Joe Mathewson is cofounder of learning platform Firefly, working with nearly 300 schools around the world.
The movie “The Social Network” introduced the general public to how many entrepreneurs start young – building multi-billion-dollar businesses while still at university. But entrepreneurs are getting even younger; American kids as young as 9 are founding their own startups, like Moziah Bridges, who runs a $150,000 bowtie business.
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This youthful enterprise need not be confined to the States. Young European entrepreneurs are making waves too, like Jordan Casey from Ireland, who announced his third business last week and is still only 14.
We also started our business at school when we were 13, and our server was stashed in the school physics lab. We believe that lessons from entrepreneurship help build relevant skills later in life, and the sooner we teach kids to feel passionate about it, the better.
Here are five ways schools and policymakers can seize the chance to create the next wave of entrepreneur.
1. Showcase those that are already doing it
As adults, one of the best ways we are inspired in life is to follow and learn from the example others set – be it people like Richard Branson who an empire that started in a phone box, or Elon Musk who shifted paradigms in the way business should be approached.
This is also true for children who are used to looking to others for reference.
The aforementioned leaders in child entrepreneurship are people like Casey, a teenager who truly has the heart of an entrepreneur. While Casey is unlikely to be able to attend every school, offering inspirational assemblies on building a business out of your bedroom, technology has made his words and opinions (and those of many others) available globally at the click of a button though sites like YouTube.
As an educator, all you have to do is direct them to the content, be it in class or as an extra assignment.
2. Go further than coding
The coding curriculum introduced earlier this year in the UK signified a major change in the way schools approach new things, however it is only one small part of the process. While coding is a vital skill to learn for a multitude of future career paths, it doesn’t solve the problems around getting a job in the first place.
The key reason entrepreneurship has blossomed over the past decade is largely due to the economic downturn – forcing those with stable jobs to think outside the box for financial stability.
This is a trend unlikely to change in the next 10 years and as such students will need to learn about much more than coding if they are to succeed. Marketing, branding, finance, organization, leadership and a million other things make up an entrepreneur, and these skills are rarely in-built, they must be learnt over time.
While I’m not suggesting five year olds should be wearing suits and impersonating Alan Sugar, having a multi-faceted view on future career paths will serve the next generation well.
3. Create industry connections for mentoring and opportunities
Technology entrepreneurship is where the spotlight is currently shining; however, it is not the only type of entrepreneurship. The high street independent coffee shop is run by an entrepreneur, the local plumber is an entrepreneur – as is the carpenter, builder or IT repairman.
If entrepreneurship is to become part of the curriculum – it needs to be broadened out from a pure tech startup mentality.
Our towns and villages are full of entrepreneurs with an overabundance of skills that they are likely to be willing to share. Schools should set up local mentoring clubs for those interested in the subject, where local business leaders advise and grow nascent business talent.
4. Empower them to run school clubs
If we are to teach entrepreneurship to our children, we have to make it fun by giving them ownership of something they can get creative and really engage.
School clubs such as a debating society, school newspaper, or film society provide stimulation already, but can become even more valuable to students if they also have some direction over them. They can learn leadership skills, practise creativity, begin to understand marketing principles and so on.
These practical tasks can often be what speaks to unmotivated pupils and brings them out of themselves; a dyslexic student might get the opportunity to design the posters for the school film club, and gives them an opportunity to shine in a way that doesn’t always present itself in the classroom.
A school-wide challenge can also help make skills practicable at an early stage. Instead of relying on course books and lessons on entrepreneurship, schools should be encouraged to run Apprentice-style competitions to put learning into practice. Well, you might want to leave out the ritual humiliation of ‘You’re fired’ though.
5. Reward successes, coach failures
One of the biggest ways schools can help is simply by being there. If a student wants to start a business – what can the school do to help enable that?
With resources already stretched, it is difficult to pile on even more. However, someone responsible for bringing out an entrepreneurial gift in someone would be a huge asset to any school.
For us, it was our teachers that helped us build Firefly and grow it to something more than a hobby. It is a governmental responsibility to place people that can be there for the entrepreneurs of the future in our schools.
With these people in place, students who show the spark of entrepreneurship will have someone to bounce ideas off, get strategic project advice from and have someone to help pick them up if things go wrong.
This comes back to the point I made earlier about mentoring. Schools and businesses have a lot that they can learn from each other, and perhaps these entrepreneurship guides aren’t teachers at all – rather, they are the successful entrepreneurs of today that can guide the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.