Did Your Parents Make You an Entrepreneur?
Surveys show that the current batch of young people just starting their careers are particularly keen on starting their own businesses. For example when Young Invincibles, with Lake Research Partners, Bellwether Research, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation recently asked 872 people aged 18 to 34 about entrepreneurship, 54 percent said they either want to start a business or have already started one.
But what's behind this flowering of interest in being a business owner? Presumably it wasn't something in the water that turned kids' interest from Saturday morning cartoons and harboring dreams of being a fireman to a hankering for fast-paced start-up life.
The glories of the Internet boom in the late-90s and very early noughts, when much of Gen Y and the millenials were at an aware-but-impressionable age, may have had a huge affect, as teens saw normal-looking nerds making millions off the their hard work and creativity (no genetic fluke of athletic greatness or super-model looks required). And the terrible state of the traditional job market as well as the near complete erosion of the concept of reciprocal worker-company loyalty certainly has sweetened the appeal of working for oneself. But perhaps there's another significant factor in play: parenting.
A sprinkling of posts recently suggests that Mom and Dad can do plenty to encourage kids towards entrepreneurship. According to business owner and parent Nellie Akalp, writing for Business Insider:
To spawn a powerful entrepreneurial movement in the United States, we need to instill the mindset in our children early one. It's just like learning a second language…the earlier you learn, the better.
She suggests that parents encourage entrepreneurship by making sure their children have adult entrepreneur role models, encouraging any early entrepreneurial ventures (like lemonade stands or dog walking), and supporting kids' enterprising online projects (such as YouTube channels or blogs).
More than anything though, Akalp believes that telling kids they will be supported in any activity they undertake, rather than pushing them toward traditionally safe careers, is key. It's a mantra that will be familiar to many 20-somethings as a greatest parental hit from our upbringing.
Norm Goldstein, founder of Kids for Kids, agrees that soft skills and a particular mentality are the real mechanism for transferring the entrepreneurship bug to kids. On the Huffington Post recently, he suggested that parents:
Encourage independence. When it comes to kids' entrepreneurial projects, "like helping with homework, it's better if you let them try to figure out the problem on their own," instructs the post.
Don't be a buzzkill. "Kids are new to the world, with no preconceived notions of what can be done. Everything and anything is possible, and as long as something isn't dangerous or harmful, you should encourage them to think outside of what seems possible," Goldstein says.
Push them to be problem solvers. "The win isn't getting a kid to come up with the next hula hoop or pet rock—the win is getting a kid to become a problem-solver, so they can always survive and thrive in the world," he writes.
A particular style of parenting can help create entrepreneurs, these posts suggest, but real-world examples show that micro-managing a child's interest in starting a business tiger-mother style probably won't work. That's not how the Zuckerbergs raised their famously successful son, the Facebook founder's dad told a radio interviewer earlier this year:
Something that my wife and I have always believed in, rather than impose upon your kids or try and steer their lives in a certain direction, to recognize what their strengths are and support their strengths and support the development of the things they're passionate about. I think that extremes in any form in parenting are not good. Children need to be well rounded.
Again, this "you can do anything, honey, and we'll be there to cheer you on" mentality of parents seems quite familiar from the early years of many members of Gen Y. Sometimes derided as "trophies for everyone", this cushioning approach to childrearing might just have contributed to Gen Y's interest in entrepreneurship.
Did your parents play any role in encouraging your interest in starting a business?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.