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From paper rounds to global empires: empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs

08 May 2019


Zara Ransley is the co-founder of MyPocketSkill, a platform that connects young entrepreneurs with paid and volunteering tasks. In this guest blog, Zara offers her unique perspective on whether entrepreneurs are born or bred.

In his recent blog on the subject, Octopus Group CEO Simon Rogerson said he believes the character traits that define entrepreneurship are those you are born with.

As someone who is greatly interested in entrepreneurship, I wanted to share my experiences on the subject, both on a personal and professional level, because the question of whether entrepreneurs are born or made is an important one.

Together with my co-founder, we set up MyPocketSkill in 2017. It’s a start-up platform for young entrepreneurs, supported by real-life entrepreneurs. We’re focused on building the financial capabilities of young people aged 13-19, by encouraging them to seek out paid and volunteering tasks in their local community

Our goal is to help create a generation of financially capable entrepreneurs. So, when it comes to the question of whether entrepreneurs are born or made, launching MyPocketSkill suggests we partly believe the latter.

Do summer jobs build character?

I remember seeing an article in The Financial Times: ‘The teenage summer jobs that shaped leaders” back in 2017, describing this particular journey and thinking that this is what MyPocketSkill was all about.

Amongst entrepreneurs who credit the ignition of their entrepreneurial spark to simple tasks they did as teenagers are Kristo Käärmann (CEO and co-founder of TransferWise, a billion-pound London-based fintech company) and Biz Stone (founder of Twitter), who has a great story of how he met his life-long mentor when mowing his lawn.

There is, of course, a host of other potential benefits, including discovering what you are good at and helping to instil responsible financial behaviour.

Learning the lessons from earning money

Towards the end of 2018, MyPocketSkill led a piece of research into the subject that was commissioned by the Money & Pensions Service. One of the key takeaways from the research was that it is more impactful for young people to earn money rather than simply being given pocket money.

What we find really rewarding though is coming across stories of how doing simple tasks like babysitting, lawn-mowing or a paper-round can lead to much more, and is sometimes instrumental in creating young entrepreneurs.

And, on a much smaller scale, we see this regularly with MyPocketSkill. Take Sam Wick, a young entrepreneur, who is on our platform and started his own fashion business, Lemons and Limes, when he was 15.

Sam initially did a paper round to earn some cash. That simple task gave him more confidence and importantly some start-up capital. He re-invested his proceeds into trading limited-edition fashion items such as trainers and t-shirts.

Now aged 17, he is turning over thousands of pounds, partly trading, partly designing and selling combat trousers at £65 per pop and t-shirts, picturing lemons and limes, alongside studying for his A-levels.

The value of thinking big

In his own words, whilst most of his peer group are just “happy if someone buys them beer”, Sam is thinking much bigger. Chatting to him, I observe how agile his mind is and how absolutely into everything he is.

Indeed, his plans now are highly ambitious but even he admits that it was not always the case and that it was the paper-round that made him believe in himself as someone with the skills needed to become an entrepreneur.

Are entrepreneurs made or born?

There is actually a whole bunch of scientific research on this. Check out research on ‘ What makes entrepreneurs entrepreneurial ’ by Savas Sarasvathy, Professor of Entrepreneurship at The University of Virginia, and Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon.

One of the most interesting parts of their paper discusses how entrepreneurs base their decision making on ‘effectual logic’, meaning the future can be changed to suit their will. In other words, entrepreneurs have a mindset that says: “If I can predict the future, I can control it”.

I think this attitude can be taught. I run workshops for career events at schools, specifically on creating an ‘entrepreneurial’ mindset.

And as a parent, I also see this attitude every day. My son, aged 11, is acutely interested in what I am up to with MyPocketSkill. He has already done his first task, collecting leaves from a bay-tree to sell to the herb stall at the local market (my husband and I may have helped a bit).

But as I see him being curious and wanting to miss Wednesday at school (his favourite day of sports matches) to come to a focus group that we are running, I wonder if the seeds of a future entrepreneur are already being sewn.

And I wonder if this exposure to my own start-up journey, combined with him doing little tasks around the neighbourhood, might one day help him to create and run his own business empire.

For more information, please visit the MyPocketSkill website.