Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Entrepreneurship as a social movement

There has been a seismic shift in many parts of the world where younger generations prefer to seek out enterprising opportunities rather than jobs for life. In many countries where ‘Generation Y’ is getting connected up on the new and rapidly growing social networks (e.g. ‘Facebook’; ‘MySpace’; ‘LinkedIn’, etc.), one can see aspirations changing in leaps and bounds.

In 1979 Mrs Thatcher started to demolish overweight, oversized organisations such as in shipping, steel, coal on the basis that Governments had no business to be in business. Although this caused social pain, out of this has come a new entrepreneurial class. Then (like it or not) came a climate in which free market economics started to win. But free enterprise is not always inclusive and, although economists talk of trickle down, this can sometimes be a really slow dribble.

In parallel with political and social reforms, we have also witnessed the growth of technology based businesses that have created excitement and buzz for young people everywhere. The ‘entrepreneurial generation’ want to become the next Narayanmurthy or Kiren Mazumdar rather than their employees.

As one of my family elders said, “Even educated people are going into business”. Research-based Institutions now have policies for Intellectual Property ownership. It is too early to assess the benefits but this is a really important first step as it signals to the research community that they too can be enterprising academics. An emerging story is the Simputer – the work of Professor Swami Manohar at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

Entrepreneurship comes in many forms, when people bring the same set of skills, know-how and drive for creating a social or civic change. In other words, entrepreneurship goes beyond the notion of start-ups - something which (highly paid) blue chip managers have not yet fully understood. However, a few organisations (like Proctor and Gamble and Unilever) are talking about “open innovation” where R+D is now seen in a more boundary-less manner, requiring very different skill sets, systems and behaviours. These are early first steps towards being more entrepreneurial.

Entrepreneurship is complex, takes time, is not fully understood and better aimed at helping people unlock their own capability and drive. Sadly there are ill-informed misconceptions like entrepreneurs are born, risk takers, lucky or rely on serendipity. None of these can be proved in a systematic way! And if one subscribes to them there is not much point in having an educational system!

Instead, one needs a robust view of entrepreneurship development which focuses on five inter-related aspects:

(1) Raising awareness of inner motivation is the first step.
(2) This can lead to entrepreneurial intent which increases alertness to opportunity. This is tempered by a combination of;
(3) Business skills and know-how (necessary conditions of success) and balanced by
(4) Risk appetite
(5) Finally, the entrepreneur needs an opportunity which triggers a desire to succeed and outweighs the fear of failure.

In combining all these so-called soft factors, individuals emerge with a real sense of self-belief and confidence.

These qualities need an entrepreneurial ecosystem enabled by local, social networks for mentoring, investments, team members, legal and financial expertise and routes to clients and suppliers.

At the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (CfEL), where we base our work on these principles, we have seen results in terms of personal and business achievement. For a start, numbers have grown. In 2001, we attracted 30 – 40 people to our Enterprise Tuesday course. Now we get over 250 people per week. Another programme called ‘Ignite’ (aimed at aspiring entrepreneurs with solid tech-based business ideas) has expanded from 20 local delegates to over 50 from 14 countries in 2007. The evidence of a social movement is not only the macro data, but is front of us on a daily basis. And, we have the joy of seeing real changes taking place as a result of our work. For example;

Dr Paul Goldsmith, an alumnus of Ignite, started Daniolabs using zebra fish in neuroscience. The company has grown enough to achieve an exit for its investors. After participating in our 2005 Enterprisers programme, Stuart Mitchell turned down a highly paid job offer from HM Treasury to establish Fivez, a 5-aside football business working with disadvantaged children in Scotland. He has made a huge local difference and started up another business. Rachel Whitehouse, a former MBA student, took an entrepreneurship course and went on to lead an internal venture in the banking sector. She was hired for her entrepreneurial skills and confidence.

We can see the growing aspiration for enterprising careers and the growth in institutions, websites and people who are there to help and support. The spirit of enterprise is certainly spreading!

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