As Lord Young publishes his latest report on the relevance of enterprise in education, Dr James Hickie says it’s important that children get the opportunity to develop their entrepreneurial skills from a young age.
The latest report on entrepreneurship from Lord David Young, the Prime Minister’s enterprise adviser, is his third piece of work advising how Britain can become a more entrepreneurial nation.
His first report two years ago, Make Business Your Business, looked at the overall health of entrepreneurship among our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and led to the introduction of the Start Up Loans scheme to encourage young people to start a business. This was then followed last year by Growing Your Business which dealt in the main with micro-businesses employing fewer than 25 people.
Now the former Trade Secretary and entrepreneur has turned his attention to how schools, colleges and universities can foster entrepreneurship. Enterprise for All: The relevance of Enterprise in Education is a well-researched contribution to enterprise education policy, and contains some important recommendations.
Lord Young believes that children should develop a taste for starting a business from a young age, including having the opportunity to test their entrepreneurial skills at primary school through the Fiver Challenge, where students see what they can achieve with a £5 start-up loan.
The benefits of encouraging children to begin their entrepreneurial learning early on are evidenced by my own research about young entrepreneurs who have built significant businesses with annual turnovers above £1m. I found that young business founders who had started such a business by the age of 19 had all previously run at least one informal business at primary or high school. These informal ventures included selling clothes to classmates, designing mobile apps, and building websites for local businesses.
From my experience of working with schools to deliver enterprise education, I believe Lord Young’s suggestion that schools should appoint enterprise advisors would be particularly helpful. However, the key thing here is that these advisors must be genuine entrepreneurs with good networks in the entrepreneurial community, not simply self-employed business coaches or managers with only corporate business experience.
Lord Young’s latest report also addresses the university audience. He says that all students should have access to enterprise education, and wants to see all universities offering elective enterprise units whatever a student’s main discipline, as well as active extra-curricular student enterprise societies.
The University of Manchester is already leading the way in this regard, offering optional enterprise units to all students through our University College scheme, and through our extra-curricular student competition, Venture Further, which has been running for several years now.
The benefits of entering Venture Further can be seen in the successful entrepreneurial careers that entrants to the competition have subsequently built. They include Rob Tominey who, after being a finalist in our enterprise competition, went on to secure £100,000 of investment in the BBC’s Dragons’ Den from Piers Linney. Tominey’s current business, Mainstage Travel, specialises in festival and clubbing holidays for young people.
A key area that could have been developed further in Lord Young’s report, however, would have been a fuller analysis of the lessons that can be learned from enterprise education in the US. Some of these lessons from America were outlined in the Kauffman Foundation’s report, Entrepreneurship Education Comes of Age on Campus that was published last year. This report is important reading for anyone involved in the provision of entrepreneurship education in UK universities, and covers key issues such as how to cultivate enterprise champions across the campus, how to make enterprise education financially sustainable, and how to combat misleading stereotypes about entrepreneurship.
More broadly, institutions such as Stanford University, Babson College and the Kauffman Foundation can provide a lot of inspiration to UK education organisations about how to provide business-savvy and ‘hands on’ enterprise education. One of the best US enterprise education initiatives in terms of accessibility has been Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner which allows anyone to access online hundreds of talks by leading entrepreneurs who have been to speak at the university over a period of ten years.
Lord Young’s report on the state of enterprise education in the UK offers hope for the future of the UK economy. It demonstrates the breadth of entrepreneurial learning activities already taking place within UK educational organisations, while also setting the objective that all university students at every institution should be able to study an elective enterprise module if they wish, whatever their main subject of study.