Paying Lip Service to Developing Entrepreneurs

ideajamThere is a very frightening trend happening in the USA. We are not growing entrepreneurs.

See my “Seven Ways to Grow Entrepreneurs” below!

What is it we believe in our capitalist country? Isn’t it something like this:

Anybody who works very hard, has a bit of talent and a good idea, can start something, grow it, and do well. 

Isn’t that the essence of the entrepreneurial American dream? Yes, there is more to it than that. Yes, you can fail. Yes, it’s a market driven meritocracy — or it should be.

I’ve always taken this entrepreneurial spirit for granted – it’s who we are! I’ve always assumed that as the years go by, more and more Americans (and this extends to the rest of the free world) would take the entrepreneurial plunge. That in turn would refresh our economies, create wealth, jobs, and stable communities. Stable countries. No, not everyone can be an entrepreneur, but if you don’t have a goodly number of them, you’re not going to do well as a country.

The truth is the statistics about this lack-of-entrepreneurial-spirit situation are pretty bad — with a few bright spots. Many economists are saying the reason our recovery has been tepid is simply there’s not enough new business activity.

Younger people are not starting businesses like they used to. In the age bracket of 20 to 34 the percentage of people starting new ventures has dropped from 34.3% in 1997 to 24.7 in 2015. That is not good. The percentage of new entrepreneurs who are women has also dropped significantly since 1997.  My facts are from an excellent report from the Kauffman Foundation (Kauffman does more than report, they have a variety of programs to grow entrepreneurs). Read the report. You’ll see that there is some good news as of last year, but the overall trend has been downward for the last 20 years. Our economy is suffering as a result, and, the middle class continues to shrink. There is so much more to be said, but enough with the talking. It’s bad, and it might get worse.

Why?

I think we’re paying lip service to developing new entrepreneurs. We’re not doing enough. We hear lots of talk from government officials about developing entrepreneurs. We also hear it from business leaders. I’m sure they do wish to develop entrepreneurs, but it’s not happening. There is simply not enough action. Education is a huge part of the why, and in general, it’s my view that our educational system is doing a poor job of setting the table. They are not creating individuals with entrepreneurial mindsets, in fact, they are turning people away from that life choice. We are not growing entrepreneurs.

Educational practice from elementary school onward is aimed at creating security oriented people who conform and do as they’re told. This is not the stated intention of course, but who can argue that it’s the result? Children are trained to get the right answer on the test, the One Right Answer. The insane testing we’re doing now has only reinforced this tendency.

Yes, we need to know facts and logic, and, it’s also a fact that for most complex problems there are many solutions — and this is almost never taught or trained. Children are, in general, not taught to make things, nor are they encouraged to invent. Shop class is a thing of the past. There is very little respect for high level crafts and workmanship and every student is made to think the only option for them is college and a white collar salary job. Senator Marco Rubio made a remark recently about needing more welders and less philosophers, and he has a point. I’ve got nothing against philosophers (my brother is one) but students should be learning how to create, develop, invent, build, and sell — in addition to philosophy and the arts.

Creativity and innovation are not taught until the college level, and even at that level, it’s not well done, nor is it pervasive. In fact, if you listen to Sir Ken Robinson we are actively training creativity out of children. And it’s also true we are not graduating enough students who are simply well educated. We’re slipping in spite of all our crazy testing efforts. Students are not even getting to the starting line with decent preparation. At least not in the USA.

Business schools, where the most likely entrepreneurs go, are rewarded with high rankings for turning out graduates who get great Salary Jobs. Isn’t this counter-productive? Engineering schools aren’t much better, and that’s shameful. Our best makers are not getting entrepreneurial training.

A notable exception in higher education is the KEEN Network, part of the Kern Family Foundation. They have an admirable initiative to inspire entrepreneurialism in engineering and technology students. We need more, many more, programs of this kind.

If we really want entrepreneurs in our society, we need to do these things:

  1. Stop talking about it, and take action by nurturing and funding entrepreneurial education.
  2. Teach creative thinking and entrepreneurialism at every level of education. Make it an option for every student to consider. Provide the tools and the courseware for those who are interested. Let’s make it a “track” starting in high school that can be actively chosen by anyone with that desire.
  3. Provide training and pathways for those in salary jobs to make a transition to starting their own business. Let’s find ways to reward employers who work with their talent to spin off companies.
  4. Support start-ups in as ways as we possibly can. Tax breaks, services, cheap offices and telecom, advice — and transitional safety nets for those who fail. Nobody talks about this, but if we made it less catastrophic to fail, we’d get more takers.
  5. Set up venture funds and seed funds that are accessible to everyone, not just an in-crowd dominated by those with access (the already affluent, prestigious school graduates, etc.) Not everything can be funded through social media.
  6. Let’s challenge government officials who spout rhetoric about personal responsibility but don’t support small business. How about tax breaks for start-up founders? And taxation and regulation relief are not the only ways to support small business!
  7. Reward schools that graduate entrepreneurs. And if not reward — at least recognize.

End of rant.

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