Why doesn't our education system grow entrepreneurs? Consider the school-aged kids with burning ideas. Who can they go to for advice? Until the recent Kids Shark Tank episodes, where could any role models be easily found?
Do you remember who taught you about entrepreneurship and innovation? It is time to pay it forward. Barriers to accessing funds and customers will continue to drop over the next five years, and by 2020 there will be an explosion of teenage millionaires who shun the traditional business career route and launch their own business.
Here are four ways you can capture the hearts and minds of teenage entrepreneurs before they become your competition:
- Teach Business Lessons to School Kids
Nick D'Aloisio sold his company, Summly, to Yahoo for $30 million at age 17. He learned everything about running a business off the Internet, not in school. The only way we will break that pattern is if entrepreneurs give back their time and energy by teaching teenagers valuable lessons about how they have grown their business and learned to innovate. Can you start with a talk at a local school about your career journey and the valuable lessons you have learned?
- Sponsor Innovation Competitions
Get involved with competitions where students can learn valuable skills and showcase their talent. In my corporate days at Xbox, we used to sponsor Dare to Be Digital, a competition in which students had nine weeks to create a computer game. In this way we got to know the students in a semi-real life situation and were able to hire many of them for our internship and graduate placements. What can you sponsor or personally mentor today?
- Can You Hear the Voice of Youth in Your Company?
Consider the age profile of your customers; now look around at the age and demographics of your leadership team, your developers, and your board of directors. Create dramatic plans to get the voice of youth across your products. Go beyond the typical sprinkling of graduates and interns across your company. You have to be listening to the voices of those who have just grown up with several devices at their fingertips. They are your future customers, go and listen.
4. Stop with the Monopoly Money Learning
I founded my first company when I was 15. I was attending what is the equivalent of high school in England and as part of my business studies course I founded a company that made wooden jigsaws, gift cards, and key rings. It was part of the Young Enterprise Scheme in England, and it required us to raise real money by issuing shares, pick a product, develop a product strategy, create a marketing plan, go and sell the product, and then write an annual report and present our findings. What I learned in those nine months was far more valuable to me than any course work or exam. This past weekend my eldest daughter ran her first lemonade stand and raised $75.50 for a local foster family charity, Hathaway Sycamores. She may not quite realize it, but at age six she has learned the difference that marketing makes and the value of giving back to the community. How can you create similar lessons for the kids in your neighborhood? With real money, not fake.
While there are some amazing enterprises and incredible competitions around the world, there is a lot more that can be done locally in partnerships between business and education leaders.
Which organizations do you see offering advice and experiences for the CEOs and innovators of the future? Do you know a teenager you could mentor today? Keep in mind that one day you may want to hire the teens you've mentored--or even acquire their companies.