In the last 18 months, I have moved from world-dominating management consulting (where I trained as a graduate), to a world-leading publishing house, to a Y Combinator start-up. What has struck me most, as I sit for the first time and reflect, is the utterly different learning experiences one receives from the two ends of this spectrum, and I cannot help but feeling urged to bring a call to action to engage entrepreneurship much more in education.
Granted, this may be a UK-focused dilemma, but that just means there is all the more opportunity to learn. It is known we fall behind our European and American counterparts in terms of cultivating SMEs, and as Davos wreaks havoc on the Swiss Mountains this week, one wonders how many of those entrepreneurial voices are going unheard in favour of the standard and the established. Don't get me wrong -- I have nothing but respect for MNCs who operate with agility, speed and performance, but I wonder how we, as a generation and a nation, can do more to encourage young people to take the first step into start-ups rather than the safety and security of a graduate placement in a big firm.
Part of the problem may be solved naturally as a new army of youths are cultivated -- truly global, completely tech-savvy and more aware of the pros and cons of social media, virality and brand than any single group before them. In the UK, however, there is a large gap between the provision of angel and VC investment, meaning (and of course it's very nature) the start-up and SME industry remains vulnerable to talent shortages at entry level -- despite the efforts of some, such as Profounders Capital, to take a largely entrepreneurial approach to their suite of successful investment. The financial crisis has brought with it a message to youths to batten down the hatches, find a safe spot and ride out the storm, but from my short experience, I cannot help but be aware that the true pioneers, innovators, curers and disrupters exist not so much in the safe, established industry of the professional services -- law, finance (and numerous others) -- but on the periphery -- in companies which are trying to deliver a product to service a challenge, new focus, or gap in the market that has barely begun to exist. We have looked to the steadfast institutions to lead the way in these difficult times, and yet if every SME in Europe had taken on one more employee at the height of the financial crisis -- they would have eradicated the 30 million unemployed we saw out on the job hunt.
As a product of a middle class British education -- I feel adamant that there is more to be done. Secretary General of the UEAPME Andrea Benassi commented, "Another aspect which has been overlooked so far is the importance of work-based learning and apprenticeship schemes to bridge the gap between education and employment and tackle skills mismatches." Wouldn't it be eye-opening if, in the same way as weekly Sport is prescribed throughout secondary education -- once a week, a mandatory slot was given, where youngsters could explore the inner-innovator and give thought to a start-up profession in the same way other classes urge them to give thought to many others. CEOs from Tech Roundabout could come and share their stories, offer advice on business plans, and create networks between keen and promising students and angel networks, which can be sustained through education and into the world of ideas. I do not have the solution to offer, but as I look around my fellow Global Shapers with awe and admiration, I think of all the extraordinary talent that must lie within our even younger generations.
Tel Aviv has shot into the limelight for entrepreneurship. There is a Tel Aviv University Entreprenurship Centre, Israel has around 4,000 active start-ups (more than any other country outside the United States), and the flow of venture capital in 2010 amounted to $884 million. High tech exports are valued at around $18.4 billion per year. The government has played a role in facilitating a city and society where the industry can thrive. The same could be done in the UK. The coalition government launched Start-Up Britain and Tech Roundabout, but how I long to see more pragmatic measures -- credits that students can put towards general studies qualifications, more sponsored internships and the ability to have youths build their own community and network for success.
This generation of Global Shapers need a mix of ideas and experience to sustain the discovery of answers to challenges that will threaten our generation and the generation of those to come. We need to look at the hugely successful MNCs around the world for advice. Leadership and support should not be frowned upon -- no macro-problem can be solved alone. The Global Shapers, and indeed young people everywhere, can unite to help offer opportunities for the young innovators of today and tomorrow to succeed -- wherever they are and whatever the circumstances. Disease, climate change, natural disaster, abuse -- they take no account of the backgrounds of the people they affect -- and any person, from any background, should have the ability to be the change needed to solve the challenge.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum in recognition of the latter's Global Shapers initiative. The Global Shapers Community is a worldwide network of city-based hubs developed and led by young entrepreneurs, activists, academics, innovators, disruptors and thought leaders. Aged between 20 and 30, they are exceptional in their achievements and drive to make a positive contribution to their communities. Follow the Global Shapers on Twitter at @globalshapers or nominate a Global Shaper at http://www.globalshapers.