HELL’S KITCHEN — When he worked for Chemical Bank in his 20s, Joshua Solomon often visited school classrooms to speak with students about his job.
“I would come in and teach guest lessons about business, about what banks do,” he said. “And I saw I had more fun with that.”
Solomon soon transitioned from banking to education. He launched his new career at the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem teaching math and Japanese, a language he’d learned working for the bank.
After serving as an assistant principal and co-founding a school in Flushing, he launched his own high school — the Business of Sports School — at the Graphics Campus on West 49th Street in September 2009.
“I had always thought about starting a business school,” the 49-year-old principal said. “I thought there was a real need to teach children about business, and there would be an interest.”
Nearly eight years later, the school has 440 students. More than a thousand students apply for admission each year, Solomon said.
“We have a lot of students who come who are interested in sports, but our goal is to say, ‘Look, we don’t know if you’re going to make it on the field, but you can have an amazing career — and perhaps a more exciting and lucrative career — off the field, behind the scenes,’” he explained.
The school is the city’s only sports business-focused career and technical education school. Students who attend gain real-life business and entrepreneurial experience, he said.
Each student has a professional mentor, with whom they meet monthly. And the school often hosts business executives and athletes who’ve segued into off-the-field positions as guest speakers. Representatives from Ernst & Young, Major League Soccer and SportsNet New York have made recent visits.
Classes also take field trips to Midtown-based businesses and organizations, such as the New York Road Runners.
“For every one person on the court or the field, there’s thousands of people working behind the scenes, in advertising, in journalism, in operations,” he said. “We want our students to meet those people.”
In 11th grade, students create their own companies and learn how to market them.
“Selling your business is such an important skill, because our core values are communication, collaboration and critical thinking,” Solomon explained. “How many students in the 11th grade present in front of a whole room of potential investors, of judges from other companies?”
Student ventures have ranged from a “mobile haircut company” called “Groomed On The Go” to a frozen yogurt business that caters to customers with allergies.
“Even if you don’t go into sports business, or business at all, these kinds of presentation skills and collaboration skills are going to serve you well, because every job has those elements,” Solomon said.
And while the school is business-centric, it also has 16 Public School Athletic League teams, he said.
Solomon himself is a New York sports fan who plays tennis and has participated in four New York City marathons.
He hopes the connections students make at the school help them in the long run as they pursue careers. At first, students were shy about approaching the school’s guest speakers, he said.
Now, they network without fear.
“I knew we were successful when a speaker came in, and then the kids … would come up to the speaker and try to have a private conversation, ask for their business card,” he said with a laugh. “I knew we were a real business school.”