Written by Simon Rogerson
Read the new report Future Founders: Understanding the next generation of entrepreneurs – published by Octopus and The Entrepreneurs Network.
For the first two and a half years of my career after I graduated, I worked as a fund manager for one of the UK’s largest investment companies. It was a great place to learn about business, and I was surrounded by some incredibly smart people. In spite of this, however, there’s one thing I’ll always remember. I used to look at my watch at almost exactly the same time (1.15pm) every day, disheartened that there were still so many hours left before I could go home.
Fortunately, I soon worked out what was missing from my life. I needed a purpose. I had to be truly passionate about what I did, and I wanted to work for myself. Alongside two similarly-minded colleagues, we quit our jobs to launch Octopus. I can’t honestly imagine what my life would be like now if I hadn’t taken that leap of faith.
Two decades since I took that leap, I think the concept of entrepreneurship is far more widely understood, and the role entrepreneurs play within society is considered far more valuable. There are so many great things about being an entrepreneur. You feel alive all the time, you control your own destiny and you get to see first-hand the tangible difference you’re making to the people and to the world around you.
I feel unbelievably fortunate to be an entrepreneur and I encourage anyone who will listen to make the leap. That’s why I’m proud Octopus has partnered with The Entrepreneurs Network to produce this report.
Of the young people surveyed (aged 14-25), just over half (51%) have thought about starting, or have already started, their own business. It’s not surprising these numbers increase significantly for those studying currently at university (65%), or for those who have recently graduated (63%).
Why do young people want to become entrepreneurs?
Of those we surveyed, the top motivations for becoming an entrepreneur were the ‘desire to be one’s own boss’ (86%), closely followed by the ‘freedom to do what I want’ (84%) and being ‘passionate about a cause’ (83%). ‘Wanting to be wealthy’ is still a big motivation for young people, but most seem to be driven by a desire for meaning rather than money.
Why don’t more young people become entrepreneurs?
But we know that not enough people are choosing to follow their instincts and go on to actually start their own business. Somewhat depressingly, the headwinds young people face today appear to be very much the same as they have always been. At least two-thirds of young people aged 14-25 say that not knowing where to start (70%), fear of failure (68%) or not knowing the right people (67%) are barriers to starting a business.
We’re not advocating that more people leave school to start a business, but we firmly believe that education and support, nurturing and honing those skills that make great entrepreneurs and business owners are valuable life-improving skills that should be encouraged and developed at an earlier age.
From our perspective, one of the most interesting findings from the report was that more than half of the people we spoke to (52%) say they have a family member, family friend or personal friend who is a business owner or entrepreneur. This is hugely positive, because, in my experience, one of the best ways to encourage entrepreneurship is to listen and learn from the people around you who have already done it.
Is now a good time to start a business?
It’s easier than ever to turn an idea into a fully-formed company, and in some ways, the future founders we’re talking about have more advantages than ever. First, they are digital natives. Not only are they well-equipped to use technology to learn more about the world around them, but they also believe that technology can help them to achieve their ambitions and realise their dreams.
Perhaps more importantly, this is a generation that values social responsibility. They are highly motivated and keen to use their skills and abilities to address the world’s problems. Moreover, they are more likely to pursue their passions and build a business with a purpose, because money is not their primary motivator.
This generation is more than capable of finding opportunities to build businesses through doing what they love doing, rather than business for its own sake. We need to do more to give them every chance to succeed.
Octopus: nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs
At Octopus we’re determined to play an active role in encouraging entrepreneurship. It’s why we set up our internal Entrepreneur Academy, designed to encourage more young people who work at Octopus to start their own business.
As part of the Academy, we offer education on how to turn an idea into a business, as well as mentorship and introductions to a network of people who can support them on their journey. We also provide financial backing, so that our entrepreneurs don’t feel that the risk of starting a new business is a step too far.
Down the years, we’ve backed hundreds of entrepreneurs and invested in more than 500 early-stage businesses. But there’s more that Octopus, and other companies, can do to provide knowledge (through educational materials and mentorship) as well as offering financial and technical support.
Through this report, we’re calling on businesses and organisations of all sizes to work with us to embed the principles behind entrepreneurship in the minds of young people.
Making a difference
This is a critical time for the UK, and to avoid getting left behind, we have to invest in future generations. We’re proud to support this report from The Entrepreneurs Network because we know it takes an entrepreneurial mindset to come up with truly innovative solutions.
We hope this report sparks a broader conversation, within government, academia and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. When it comes to building a business, experience is invaluable, but we can start helping younger people develop the skills they’ll require in the modern working environment, such as problem-solving critical thinking, creativity and resilience, and that we as a nation will continue to benefit from in the future.