Over the last few years there has been a much greater media interest in entrepreneurship with television programmes such as The Mind of a Millionaire as well as more newspaper stories and features on business success. These stories often focus on get-rich-quick schemes and people are often portrayed as overnight successes. This is painting an unreal picture of enterprise and whilst the rather long, hard slog of the entrepreneur isn’t exciting for the media, surely their non-conformity, their resourcefulness and their struggle against the odds should be.
The media’s preoccupation with the financial rewards enjoyed by entrepreneurs runs counter to the prime motivations that entrepreneurs, and in particular young entrepreneurs, have for setting up their enterprises. A survey of 15 to 19 year old students by HSBC Bank and Young Enterprise found that very few young people were motivated to start their own business to become wealthy. Instead, they cited the challenge (28%), the desire to do something they enjoy (26%) and having control over their destiny (20%) as being the prime motivators for going into enterprise.
The entrepreneur role models put forward by the media still tend to be white, male and middle-aged.
In particular, there is not enough recognition of the enterprising talent from black and ethnic minority communities. Black people are more than twice as likely as white people to set up a business independently, or to be involved with a job related start-up and five times as likely to be Business
Angels. Similarly Asians from the Indian sub-continent are twice as likely to be involved in start-up activity, and three times as likely to be Business Angels.
One of the most positive developments in the media in recent years has been their encouragement of young people to develop ideas for business. In 2001, BBC2’s business programme, working
Lunch, in collaboration with the Design Council launched The Big Zipper Challenge to find the most innovative ideas and in 2004, Enterprise Insight launched Make Your Mark – Start Talking Ideas to inspire young people to develop enterprising ideas.
This was to encourage young people to put forward their ideas for social or business enterprises.
In this scheme the participants received a valuable combination of guidance, mentoring and information to enable them to develop their idea further. Perhaps the most unexpected contribution of the media to encouraging entrepreneurial interest in the public has been the large number of programmes and features focussing on how people he radically changed career or lifestyle.
Television programmes such as Faking It, Risking It All and No Going Back allow viewers to see people seizing the initiative and adopting new lives for themselves. It seems to have the general effect of imbuing a ‘can do’ attitude leaving some viewers with the feeling ‘well if they can do it, so can I!’
Recommendations to entrepreneurs
There are clear messages that emerge from the research for young people considering starting a business venture and for those already running one.
Would-be young entrepreneurs should explore a variety of sectors in which to develop enterprises, rather than just the popular ones promoted in the media. In order to succeed within these popular sectors, any new business will need to exploit a particular niche and the young entrepreneur will need to be both tenacious and flexible.
Existing young entrepreneurs could benefit from the valuable advice, based on experience, of their peers so that they can learn how they have dealt with the problems, anxieties and opportunities that enterprise brings. In particular, they should take heed of the fact that according to successful entrepreneurs:
? Mid-cycle, the vision for a business is as important, if not more so, than it is at start-up.
? A more operational mind-set is needed by the business founder as the enterprise develops.
Many entrepreneurs have recognised that this is not where their talents lie and so have brought in people with this particular expertise to instigate and manage the business systems required.
? Investment in good people pays dividends in the long-term. An entrepreneur should seek the best people they can afford whilst nurturing the talents of their existing employees.
? Employees in companies created by young entrepreneurs have four things that enable them to contribute to the success of the venture: they are informed, engaged, empowered and rewarded.
? Resilience and tenacity are personal traits often needed more by the entrepreneur as a business matures than at start-up.
This piece is an abstract from the study that was sponsored jointly through the RSA Onians Fellowship and the enterprise education trust business dynamics and reviews recent research on young entrepreneurs reported by Gerard Darby.