Calling all would-be entrepreneurs

By: Anna Mullinder

Date: 12 November 2010

At the National Enterprise Academy (NEA), we are passionate about creating the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders. We exist to do something that has never been achieved inside the education system before.

And that’s to demonstrate that you can develop the entrepreneurial skills of our young people. We developed the first ever qualification, based on a curriculum written personally by Peter Jones — in enterprise and entrepreneurship — starting with 16 to 19 year-olds.

You may well ask why we don’t have enterprise education already. And it would be a good question.

Despite more than four million people passing through our further education system each year, no-one was teaching our young people the foundations of building a good business.

Now, I know Lord Sugar would probably disagree with Peter and I about this but we believe passionately that entrepreneurs can be made, as well as born. Yes, raw talent, commitment and that spark of a business idea is of course important and difficult to learn. But the basic ingredients of what makes a successful entrepreneur can, we believe, be taught.

I just do not accept that to get on in life and be successful in business is somehow solely the product of the bed you were born in or the genes that you inherit.

Lord Sugar is right about one thing though. We need to rewire the entrepreneurial mindset of the British people — perhaps even change our cultural DNA altogether. That’s as much about changing the attitudes of people in our society who too often ask the question: ‘Can I?’ Instead of saying, ‘I can!’.

This is borne out by the international evidence. The UK is second from top in the G7 of those — over 50 per cent of the population — who believe they have the know-how to set up successfully in business. Yet, only 5.8 per cent of our population is in the process of starting a new business right now. To put this into a global context –in the US it is 8 per cent, in Brazil 15 per cent and in China 19 per cent.

So this suggests that there is still a huge ambition gap to overcome. Converting the thinking into the doing is key. At the NEA we are trying to address this through what we call “learning by doing”. By nurturing a generation of young people that come out of the formal education system with the determination to make a job, not just take a job.

This week is Global Entrepreneurship Week – now in its third year. Over 100 countries will simultaneously celebrate the importance of building an enterprise culture. Ten million entrepreneurs around the globe will take part.

It’s based on a UK invention: an annual Enterprise Week launched in 2004. Like so many things, we’re great at generating the ideas. We can clearly export our ideas and creativity abroad. But can we really be the best and make the next decade the most entrepreneurial in our history?

A guest blog by Tom Bewick, chief executive of Enterprise UK

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