Student.

Generalisations about young people are a load of rubbish.

Much has been written about a supposed lack of resilience in young people. Apparently, generations Y and Z have been so pampered that they are unaccustomed to setbacks and failure, and therefore unlikely candidates to build and sustain fast-growth ventures.

According to myth, everyone wins a prize in pass-the-parcel, gets a medal regardless of how they place in a school race, and have baby boomer parents who constantly praise them. In turn, young people do not get enough ‘hard love’ and lack resilience.

Like most generalisations, this one is a load of rubbish.

What’s your view?

  • Are generations Y and Z much more resilient than people realise?
  • If so, how?
  • How does Australia unleash the next generation of young innovators and entrepreneurs?
  • How do we encourage more students to create their job rather than apply for it?

The teenagers and twenty-somethings I see at university are far more resilient and willing to take risks than previous generations. Not enough people realise just how innovative and entrepreneurial this generation could be if they were encouraged to start ventures and take considered risks.

I have the privilege of teaching entrepreneurship to 102 undergraduate university students this semester. Their ideas always inspire, and in recent years I have noticed more students who try things with low capital, and have an attitude of “if it doesn’t work, I’ll start again”.

A similar theme emerged on this year’s BRW Fast Starters list: young people starting ventures with hardly any capital and following their instincts. I interviewed several of them, and their mantra was the same: “If it didn’t work, I would have done something else”.

Failure to them seemed like a natural part of the journey. One student had already started and failed at several small ventures and said he would keep going until he succeeded. What a great attitude.

Surely that is the essence of resilience. Young people having a go because they know they can recover from setbacks, adapt, and start again. They have a refreshingly different attitude towards business failure that older generations can only dream about.

Let’s hope the next batch of young entrepreneurs finally smashes this silly, outdated community attitude toward honest, ethical business owners who take risks, work hard and still fail.

I know my view about budding young innovators and entrepreneurs is anecdotal and based on a small sample. And that it’s easy to recover from setbacks when they are small, and one still lives at home and has parents partly funding their lifestyle.

But I sense the young people of this generation have many times more potential for innovation and entrepreneurship, both commercial and in the not-for-profit sector, than their predecessors, including my generation, X.

So much so that the federal government should do whatever it takes to unleash the entrepreneurial potential of young people and encourage them to create, rather than apply for, their job.

Imagine having thousands of young people creating fast-growth ventures, with low capital. Yes, the majority would fail, but the best and brightest who persevere will eventually succeed and be so much stronger for their earlier failures.

Rather than trying to solve Australia’s poor productivity growth and innovation through a supply-side response (more focus on developing new technologies and products), the government should work harder on a demand-side response (creating more entrepreneurs who can identify the most promising innovations and have the skills to commercialise them).

That will take years to achieve and the starting point is today’s older teenagers and twenty-somethings, both inside and outside the university system.

We must create a culture where young students at least have the option to create their first job, and have the skills and confidence to start a venture. In time, that will create more entrepreneurs with real experience and resilience.

These five ideas can help:

1) Expose young people to entrepreneurship much earlier

It’s frustrating that students can go through school and into their third year at university without being exposed to innovation or entrepreneurship principles. Some seem to come alive when encouraged to develop business ideas and create potential ventures. Imagine if more high school students were exposed to innovation and entrepreneurship concepts, not small business, earlier.

2) Embed entrepreneurship courses into other training

As I have written before, every university course, from arts to zoology, should have at least one innovation or entrepreneurship subject (a scary though for some arts graduates, I know). The potential for combining innovation and entrepreneurship subjects with specialist disciplines is immense. Even if 99 per cent of students still join a company upon graduation, they at least take a more entrepreneurial and innovative mindset to their first job. And they have useful skills to fall back on if they join the growing number of graduates unable to find decent work.

3) Fund them

Students who start a venture learn 10 times more about entrepreneurship than in a classroom. So why not find new ways to fund them, so they can gain real-life experience? The student loan system should be used to provide small funding for launching entrepreneurial ventures, structured within a university course, which is repaid when students earn a certain level of income. I’m told some TV and film courses provide small funding for student productions; the same logic could apply to entrepreneurship students. The Venture flagged this idea in more detail last year.

4) Create hubs

Universities and other learning institutions should work much harder to create hubs where students work on ventures, during or after their study. For example, universities could provide low-cost accommodation on or near campus for aspiring entrepreneurs. Just putting them together would spark more innovation and entrepreneurship and enliven some universities. And it would create stronger linkages between entrepreneurs and the universities who taught, or better still, coached them.

5) Sell it

We must get better at recognising outstanding, young for-profit and social entrepreneurs, and providing case studies that inspire others. The best encouragement is not universities providing entrepreneurship courses, or people like me teaching or writing about it. It’s successful young people inspiring others to take risks and follow them.

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