CEOs of Tomorrow gives kids a taste of entrepreneurship

Organization is growing quickly locally
CEOs of Tomorrow gives kids a taste of entrepreneurship
Executive Director Roxie Hentz (middle) launched CEOs of Tomorrow in 2016 as a social entrepreneurship education nonprofit.

Most of us don’t look back on fifth grade as a defining period in our lives. CEOs of Tomorrow Founding Executive Director Roxie Hentz does.

“I walked into class on the first day and the entire room moved away,” she remembers. “A sea of only white faces.”

Hentz’s parents had agreed to transfer her to Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, as part of a program to diversify suburban schools in the 1980s. Luckily for Hentz, among the sea of white faces was her teacher — “a young white male who took a classroom of students who were confused by my entry, as was I, and turned it into this community of social activists who thrived on learning while also seeing difference as an asset rather than a deficit.”

Another important influence on Hentz’s life and career was her mother. Born in 1928, Daisy Hentz earned an associate degree and went on to open two businesses. First, she ran Daisy’s Fashion House, where she designed, created and sold her own line of clothing. It was at Daisy’s where the younger Hentz caught the entrepreneurial bug at age 7, making and selling animal pillows for her mother’s customers. Her mother also founded Daisy’s Charm and Finishing School, which offered etiquette, personal grooming, modeling, speech and modern dance, Hentz says.

“She was a prime example of what it takes to run a business and impact the community at the same time,” says Hentz. “That taught me this passion for changing the lives of kids.”

Armed with a childhood of extraordinary role models, including a brother who graduated from Harvard when she was 1 year old, Hentz majored in education, and at age 22 began a lifelong career in teaching and mentoring.

“That was truly my calling and it still is today,” says Hentz. When she found her way to Madison in 2013, she was surprised to discover the worst racial disparities in education in the nation.

The table was set for CEOs of Tomorrow, which she launched in 2016 as a social entrepreneurship education nonprofit serving students from fourth to 12th grade. While Hentz insists she strives for impact over numbers, her annual report shows strong progress on both metrics.

At CEOs for Tomorrow, children in Madison and surrounding school districts start and pilot their own socially driven businesses, donate a portion of their profits to a selected cause, and then deposit their earnings into bank accounts at Summit Credit Union, a program partner, or at their own banks.

Businesses incubated so far have benefitted childhood cancer prevention efforts, people experiencing homelessness, individuals with disabilities and others. For example, Break the Pipe, which was launched to address the school-to-prison pipeline experienced by many youths of color, sold customized merchandise and hosted an interactive workshop on educational strategies to improve outcomes. After the sale of 59 hoodies and 68 pencil pouches, the entrepreneurs donated $167 in school supplies to the Goodman Community Center and the remaining $786 was split among the students.

With a wealth of experience in curriculum construction and culturally responsive teaching and a Fulbright scholarship in entrepreneurial education, Hentz is building innovative out-of-school experiences that align with state academic standards so students can earn high school and college credits.

“I wanted to give them a vehicle to effect change while also preparing them for college and careers,” says Hentz. “We really need to raise the bar on the idea that these kids are only ready to graduate from high school. If they don’t go to college it will be because they choose not to — not because they don’t qualify for it, they’re not smart enough for it, they’re not valuable enough for it. We are building that pathway.”

Due to the demand, CEOs of Tomorrow is growing quickly, now adding school district partnerships and internships with local businesses. She recognizes the risk of growing too big too fast and says she won’t sacrifice her recipe for success.

“What’s special about us is a safe, supportive, encouraging, loving environment where everyone is accepted,” Hentz says. “They are wrapped in brilliance and I get to unwrap it. It’s incredible.”

Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at brennannardi@gmail.com.