Fostering Next-Gen Problem-Solvers

By Hannah Wente | Photography by Hillary Schave

Some people are lucky to act as a mentor or positive influence for a few people over their lifetime. But Roxie Hentz, PhD, has been uniquely positioned to influence hundreds of students, who will in turn influence thousands, by empowering youth with business skills and investing in their ideas via her nonprofit, CEOs of Tomorrow.

The organization is targeted to youth in grades four through 12 to develop business solutions for societal problems. Its first program was launched in 2016.

In 2011, Hentz was awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Teacher Award in 2011, a program run by the U.S. Department of State. She chose to focus her research on teaching entrepreneurial education in Durban, South Africa.

During the project, a mentor told her, “It’s not good enough to teach kids how to open a business — teach them how to change the world.” This changed her mindset from entrepreneurial education to social enterprise education.

“Youth are observing all of these socioeconomic and environmental crises that are impacting them to the core,” she says. “But they don’t have to sit on the sidelines or wait for adults to come up with solutions. They have the power, intellect and resolve to do something about it.”

CEOs of Tomorrow provides the tools, strategies and a platform for youth to develop businesses that help solve societal woes. Through partnerships with Madison College and the Madison Metropolitan and Sun Prairie school districts, students can even earn school credits. They are also matched with local companies for summer internships.

“It is critical that all children in Dane County, especially youth of color, see the brilliance they have and have a safe environment to grow, learn and thrive,” she explains.

Her program’s impact goes well beyond Madison. The International Virtual Academy has teens from the U.S.; Kanifing, The Gambia; and Alcoi, Spain; who collaborate in a virtual classroom and study business fundamentals together. The Global Excursions program takes a team of entrepreneurs to a developing country in Africa. In 2023, they traveled to Madison’s sister city, Kanifing, The Gambia, and will return there in 2025 to share their entrepreneurial knowledge with students there. Students will develop viable business ideas together to bring in revenue opportunities for their villages and country. “Our young people are doing amazing things,” says Hentz. “We’re not focused on if they’re going to be entrepreneurs, we’re building a mindset of, ‘You can do anything and the world is yours.’ They can go out into the world and know they are changemakers who should be heard and seen.”

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