The pandemic is paving the way for entrepreneurialism and young people need our support

More people are making the leap and starting their own companies. Business leaders can play an important role in bridging the gap between education and work

Theo Paphitis
Saturday 21 November 2020 12:33 GMT
West End theatre workers stage flashmob in Parliament Square

We may have made a vaccine but, as a light appears at the end of a very long tunnel, it is clear that the economic repercussions of Covid-19 will long outlast the pandemic. Young people have been especially hard hit by the events of this year. 

On top of the risks of Covid-19, they have faced interrupted education, missed exams, a reduction in job prospects and negative coverage in the media. Research from London School of Economics shows that young people are more than twice as likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

But all is not lost. With an entrepreneurial spirit, young people can find new opportunities to succeed and thrive. The current climate is producing more young entrepreneurs than ever before. As the traditional 9 to 5 looks increasingly less stable, more people are making the leap and starting their own businesses.

At the core of the entrepreneurial spirit is the ability to problem solve. That means being able to overcome adversity by finding solutions to issues – something our young people have already proved adept at when battling the hurdles of Covid-19.

Technology has also fast-tracked the route to becoming an entrepreneur in a way that would have been unthinkable 20 or 30 years ago. With a small amount of capital and a working internet connection, technology is empowering a new generation of young entrepreneurs to innovate from their homes. 

But while young people are responding admirably to the pandemic, we cannot expect them to go it alone. We need to help them find and foster their passions before they step out into the business world, ensuring that when they do take the leap, they are prepared for the challenges that come their way.

Because while an enterprising mindset is important, it is passion that will enable our young people to achieve anything they set their mind to. To any young people who might be considering becoming an entrepreneur, I would say: “Consider what gives you drive and gets you out of bed in the morning. That will set you on the right path for starting a business.”

Being a good entrepreneur is also about being a good person, and I would much rather invest in a good person with an average idea than someone with a good idea that I don’t really like. But the key rule for anyone thinking about going into business is to learn to fail. You are going to fail at some stage so learn from your failures and use them to help you grow your business. 

As a Dragon on Dragons’ Den, the vast majority of the letters I received were from children, interested in learning about enterprise and in creating their own businesses.  When I was at the tender age of 13, I was doing little jobs for money because my family didn’t have any.  At this stage, I didn’t realise that what I was doing was entrepreneurial, but I knew I liked it. So we know that young people are interested in enterprise and the world outside of traditional academics. 

It is now critically important that we build the right connections between businesses and educational institutions. Young people need role models and advocates who they can talk to and learn about the world of business. This will help them learn the right skills and mindset at an early age, and gain important experience of the world of work before they leave education.    

Business leaders play an important role in bridging this gap between education and the world of work, helping the next generation of business leaders to grow. It’s why for the 10th anniversary of my Small Business Sunday initiative, I partnered with national charity Young Enterprise to celebrate young entrepreneurs and give them a chance to grow their businesses. And it’s why we must all play our part in ensuring young people have a mentor who can encourage them and help them develop an enterprising mindset.

So while young people have been unfairly affected by the pandemic, Covid-19 has also presented a great opportunity for change. Let’s not waste that opportunity. Instead, let’s take action and support young people by giving them the skills and mindset they need to succeed. If we do that, we will have all played our part in creating a new, exciting generation of business leaders.

Theo Paphitis is a TV Dragon and retail entrepreneur, he owns Ryman, Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue. You can hear him speak further on this subject on Young Enterprise’s podcast, Enterprising Mindsets, this week.

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