Creating tomorrow’s entrepreneurs

Lee Sharma

Lee Sharma is founder and CEO of edtech disruptor Simply Do Ideas, a new online platform which supports the development and growth of early-stage business ideas. It inspires pupils to think entrepreneurially and teaches them how to develop an idea into a potential new business. You can call us on 0330 122 2781, email or find us on Facebook at Simply Do Ideas.

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Image credit: Flickr // audioluci. Image credit: Flickr // audioluci.

At what age do people become entrepreneurs? Is it one of the milestone ages of 16, 18 or 21? Is it not until they leave the sphere of education and enter the world of business?

My answer is to rebuff the question, as I believe there isn’t an accurate answer. Why should we set a limit on the potential of young people and why should they reach a certain age before any flair for innovation is recognised? I’d like to turn the entire conundrum on its head and ask is it ever too early to give people the chance to flourish and develop the skills they need which could see them being the next big name in entrepreneurship?

My own story illustrates how leaving it too late to foster entrepreneurship could have be disastrous. Back in 1998 when I was just 25, I had a business idea to start-up my own recruitment firm.“You have little idea about what you need to turn that entrepreneurial spark into a viable business plan.” I was a young guy, casually dressed in jeans and trainers and went to the bank for a loan. However, I wasn’t ready for what faced me that day. The bank manager asked me sensible questions but I didn’t have the answers. I was in that creative, buzzy stage and hadn’t captured my idea into a business plan. I was sent away.

It completely dented my confidence, made me feel worthless and left me feeling I couldn’t do it. It would have been totally different if I’d been fully prepared, known what to expect, had everything captured in a business plan and ready to respond to every question. Eventually, I got angry with this experience and wanted to prove them wrong. I read up about business planning and started the business from my shared flat using my credit card, even selling my car to pay the bills. The business was a success – so much so that I was bought out by a much bigger recruitment firm three years later – but it could have been a totally different story.

Over the next 12 years, I worked within government and education promoting business development, supporting entrepreneurship and helping students to start-up their own businesses. Unfortunately, I realised my experience wasn’t unique. Unless you’ve been equipped with the right skills and tools, you have little idea about what you need to do to turn that entrepreneurial spark from inside your head into a viable business plan. Time and time again, I saw young people’s eyes light up when they talked about their idea but with no confidence about that next step. I can only imagine how many would-be entrepreneurs are out there that felt they had to abandon their dream because they couldn’t convert it into a viable business plan and failed to get anyone to take them seriously.

That’s why I’m passionate about how it’s never too early to inspire young people with that spark of entrepreneurship. Schools have already been challenged with making young people work ready but we need to look beyond this in order to develop the next generation of entrepreneurial thinkers.

Entrepreneurship is a culture that needs to be embraced across the board. The practical skills to start-up a business should be part of every level of education and across the curriculum – from Science and Geography to PE and Maths. It’s all about setting young people on the right path, helping them to widen their horizons, think more broadly and equipping them with real-world skills that will help them go on to master greatness.

We’re currently at the start of a society-wide cultural change we so very much need. We have to all come together to proactively address the issues that potential entrepreneurs face; government, business, academia and financial services. If we don’t foster entrepreneurship by breaking down these boundaries and facilitating the idea-to-business journey, we’re only allowing a proportion of new businesses to take off and we’re letting down an entire generation of would-be entrepreneurs.

Creating a system where this is done as a matter of course and delivered by schools across the country will take time. But in the meantime, schools can embed this into “It’s all about thinking differently, building an extension to existing activities.”their day-to-day teaching. It’s all about thinking differently, building it as an extension to existing activities and using the tools that are out there to bring it to life for pupils. In cases, this will be a new skill for teachers to learn too so it will be key to instill this within teacher training and to take advantage of the efficiencies brought by new edtech tools that ensure that entrepreneurship doesn’t become a clunky add-on but an agenda that makes a real impact.

You don’t know where the next game-changing idea will come from or when it will happen but we are failing the next generation if we don’t give them the tools to realise their potential early on. Everyone is capable of coming up with new ideas. Some will succeed and others won’t, but nobody should fail just because they don’t know how to convert that idea into a viable business plan and, subsequently, a business. Just imagine the possibilities if we start people on the road to thinking entrepreneurially at a young age and gave every brilliant idea a fair chance of success.

So, here are some tips on how to get the ball rolling in your school:

1. Entrepreneurship Days: Dedicate a set day to challenging pupils to come up with their own business idea. This can range from long-running projects for older pupils to engaging themed activities, such as designing their own toy, starting their own shop or how they’d change their favourite item. It’s all about getting them thinking outside the box and innovating together.

2. Getting parents involved: Host a workshop or assembly where you invite parents to watch pupils present their ideas and act out their dream business scenarios. Engage parents to inspire pupils about entrepreneurship and innovation in and out of school.

3. Walkabouts: Take pupils on visits of the local town or businesses where they can be inspired by the success of others and what can be achieved.

4. 3D thinking: Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be a separate activity, it can be incorporated into any subject. Look at the innovations and careers within specific sectors, from Sport and Science to Geography and Maths.

5. Ideas board: Create a space where pupils can display their projects, ideas and innovations – acting as a constant reminder and inspiration.

6. Demos and talks: Invite local entrepreneurs and businesses into the school to demonstrate their product or service – how they came up with the idea, what it involves and what they’ve achieved to date. The more hands on, the better.

Do you bring entrepreneurialism into your school? Share your stories below.

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