How to Inspire Students to become Entrepreneurial

I’m fortunate enough to head up an organisation that exists to encourage students to become more entrepreneurial, and to consider starting their own businesses. I have a great team, and we see some really amazing young people with great ideas. We are immensely proud of the number of great businesses that have started, with our support.  And yet I am often asked if we can really teach people to become entrepreneurs. Many people believe that the entrepreneurial attitude is innate; you either have it or you don’t. I don’t think that is true at all.

I do accept that some people are ‘born entrepreneurs’. We have all heard about people who started their first business in primary school and became millionaires before they even left school. They often come out of ordinary circumstances, but something drove them on. These people are amazingly successful but, for every high-profile ‘born entrepreneur’, there are hundreds of people who have quietly built up a successful business from scratch. We just don’t hear about them, unless we are lucky enough to know them. These are the type of people that my organisation, the Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE), can help to take their first steps into business.

So how does SIE help students to become successful entrepreneurs, even those who might never have thought about anything other than to ‘get a good job’ once they graduate?

We INSPIRE them.  We introduce them to great people who are not only successful at what they do, but are passionate about business, almost to the point of being evangelical. And we don’t just bring out the big names like Sir Tom Hunter, who is speaking at our Summit in March. We make it real, we expose them to people who are just like them, young entrepreneurs who never thought they could run a business, but are living proof of what can be achieved in just a few years.

We BELIEVE in them. We give them opportunities to try out their business ideas in a competitive, but nurturing environment. We run a New Ideas competition that is simple to enter and gives them an opportunity to test out whether there is a genuine business opportunity in their idea.  We encourage them to pitch their ideas, to become competent at explaining their concept, and we celebrate their achievements.

We ENCOURAGE them. We run a bootcamp and a range of workshops that help them to develop their ideas. We mix them up and get them talking to each other, helping them to realise that there are lots of people sharing their journey.

We SUPPORT them.  We advise them and mentor them. We introduce them to others who can help them. Most importantly, we teach them to think for themselves and to trust their own judgement.

And then we CELEBRATE with them!

So do SIE’s activities make any difference to the number of students starting businesses, or are we simply tapping into an existing, self selecting cohort? It’s true that at SIE we are fortunate in attracting some of Scotland’s brightest students to participate in our activities. There also is no doubt in my mind that what we are doing in provides these young people the inspiration to take the first step, and the skills they need to make their business ideas a success.

What do you think? Can people be taught to become entrepreneurial? Do post your comments and join in the discussion.

Published by Fiona

Fiona was once a hands-on scientist and still has a curious mind. She combines strategic thinking with an entrepreneurial attitude and the ability to make great connections. She also takes photos.

5 thoughts on “How to Inspire Students to become Entrepreneurial

  1. Saras Sarasvathy at the Darden School of Business of the University of Virginia has conducted ground breaking research into entrepreneurial thinking which she coined as “effectuation”. Her BigThink Interview and TED MidAtlantic presentation are sure to inspire and educate potential entrepreneurs. She’s my new hero.

    I’m very impressed with Heriot-Watt’s international push, which is entrepreneurial in nature. It has set itself apart in this budget crisis happening in education around the world. I’m honored and proud to be apart of this global learning community being built by HWU.

  2. To an extent I think the debate about whether entrepreneurship can be taught or not is important.

    What is clear is that groups like SIE are vital in letting young people know that starting a business really is an option at any stage of their life.

    And whether you are a natural entrepreneur, like your teenage millionaire example, or a reluctant entrepreneur, the mid-life individual with a redundancy payment and little prospects of finding employment, everyone needs support and encouragement.

    Even us serial business builders have down days as well as dog days and the support of peers and experienced business people is important, more so when starting that very first enterprise.

    Keep up the good work Fiona!

  3. Thanks Wendy and Alex for taking the time to post such interesting comments. I do think that by teaching people the right skills, it will build confidence, which is good news!

  4. I used to think that people were either born entrepreneurs or not. We all know people who have an instinctive ability to take an idea and make a business out of it… most of us find this a little (or a lot) harder but we can all take inspiration from the “natural entrepreneurs” and learn from them. I now think that people can develop into entrepreneurs: they have often learned something fundamental about their own skills and passions, and then find others who enjoy the bits they don’t so that together they can build a successful business. The work done by SIE can help young people to become more self-aware and understand which bits of a business they want to be involved with, but its also partly about building confidence and encouraging them… as I’ve become more confident about myself and what I want in life, I’ve been more willing to follow my dreams.

  5. Encouragement, support and and celebration. This is also the message that the MIT clean energy prize was developed through. Certainly there seems to be a ingrained piece of the british and american psyche that rewards celebrity but somehow frowns on entrepreneurs as they make profit from other people. But they also create jobs, community and increase a countries GDP. The UN attributes around half of large countries GDP to SME’s. Did not most of these SMEs start as entrepreneurs. in developing countries only ~16% of GDP can be attributed to SMEs (Something that Challenges Worldwide works to grow). So congratulations to SIE and it’s great to see them encouraging the spirit of entrepreneurship!

    As to whether it can be taught I certainly think there are aspects of entrepreneurship that can be encouraged in young people and alongside this there are basic business skills (sales/good manners/business etiquette/basic accounting/teamwork) which can and should be taught.

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