This article was originally posted by News at Marshall
Onstage at the inaugural Junior Achievement Spirit of Achievement awards luncheon on Nov. 4, a fourth-grader from Barack Obama Charter School, Los Angeles, asked honoree David Belasco, “What advice would you give a kid like me that wants to be an entrepreneur?”
Belasco, executive director of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the USC Marshall School of Business, said, “The short answer is to come to USC and study entrepreneurship.” The crowd at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles burst into cheers and applause.
“The more serious answer is, don’t be realistic in your dreams,” Belasco continued. “Be really, really unrealistic. Think of big things, and don’t let anybody tell you they’re impossible…and I’ll see you in a few years. ”
Belasco knows what he’s talking about. At 29, he gave up a lucrative career with Latham & Watkins — the world’s largest law firm by revenue — for the uncertain path of entrepreneurship, and went on to launch, build and sell companies in environmental services and manufacturing.
He was one of four honorees, including Frank Mottek, business journalist with CBS/KNX Radio, Holly Robinson Peete, co-founder of the HollyRod Foundation, and Tom Penn, co-owner of the LA Football Club, at the JA event.
“Since 1919, Junior Achievement’s pillars have been workforce readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship,” said Monica Farrell, fellow Trojan and director of development at Junior Achievement of Southern California. “At our heart, we’re an organization founded on teaching entrepreneurship. As a leader at the Lloyd Greif Center at USC Marshall, Dave Belasco represents a school that has helped us in a major way over the past decade or more.”
According to Farrell, USC Marshall part-time and full-time MBAs have volunteer-taught JA programs to thousands of K-12 students in local schools for more than 10 years, making them the largest grad school contributor to JA worldwide.
JA works in more than 120 countries, serving over 10 million students annually. Eighty percent of those students are at schools in low- or middle-income neighborhoods.
Marshall MBAs volunteer hours and raise money for JA through the Challenge 4 Charity, a 32-year-old nonprofit organization that pits eight elite West Coast business schools against each other in a year-long volunteer, fundraising and athletic competition. In 2015, Marshall MBAs won the C4C for the sixth year in a row.
Belasco has served as a mentor to and MC of the annual high school JA Student Entrepreneurship Challenge. JASEC is a student version of “Shark Tank,” in which the winning team is given the resources to make their business concept a reality. This year’s winning team, from Crenshaw High School, had a booth at the JA networking reception with brochures and samples from their new business, Pillow Tunez, a memory foam pillow with an embedded speaker.
Belasco said the Lloyd Greif Center looks to Junior Achievement as a pipeline delivering talented entrepreneurial young people into the community and higher education.
“With 60 courses and 30 professors, as well as incubators, accelerators, contests, funding, angels and mentors, we have everything entrepreneurs need to take their concept to the market,” Belasco said. “The Lloyd Greif Center is the oldest integrated college entrepreneurship program, founded in 1971, but JA was teaching entrepreneurship 20 years earlier in Southern California, starting in 1954.
“I’m thrilled to be receiving this award on behalf of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC’s Marshall School of Business,” Belasco added. “Getting to be around young, inspired, driven, curious minds, whether it’s at JA or at USC, is the greatest feeling there is.”