18/08/10

By Spinder Dhaliwal

At the cutting edge of the entrepreneurial community are young entrepreneurs. Young Entrepreneurs are needed to rescue and revitalize the economy according to Lord Alan Sugar in his search for his Junior Apprentice. Arjun Rajyagor, the bespectacled 17 year old winner of the series, did not obviously replicate Sugars killer instinct. However, the inexperience of youth could be just the tonic the economy needs. Young entrepreneurs with their energy, drive, confidence and resilience could yet be the perfect formula for entrepreneurial success.

Reality business shows such as The Apprentice and High Street Dreams and the established Dragon’s Den serve to popularise the spirit of entrepreneurship. According to Dr Nigel Lockett, President of the Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, this high media presence means, “it has never been easier to be an entrepreneur.”

The skills young people have today are vital too Lockett explains, “Young entrepreneurs are more familiar with today’s technology which is driving enterprise and has spawned so many opportunities, not just for internet businesses, but also in supporting traditional businesses.” This generation has grown up with the internet, smart phones and the instantaneous nature of social networking sites. They are finding ways to work smarter not harder. They are fiercely ambitious and do not want to waste time.

So do business schemes hold more interest than studying? Many of our most renowned entrepreneurs left school as early as they could- Richard Branson, Alan Sugar and hotelier Surinder Arora are a few of many who learnt by doing. However, despite these role models, it appears that many young entrepreneurs are finding their entrepreneurial wings whilst studying.

Edwin Broni-Mensah, a 25 year old graduate, has just launched his internet business www.givemetap.co.uk whilst completing his PhD in Mathematics at the University of Manchester. Edwin was set on entering investment banking, until approached by a friend to join as a director in a start-up company, “This taste of entrepreneurship was enough for me to know that entrepreneurship was fascinating, challenging and above all so much fun!” Edwin recalls. He hasn’t looked back since. His enterprise enables users of a specially-branded (recycled) aluminum bottles to obtain free refills of tap water from a network of cafes and restaurants across major cities. This social enterprise means 70% of Edwin’s profits fund independent water projects.

Hermione Way, 24, started her business www.newspepper.com two years ago.

Family influences were key, “My older brother had his own business from a young age, so I am very lucky to have been exposed to the entrepreneurial mind set at a young age.” So too was her natural curiosity and impatience, “Most of my business ideas come from me wanting to solve problems that I encounter in my daily life and thinking ‘Why aren’t they doing it like that?’”

Hermione started her first venture newspepper.com during her second year of university, “The idea was born out of anger and frustration over what my university were teaching me at a time when I was witnessing my industry rapidly changing.” She recalls, “I was doing a degree in Journalism and was only being taught newspaper journalism, at a time when newspapers were in decline and print was going digital. By the time I graduated my company was earning enough revenue for me to run it full time and I have been in business ever since and about to start my third venture!”

The type of people you meet is rewarding too. Comparing herself to her employed peers, Hermione observes, “When you are the founder of a small company or start-up you meet people in larger companies at a much higher level than you would normally meet if you just worked for a company.” This level of networking is a confidence booster.
It’s not all play though, “It takes lots of energy! You have to put your time and energy into it twenty-four-seven to make it prosper and grow, it's demanding and challenging, but well worth it!” says Hermione.

For Hermione, the advantages of being young and in business are that you can spot opportunities in the market for innovation where others may have become stagnant or too big to be innovative. You can also spot where new technologies can enable you to offer products and services easier and cheaper than competitors.

Another young entrepreneur, Rajeeb Dey has several internet businesses and stumbled into entrepreneurship by accident. “I was 17 years old and decided to start an organisation that would work to give school students a voice in their education.” He launched the English Secondary Students’ Association (ESSA) and set up www.studentvoice.co.uk

“Having established ESSA I realised how fun and fulfilling it is to see an idea come into fruition”. Today ESSA employs 5 people and numerous freelance staff and volunteers and works with thousands of students across England.

Rajeeb, now 24, asserts the importance of networking, “I meet a whole array of interesting and inspiring people - networking is an essential part of being an entrepreneur and something I really enjoy!” However, the start up process can be challenging, “when you are just starting and 'bootstrapping' your business with little/no resources you have to fulfill numerous functions all at once as you do not have the luxury of hiring a big team to support you.”

Rajeev concedes there are numerous advantages to being young and in business, “Firstly you'll be surprised by how many more experienced and older people there are in business willing to help you and support you in your journey; secondly as you're young you have less commitments, you're unlikely to have a family to support and thus can take more risk. Finally the, often naïve, optimism always helps as you're less likely to have become jaded by any previous negative experiences! “

Universities are recognizing the importance of entrepreneurship as the future of management education. Many Universities are offering entrepreneurship degrees and modules. The University of Surrey, for example, feature entrepreneurship strongly in their undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and it is a popular elective for the MBA.

Entrepreneurship programmes enable students to simulate the behaviours of entrepreneurs through reflecting on themselves and untapping their entrepreneurial capabilities. Whether they want to start their own business, add value to a large organisation or anything else, these programmes prepare them to face these challenges. They have the opportunity to be dynamic and creative.

The University experience does not have to end with just your degree though. With a more diverse, international student body whatever students study they will have developed friends and contacts in many different countries and industries. This places them perfectly for any entrepreneurial venture. This tied in with rapidly moving technology means the world is within their grasp.

Imagine having a £1m turnover while still under 30. The people featured above, haven’t got there yet but through entrepreneurial skill, astounding levels of self-motivation, and creativity, they have made the grade. Young entrepreneurs may be part of the answer to Britain’s problems and may provide the new generation of socially and environmentally aware businesses as well as being compelling and inspirational role models.

©Spinder Dhaliwal 2010

Dr Spinder Dhaliwal is a Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at the University of Surrey and author of Making a Fortune, Learning from the Asian Phenomenon (Capstone).