Posted tagged ‘entrepreneurship’

Overcoming the fear of failure: the entrepreneurship imperative

June 13, 2011

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor is a respected consortium that reports on attitudes to entrepreneurship across the world. Apart from offering some global observations it also reports on individual countries. Recently it issued its latest report on Scotland (in association with the University of Strathclyde), and on page 7 we can read the following comment:

‘In 2010, 43% of working age adults in Scotland who thought there were good opportunities for starting a business agreed that fear of failure would prevent them from starting a business, up from a low of 31% in 2007. This compares with 36% in the UK and 35% across all Arc of Prosperity countries.’

As Scotland, by one route or another, takes more direct control of its economic destiny, it will be vital that indigenous enterprise is encouraged and promoted. This in turn means that business failure must be accepted as a possible by-product of innovation and must not be seen as a negative reflection on the person who has experienced it. Scotland’s universities must support the drive to generate enterprise by encouraging students to put risk and failure in perspective, and to see entrepreneurship and creativity as the hallmarks of a self-confident population.

The very latest higher education idea: pay students to drop out

May 28, 2011

Here’s an interesting initiative: Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel is offering $100,000 each to 20 students willing to leave university for two years to start their own companies. And why do this, rather than offer the incentive to graduates? Because Mr Thiel believes that ‘ideas can develop in a start-up environment much faster than at a university’. Indeed he is reported to want to ‘question the idea of higher education’.

I won’t worry too much about Peter Thiel, who is a successful entrepreneur, but is also often described as a ‘libertarian’. However, the question must be asked whether he is encouraging student conduct that most academics would consider reprehensible. And is he right to suggest that innovation stalls in a university environment?

It is perfectly possible to argue that not everyone should go to university. However, once a student is there he or she will work with staff and students in a journey of discovery, and what they acquire is not so much a degree certificate as a capacity for critical inquiry and innovation. It is silly to suggest that a university education is somehow a bad idea for entrepreneurs. Right now an increasing number of start-ups trade in intellectual property and therefore rely on knowledge and scholarship for success.

Peter Thiel himself has two university degrees. He should be slow to suggest that dropping out is better – for anyone – than what he himself did in completing his education.

Social enterprise

November 3, 2009

There is now a widespread awareness that we need more entrepreneurship to get us out of the recession. But perhaps one aspect of entrepreneurship that does not always get sufficient mention is its ability to pull people out of deprivation and poverty. According to Gordon McConnell of DCU’s Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship (which itself is developing programmes and initiatives in this area), in the UK 70,000 jobs are provided by social entrepreneurship.

Social enterprise needs coordinated support. The University Network for Social Entrepreneurship provides information on best practice for members in 70 countries. In Ireland  we need to raise awareness of the need to achieve economic growth in a balanced way through business development that can in particular benefit disadvantaged communities; away a little from the emphasis on welfare, focusing instead on the potential of self-help through business development. Universities have a major opportunity to drive this agenda, through targeted programmes and actions supporting regeneration. The Ryan Academy’s Social Enterprise Development Programme is a good start.

Being enterprising

September 10, 2009

Once a year the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) publishes country reports, setting out the rate at which new businesses are started, the number of serial entrepreneurs, the sense of confidence amongst entrepreneurs, and so forth. The most recent published report is for the year 2008. I might add as an aside that the report was co-written and published in DCU’s Business School.

The snapshot of entrepreneurship that the report presents is an interesting one, as it shows that Ireland performs rather well. It shows that 13.3 per cent of the Irish population have started their own business, a high figure by international standards. Furthermore, the survey revealed that even as the economic downturn was starting to kick in the rate of start-ups did not decline (though the confidence of the entrepreneurs did, a little).  Interestingly, the rate of start-ups in Ireland is significantly higher than across the EU, and only marginally lower than in the United States.

All of this is hugely important for Ireland as we try to find a way out of recession. What is perhaps missing, despite all the entrepreneurial activity, is a widely perceived culture of enterprise. Too often society’s role models are the professionals, or public servants, or people in safe jobs. We have not yet managed to see the enterprising risk-takers as the white knights of economic regeneration, and this is becoming increasingly important.

DCU has been toying with all this for a while, partly through the development of the Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship, established with the support of the family of the late Tony Ryan. In due course I am hoping that we will make entrepreneurship an option available to all students. And I really hope that this will catch on elsewhere also. We find that we are a country with a major ability to be entrepreneurial; we need to make such activity perceived as heroic and noble. Our future is tied up with that.

Retraining – but for what?

May 21, 2009

When the Irish Government introduced its supplementary Budget last month, amongst the cuts and savings there were some announcements of resources to support those who had lost their jobs or whose employment might be at risk. Annexe F of the Budget sets out the measures that the government is funding (mind you, from existing resources), and which in particular focused on training and education, with a total 23.435 places being made available in the education and training sectors. Overall these have been described as measures that will lead to ‘labour market activation’; in other words, an education and training stimulus.

Neither in the Budget Annexe nor in the Budget speech by the Minister for Finance was there any indication of what kind of training or education is envisaged. There is a widespread consensus that as people lose jobs they should be re-skilled or up-skilled to improve their chances of re-employment. It is hard to argue with that proposition. But I wonder whether, instinctively, we are preparing to train people to give them a way out of the recession of the late 1980s, rather than the current one. Back then education and training, in certain subjects in particular, equipped many people to take up employment in the growth industries of the early 1990s, where multinational companies investing in Ireland needed skilled workers for their manufacturing operations. This time it will be different, and the opportunities to be economically active will be different.

We will still need a skilled workforce in the computing industry, and indeed many of the opportunities will be in employment by international companies; but typically the skills needed will now be more advanced, with undergraduate degrees, but also postgraduate research degrees, likely to be in demand. We will need scientists and engineers with significant third and fourth level qualifications. But in particular, we will also need people who are equipped to create jobs rather than just occupy them. It is not likely that Ireland’s recovery will just be based on investments by global companies, though we can hope that some of that will happen. If we are to thrive again, we will need a far greater number of indigenous entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses and creating both economic activity and employment; and key elements of the ‘labour market activation’ package should focus on that. It will be vital to engage all students in the idea of being entrepreneurs, in diverse areas ranging from life sciences to culture and arts. From what I am seeing in the public discussions on all this, I am not sure that this point has been sufficiently understood.

But above all, we need to leave behind the popular notion in Ireland that the most prestigious, the most desirable employment is in the professions. We will still need lawyers and accountants and architects, but not as many. But we will need to have many more of those who will be their clients. We must become an enterprise nation. And universities in particular must lead the way.