The Study

What are the motivating factors and stereotypes preventing young people from embarking on entrepreneurship?

We conducted interviews in France, Greece, Ireland and Slovenia with entrepreneurs who have tried the adventure of young entrepreneurship. These interviews helped to better understand the motivating factors and stereotypes preventing young people from starting a business.

The themes we identified and the main conclusions were as follows:

1. A more diverse representation of successful entrepreneurs
The clichés around the typical successful entrepreneur are quite universally shared: a white male with grey hair. Debunking the bias around this representation is essential and is an area we can explore as part of the SEC project: representing successful young entrepreneurs, more women, more diverse ethnicities, etc… Karolane’s comment on people asking her who the boss was (she was!) can be the starting point for portraits of young entrepreneurs with a fun, catching caption “Who’s the boss?”.

2. Encouraging intergenerational networking and mentoring
One way to fight the bias around youth and their relative or supposed lack of experience is to create opportunities where younger and older entrepreneurs can share their expertise with each other, learn from each other, mentor and reverse-mentor each other.

3. Training the “adults” on how to support their youth
We focused on the youth’s perspective in these interviews, but it was striking to see how much their success had been influenced by the adults around them believing in them. You cannot expect a young person to succeed when she or he is receiving no support or encouragements from the adults around them. Then again, it is natural for parents or teachers to be concerned about their child’s or student’s success, especially in difficult economic contexts. We can think of tools to help these adults be better supporters for their youth, or even a fun toolbox for youth “How to get your parents on board (or at least not be too influenced by their fears)?”, etc… It is important to help them keep their focus and be able to distinguish between natural doubts and fears of the adults surrounding them, and real warning that the project is potentially not viable. The key is to help youth find the support they need to give them optimal chances of success.

4. Promoting a mindset where young entrepreneurs are expected to succeed by default
Beyond their close environment of friends and family, explored in this survey, the cultural environment of their country plays a huge role in their ability to consider success as an entrepreneur: there seemed to be countries where youth are expected to fail, due to their relative inexperience, and countries where they are encouraged to succeed. European and international initiatives can play a great role in supporting an entrepreneurial spirit and drive. The goal is to get the youth into the mindset described by Mark Twain: “They did not know it was impossible, so they did it”.

5. Redefining failure
Many of the interviewees expressed their faith that their entrepreneurial experience would be of great value, even if they did not succeed at this particular project. They were aware of the skills, knowledge, experience they were building, and were not in line with the general perception of failure in Europe. The perception of failure can be shaped differently, and presented as a step, part of the entrepreneurial journey rather than its end. This can start by illustrating the multiple situations that can be interpreted as failures but are natural and to be expected.

6. Being encouraging but realistic about the realities of launching a business – “what to expect when you’re launching a business”
In line with the comment above, it is important to be very clear and candid on what to expect when launching a business: lack of enthusiasm, lack of support, personal and professional parts of life becoming intertwined, late payments, the discipline required, and emotional rollercoasters. This will help youth be less taken back or discouraged when they run into these situations, and see them rather as part of the process. The key here is to provide the insight, but most importantly to insist on the solutions, where to find help, etc… 

7. Defining the key qualities to a successful entrepreneur
Defining what it takes to be successful is important: drive, support, passion, discipline, ability to connect with others, thorough understanding of their market… Developing such a list could help adults orient and counsel students thinking about entrepreneurship. It can also help them separate age from skillset and mindset, and identify youth who have what it takes.

8. Helping youth get started
Many of the interviewees shared their feeling of overwhelm when they were getting started, not really knowing where to begin or where to find help. Helping them let go of the fear of making mistakes, and stressing the importance of getting started (small steps every day, clarity comes from action) are key to fight the perfectionist trap so many interviewees mentioned. This is especially true for young women, who tend to fall into this more often than young men.

9. Rethinking the way entrepreneurship is taught in schools and universities
In the questions on the role their schools had played, many interviewees made comments on the lack of pertinence of their classes on entrepreneurship: too theoretical, not enough insights from actual entrepreneurs, some courses taught too early (business plan for example)… There is great room for improvement here, and an opportunity to raise schools’ awareness on what young entrepreneurs truly need in terms of skillsets.

10. Tailoring specific messages to young women
The interviews of the young women illustrated differences in the way entrepreneurship is perceived and experienced by women. Several of the themes we identified for this specific population are: reinforcing self-confidence, negotiation skills, being taken seriously in male-dominated fields, the impact of motherhood…