Roxie Hentz

CEOs of Tomorrow
 By Katie Mohr | Photographed by Hillary Schave

Roxie Hentz is an epicenter of entrepreneur inception—she fosters the creativity and passions in young children, while teaching them how to get a business off the ground. And it’s all for a good cause, because Hentz’s specialty is social entrepreneurship, an endeavor that improves the community or fills a need while it earns money.

Her newest endeavor, CEOs of Tomorrow, officially launched in January 2016, but in 1995—years before earning a business degree—then-25-year-old Hentz started her first nonprofit, Teen Approach, Inc. While also serving as a full-time teacher with Milwaukee Public Schools, Hentz used her evenings to teach thousands of kids ages 8 to 14 how to launch their own businesses.

Instead of simply making money, these kids’ businesses also promised to fulfill a societal need. For example, a group of Hentz’s Teen Approach students, in grades 8 through 10, decided they wanted to impact hunger. And what started as writing grants for funding ended with an enormous drive for personal care items for the needy. Although she’s there to support them, the kids choose the direction and drive the projects forward.

Teen Approach closed in 2012 when Hentz stepped down to spend more time with her daughter and was unable to find a successor.

In 2013, Hentz moved to Madison and took a consultant job with the state Department of Public Instruction, adding to her career that includes 25-plus years in the classroom, publishing the book “It’s My Business: Inspiring Students’ Ideas for a Better Community,” and earning the Fulbright Distinguished Teacher Award.

Hentz enjoyed her job with DPI, but says, “I wanted to be on the ground and making a difference.” She felt she was using only 15 percent of her skills, talents and passions, and instead wanted to use all of what she’d been given.

To get back into teaching children about social entrepreneurship and founding CEOs of Tomorrow, Hentz says, was a “natural and necessary transition.” She had always dreamed of being a teacher. “[Teaching] is more than providing content and curriculum,” she says. “It’s about changing lives.” This is what drives Hentz to go above and beyond the typical call of the classroom and provide nontraditional leadership experiences, such as entrepreneurship. Her kids always did so well, scoring above their peers, that she realized she had a gift—a gift she wanted to maximize by adding social improvement to her objectives.

She usually starts out in front of the class by asking if any of the kids know of a problem lots of people have that they wish they could fix. “All the hands go up,” she says. “It’s amazing.”

“The older we get, the more removed we get from our dreams,” says Hentz. Children, in the prime of genuine, creative optimism, are a natural place to start teaching that one person can make a difference. And Hentz is showing them how.

CEOs of Tomorrow is about to enter its first summer of courses, with discrete camps for 4th to 8th graders and high school students, where kids learn how to put together business plans, pitch to investors and manage business funds.

CEOs of Tomorrow came together much more smoothly than her first entrepreneurial experience. Hentz attributes this largely to her two added degrees—a master’s degree in business and a doctorate degree, and years of experience. This time around, she knew what to be prepared for so she could have more structured programs and defined outcomes, such as boosted test scores and confidence levels.

Also, this time she had the help of UpStart, which Hentz says bestowed “gifts of resources,” such as intensive business plan software.

What’s next? That’s up to the next generation. In the meantime, Hentz urges us all: “Utilize your passion; unlock your gifts.” As she and all of these women have shown, a little faith in yourself goes a long way.

SLIP    CEOs of Tomorrow was founded as an LLC, but related fees hindered kids’ ability to join. To keep the program open to as many kids as possible, Hentz recently converted the business to a nonprofit.

TIP    Follow your passion, and the money will follow. “Passion is the driver to ensuring professional happiness,” Hentz says.

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