Why We Should Encourage Entrepreneurship Earlier

Arnoud Jullens, Head of the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub

There is an opportunity for talented young people choosing to set up technology businesses. Many of today’s technology success stories have taught us that the person with the bright idea can just as readily be a student as an established business person. Some of the greatest successes of the last two decades have originated in a bedroom, garage or student hall. Blogging platform WordPress was started by students at the University of Houston and now powers millions of websites. Social news site, Reddit, was set up by two 22-year-olds in 2005.

What’s more, being young can actually be an advantage in entrepreneurship. Young people generally have fewer commitments, giving them the freedom to dedicate time and ‘head space’ to their new ventures. They also tend to see fewer barriers to success, meaning they can retain the streak of idealism and energy so important in starting something new and driving growth. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 58% of the UK population now thinks that starting a business is a good career choice.

Studying at universities or surfing the internet, young people have access to the latest research, technologies and market opportunities. They know what the latest thinking is, and they can see how to turn it into something that people want or need. The founders of Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Google were all in their early twenties when they started up.

The command of technology, common to many young people, can also help in the more practical demands of running a business. Knowledge of online tools means that even young entrepreneurs with the smallest of businesses can easily create a website, social media presence and even online ordering system if needed. No longer does it require a huge marketing budget or advertising campaign to market a product or reach investors. Technology has also allowed entrepreneurs to keep costs down when starting up. They can now easily contact and network with colleagues, or collaborators, around the world, and access much of the information they need online, reducing the need for costly travel, offices or training.

Of course, you can’t learn everything online and, sometimes, experience is vital to success. But there is a lot of support available for young entrepreneurs with great ideas, to help them unlock their potential.

An example of this, tailored specifically for young people between the ages of 16-25, is the Launchpad competition, which we set in the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub and is currently open for applications. The Launchpad aims to provide young entrepreneurs with great ideas the ingredients they need to succeed, such as mentoring from industry leaders and access to technology investors such as David Gammon and Ian Ritchie CBE FREng FRSE and Sir Robin Saxby, founding CEO of ARM. It also offers a great network of useful contacts, bespoke training, and publicity to widen the reach of the innovations, as well as funding.

The competition is only in its second year, but already we’ve seen some incredible entries that are really testament to the young talent in the UK. Last year’s winner, Dr Niall Kent, and his business partner Dr Alessia D’Onofrio, won the competition for their product Aerograft. They developed an innovative synthetic material that can be used as a substitute for bone replacements in a range of dental procedures. Aerograft has the potential to facilitate up to 600,000 of dental operations performed worldwide each year, offering a much-needed alternative to existing products. The Enterprise Hub is helping the pair to bring it to market.

Other young entrepreneurs we support through the Enterprise Hub have pioneered technologies as diverse as a home biology lab, 3D printed surgical instruments, anti-counterfeit technology, and a new drug free system to treat malaria. These technologies are just a snapshot of the huge contribution new innovations can make to society when they are pursued and developed by sharp, young entrepreneurs.

By seeking to make their own ideas reality, young people can not only achieve a great career but could also be the creator of the next Facebook, the next medical miracle cure, or even the next designer vacuum cleaner! We should all be encouraging young people to fulfill their potential, whatever path they choose, but entrepreneurship is proving an increasingly attractive option