Championing Entrepreneurship, Content Type | October 11, 2016
Written By: Emily Miller is a Venture for Canada Fellow and Customer Success Manager at LeadSift, a lead generation SaaS startup, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
When I was 14 years old I was obsessed with The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. I was also obsessed with candy. These two passions collided during my grade 10 entrepreneurship class when the teacher challenged us to start our own business. I created a 1960’s themed candy boutique. I drafted up a business plan, created a logo and completed customer discovery interviews. It was incredible!
Having the ability to flex my creativity and create something I loved made entrepreneurship one of my favourite classes in high school and opened a world of opportunity for me. With this training I went on to start a photography business at 16, selling my photos to raise money for a trip I was taking to India with Free the Children which really kick started my career trajectory.
I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity to take an entrepreneurship class at such a young age, because as I’ve learned, this is not the norm.
For some kids, entrepreneurship is a completely foreign term, especially if they come from families working in more traditional careers. School may be the only platform kids are exposed to entrepreneurship and by not having that programing in place; I think we’re missing out on an incredible opportunity.
One of the key recommendations in the communique that has been put forward by the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance is to make entrepreneurship education compulsory for all learners in primary and secondary levels. This is a massive project to implement, but I think it’s something very important to foster as it will create positive growth for our country.
So how do we go about accomplishing this? How can we ensure that teachers aren’t overwhelmed with yet another thing added to the curriculum? We’ve already seen the outrage that spurred from removing cursive writing from the system, so how can we create the proper environment to introduce STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and entrepreneurial education into an already jam packed schedule?
In Australia, the Foundation for Young Australian’s (FYA) has created a program called $20 Boss. They partnered with the National Australia Bank to support this in-school challenge that is run by teachers which provides students $20 of start-up money to create their own business. At the end of the program, students are encouraged to pay back the money with a $1 legacy payment to ensure the sustainability of the program.
What I love about this program is that it’s ten weeks of teaching content that has been created by FYA and handed over to the teachers so they aren’t responsible for developing an entirely new program for entrepreneurship, this allows for the program to scale quickly across the country. It’s also hands on so the kids get out there, are able to be creative and really get a feel for the business. This program is going into its third year and is already active in 15% of the schools in Australia.
The UK has followed suit with a similar program called the Fiver Challenge, a free nationwide challenge for 5-11 year olds that provides a highly interactive and fun way of introducing financial literacy, resilience and teamwork into learning for primary school kids. The program lasts one month and allows the kids to set up a mini business and create a product or service that they can sell or deliver at a profit and engage with their local community.
These types of programs are scalable, adaptable and fun. They solve the pain point of getting entrepreneurship into the school system quickly and not overwhelming the teachers with a whole new whack of lesson planning.
I talked with a delegate from India who shared with me that India is experiencing a youth bulge. Nearly two-thirds of Indians are under 35; half are under 25. By 2020, India will be the youngest country in the world, with a median age of 29 years. This has left the government scrambling to ensure students are gaining the proper skills to shape a prosperous future. As such, the government has placed a massive focus on the STEM sector and skill training. The government has implemented a program that helps to cover the wages of a person currently employed so they can take time off work to enter into a skills training program. And a lot of this funding goes towards youth from underprivileged backgrounds.
In discussions with youth both pre-G20 YEA Summit and during, an issue that was constantly raised was that entrepreneurship is a traditionally business-focused discipline. Students’ from arts or science backgrounds often have no opportunity to take an entrepreneurship class as an elective, let alone learn any of the skills in their selected courses. Opening up entrepreneurship as a cross-discipline course could be one solution.
I think another way to get students engaged is by growing the awareness of different types of entrepreneurship. Millennials are extremely socially and environmentally minded. I think if there were more understanding around social entrepreneurship than even more students would gravitate towards the subject. Sharing awesome stories about B-Corps such as Textbooks for Change could help inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship is risky. Something many recent grads can’t exactly do is take a massive risk right out of university, especially when they are stuck dealing with thousands of dollars in student loans. In Nova Scotia, the government has created a program called Graduate to Opportunities. It helps cover the salary of a recent grad to go and work at a small business or non-profit. One problem with this program is that not many grads know about it. Growing both the program and awareness about it would be great steps to help recent grads find their place in the entrepreneurial eco-system.
And of course I have to make the plug for awesome programs like Venture for Canada (VFC). Being a part of their inaugural fellowship class has been a life changing experience. VFC is a not-for-profit that recruits, trains and supports top recent graduates to work at Canadian startups in need of talent, with the mission of fostering entrepreneurship. Fellows spend two years working at one of our partner startups, where they gain the skills, network and experience necessary to launch their own firms. Applications are open for the latest cohort should you be interested!
EY reported that worldwide there are over 75 million unemployed youth, and that 27% of them want to open their own business. Entrepreneurship can make a massive difference. Through scalable K-12 education programs, hands on learning activities, cross-curricular classes, skills training and post-grad support I believe that our regional and federal governments can make a massive shift in the future of our country.