Back to School: Educating the next generation of young entrepreneurs

Carol Appel
Carol Appel Head of Training Youth Business International

School has always been a source of many memories for me. I’m originally from Brazil, where I spent my whole education from nursery to university. Like many other places around the world, schools in Brazil still need a complete change in terms of structure and approach to teaching. As many people have said: “We still have schools from the 19th century, with teachers from the 20th century, educating children from the 21st century.”

I have been working with entrepreneurs for the last 15 years, but every now and then I think about one experience I had at school, how it has impacted my professional life, and how amazing it would be if every child or teenager could experience something similar.

So, here is the story…

When I was only 10 years old, I started my own little venture at school. My best friend’s grandma gave us a lot of old nylon fibre that she no longer had any use for. I knew how to weave them into nice bracelets, so my friend and I decided to make some and try to sell them at school – our only network of potential clients. The business was a success and soon our little homemade bracelets became very fashionable at school! Most of my classmates were buying and using them and even some of the older kids became our clients.

As good business owners, my friend and I would gather every weekend to produce the bracelets and do our accounting – in between some fun and games, of course!

This went on for a few months, but due to the lack of innovative products to keep clients interested in our business, the bracelets soon went out of fashion, sales decreased and we were forced to “close our business”. But this experience changed my life and proved to me at a very early age that I was able to start and run my own business. Most importantly, I experienced the feeling of being my own boss and achieving some of the goals I had in mind for my business.

Over the years I have continued to ask myself – why can’t all people experience something like this at some point in their education?

A few organisations around the world, such as Junior Achievement, are doing their best to provide children and teenagers with entrepreneurial experiences while still at school. But that’s definitely not enough, especially in a world that is changing at such a fast pace.

Why do we need to do more to support the next generation of young entreprenurs?

Many entrepreneurs, especially small business owners, do not have a bachelor’s degree. Many recent research reports and surveys in the US, for example, show that 25-30% of entrepreneurs only have a high school degree – and some of them haven’t even completed it.

If one third of entrepreneurs will not have the chance to go to university, it is extremely important that school provides, to some extent, the knowledge and experience they need to succeed in business.

For the other 70-75% of entrepreneurs that do graduate from university, it is crucial that they are exposed to entrepreneurship as a career option and that they receive some knowledge about how to start and manage a business, independent of the degree they have chosen.

When it comes to the future of work, there is a clear shift in the world from companies hiring employees to companies hiring independent professionals (consultants, freelancers, etc.) who are, in fact, entrepreneurs themselves. In the UK, for instance, 15% of the working population already describe themselves as freelance, according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE). Yet another reason why entrepreneurship education at an early stage will be even more crucial in the future.

When I talk about entrepreneurship education, I don’t just mean learning management skills. Even more important are soft skills and competencies which entrepreneurs need to succeed in a world that is becoming more and more competitive.

Developing entrepreneurial soft skills such as innovation, communication, networking and negotiation will make a huge difference in student’s life, whether they become entrepreneurs in the future or decide to go down the route of formal employment.

Seeing as this is what the future holds, it is time for schools to change their approach to education and prepare 21st century students to thrive in this ever-changing world we live in.

How schools can promote and support entrepreneurship

There are many ways in which schools can promote entrepreneurship and support students to develop the knowledge and experience they need to become entrepreneurs in the future.

Here are a few simple and relatively easy-to-implement ideas that schools could take on board. Most of them are also relevant for higher education.

  • Invite entrepreneurs to talk to students about their journeys. It is important that entrepreneurs highlight not only their successes but also what it took to get them there, the challenges they have faced and the failures that they have experienced. The aim is not to romanticise entrepreneurship, but show students the ups of downs of becoming an entrepreneur.
  • Promote entrepreneurship contests or business fairs, where students can create and manage a business for a short period of time (such as my little bracelets venture) and sell products/services to other students and, potentially, to the broader school community.
  • Promote work experience or shadowing programmes, where students spend a few days working in a small business (rather than big companies) side-by-side with the entrepreneurs themselves where possible, to learn more about the routine, challenges and achievements of running a small business.Link theoretical content to entrepreneurship and business management where possible. For example, in maths, get students to calculate a business cashflow to practice basic mathematical operations.

By implementing some of these ideas, schools can play a crucial role in educating the next generation of entrepreneurs who have the skills they need to succeed and contribute to the economy and local development.

Photo source:  Lucélia Ribeiro for Wikimedia Comms. 

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