According to Virgin’s Women in Business Series, “Entrepreneurship is being heralded as the saviour of the world’s economies, being hailed as the solution to problems such as youth unemployment. Legislation is rapidly being drafted to force institutions – like banks – to increase lending to SMEs.”
While I agree with that statement, entrepreneurship is changing in many ways while financial institutions, post grad degrees, methods of engaged support and financing options are not keeping up.
Back when I started my career in business, being an entrepreneur was a statement you told someone when you were out of work and between jobs. Entrepreneur referred to the person who started a café, an accounting service or a video store. Being called a serial entrepreneur meant you weren’t successful because those ten things you threw against the wall to see what stuck didn’t. Oh how times have changed.
The buzzword of this decade has been entrepreneur with no stoppage in sight. When I ran my ‘incubator’ in 2002 we called ourselves a business program where the entrepreneurs were called ‘self-employed’. We were a select few who knew that training and support would impact on the success of each small business that attended out program.
Our incubators gave way to university programs, both undergrad and graduate, in entrepreneurship. The idea that people were born with the entrepreneur gene gave way to the notion that education could make anyone an entrepreneur.
Things are changing. Most of us can remember that one needed a downtown office to be taken seriously, it’s now preferred to have a ‘home office’. Women are proving they deserve a seat in the boardroom and disruptive technologies is the overly used word of the day.
There needs to be a paradigm shift in education, financing and the support we offer new entrepreneurs. As a professor at a Vancouver graduate school university I see curriculum that doesn’t prepare the graduate to dive into an entrepreneurial venture. The MBA programs I see give a great overview of business on a global scale but lack the tools for a future startup founder.
The young entrepreneurs I speak to are socially aware (typical of the millennial trait) are looking for sustainability in their business and are eager to find support to help them. A millennial founder taught me about B Corps. According to Wikipedia, “The B Corp certification is a third party standard requiring companies to meet social sustainability and environmental performance standards, meet accountability standards, and to be transparent to the public. This certification, although not binding, is almost like the mantra for new founders who look at business a different way.
The Millennial entrepreneur fascinates me mainly for their social awareness probably because my generation raped and pillaged the world for everything we could get out of it. I’m reminded of the greed that came out of the California Gold Rush where opportunists took the miners gold as fast as they panned it. We look back at that and say what fine entrepreneurs to find such opportunity. Millennials would be aghast at the thought.
I don’t want to diss or favour any one group of entrepreneurs but Millennial entrepreneurs are about changing the world by connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs who have shared values and interests. Instead of looking at taking over the world they are becoming lifestyle entrepreneurs where their work is intricately balanced and intertwined to their lifestyle. While most of us are looking to build the next unicorn, they just want a lifestyle business that makes a difference.
Baby boomers are getting the millennial bug as well. As older entrepreneurs enter their late 50’s and 60’s they are looking for new opportunities that will keep them in the game while realizing their ideas of semi-retirement.
So how do we support the changing face of entrepreneurship?
Education needs to rethink what they teach in business school. Graduates need to hit the ground running, they need to have the skills before they start their first enterprise and they need the support around them to adapt to changing ways of thinking and implementation.
Entrepreneurs need peer groups. I don’t think I know anyone close to me who isn’t entrepreneurial so every time I meet friends for a coffee it turns into a peer discussion. I implemented peer groups into my first incubator. The support structure became a main focus and blessing to the entrepreneurs who went through my 50 cohorts over ten years.
There needs to be a larger focus on mentorship for entrepreneurs. Retired people make the best mentors because of the lifetime of business knowledge itching to be activated by knowledge-driven entrepreneurs.
Skill workshops that address interpersonal skills and all the ‘soft’ skills that differentiate the outstanding CEO from others need to be offered. This could be a great opportunity for traditional banking institutions that entrepreneurs for years have seen as the enemy to gain some of their reputation back.
I realize incubators and accelerators offer mentorship, resources and workshops but there is a market for more businesses offering these services to entrepreneurs. It’s unbelievable when I realize how many startups could benefit from an Entrepreneur-in-Residence program yet only a few incubators offer it and no banks.
The changing face of entrepreneurs is also about financing options. In tech and other fields there are many government programs for funding that rarely gets addressed in school or networking sessions. Funding is available it just takes an experienced mentor or research to find it. It’s tough to keep up with the nuances of crowdfunding, equity-based crowdfunding and private financing. People in the know even have to work to keep up with compliance issues, new tax positions and procedures yet institutions and training facilities gloss over these options in passing. They focus on traditional funding models, like angels, venture capitalists and the like without being creative and adaptive to the startup’s needs.
Banks need to be more intuitive and listen to the needs of their clients, institutions of higher learning need to realign programs that are outside the box and make entrepreneurs think on their own and incubators need to provide more training that is relevant. Entrepreneurs are there and ready to suck up as much information as they can get. Our role is to tell them what they don’t know they need!
As an Apple (AAPL) commercial once said. Entrepreneurs “are the crazy ones who changed – and will yet change – the world! Let’s embrace that and help them.
For more help with your Startup reach Gary here