the custom coffee
table. In addition to opening his own store, Dennis hopes to spread his love of
antique restoration to other young people using some of the skills he learned in
“I’ve seen myself really change in the sense that I really have more edge to move
and make decisions on my own, like stand on my own,” Dennis says. “It really showed
me how to fight for my goal and go for it. I know now that I have a chance in the
business world and that I can be successful.”