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.