Editorial: Growing the next generation of entrepreneurs

The number one challenge in venture capital, whatever the source of the money from corporate, university, government or independent, is to source good quality deal flow.

It is a little more than 10 years since Sir Ken Robinson gave his TED talk on ‘Do schools kill creativity?’

Forty million people have since watched him make what TED calls his “entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity”.

Sir Ken concluded his talk by saying: “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity [academic excellence, particularly in maths].”

Earlier, he had argued: “We know three things about intelligence. One, it's diverse. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. 

“Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, … intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn't divided into compartments. In fact, creativity -- which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value -- more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things….

“And the third thing about intelligence is, it's distinct.”

Intelligence, therefore, is important and feeds into creativity and innovation. The zeitgeist currently is the search for and importance of supporting innovation, particularly that expressed by entrepreneurs able to scale up and employ more people at relatively high wages.

US-based entrepreneur-focused non-profit the Kauffman Foundation, however, notes there have been long-term declines in business creation and slow growth that have led to a “startup deficit,” although it was hopeful “over the long-term that the rate of entrepreneurship will rebound” as barriers fall.  

Still, the question remains, why have entrepreneur rates continued to fall even though barriers have also been falling over the past 20 years? There are plenty of theories, from higher debt levels among students and incumbent corporations buying out nascent ideas.

But there is a wider question that harks back to Sir Ken’s insights a decade earlier. As aNordic Innovation report, identified a few years back: “Entrepreneurship is the individual’s ability to translate ideas into action. It encompasses creativity, innovativeness and risk-taking, as well as ability to plan and direct action towards the achievement of goals.”

If you wait until people are nearly through school or university designed to make them jump through the next hoop of exams and then are saddled with debts and a workplace with high youth unemployment and limited real-world social interaction it can be hard to form a business idea and find and build a team to execute on the idea.

There is some good work being done on this challenge. Sherry Coutu, founder and executive chairman of school entrepreneurship scheme Founders4Schools, in her TEDx talk (here) asked: “ I don’t understand how people can come out of school prepared for jobs that were rather than jobs that will be.”

Her work encourages entrepreneurs to go to school to inspire the next generation, while a Finnish project, Me & My City, won the 2014 World Innovation Summit for Education for its exceptional impact on sixth grade students trying out potential careers.

But, at an even earlier age, others are trying to encourage kids. Andrew Gaule, our partner who leads the Global Corporate Venturing Academy, has this month independently run a UpStart4StartUps programme in London, UK, for pre-teens, including his daughters, “to develop young people to become entrepreneurs and to support charitable causes”.

And, rather than try and unlearn the process that “kills creativity” there are pilot projects in finding a “fourth way” in education (after the first three of private and state-funded schools and home education/unschooling).

In the US, the Bowman School was founded by Silicon Valley-based entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, such as Guy Kawasaki and Heidi Mason, based on “the principles of Montessori elementary education” and in the UK the Green House project for “raising change agents who care for themselves, care for each other and care for the land" has been crowdfunding to expand* to an earlier-years’ cohort.

The number one challenge in venture capital, whatever the source of the money from corporate, university, government or independent, is to source good quality deal flow. Falling rates of entrepreneurship cannot be helpful in this context.

In addition, while there is increasing amounts of information on how to be a good entrepreneur available, a glance at most of it indicates it comes back to translating “ideas into action” and leading a team.

The next generation of entrepreneurs, therefore, seem to require mentors and examples but also support and the chance to flourish. As for all good entrepreneurial ideas, the successful pilots should hopefully then be, as the Green House's open source approach to sharing insights indicates, then be "replicated in other educational settings and seeing this project impacting education throughout the UK and beyond.

"Through training, sharing resources and networking with other projects and schools we would like to see this approach impacting wider than our current community."

* My son has applied to the Green House for the next semester and I am an unpaid adviser to its directors.

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