Time to inspire the next generation

Entrepreneurship among under-35s has – somewhat surprisingly – dipped year on year in the UK. Adizah Tejani, head of ecosystem development at Canary Wharf’s Level39 accelerator, and co-lead for the Tech London Advocates under-35s group, says established entrepreneurs can help reverse this.

Working in the entrepreneurship space with over 140 entrepreneurs, as I do at Level39, is amazingly rewarding. They are a great set of talented people who are built with the drive to see their companies grow, making it a unique place to be.

But where will the next generation of entrepreneurs come from? According to last year’s Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, both activity and aspiration in the UK is lagging behind the US and others. It is clear that we need to do more.

The GEM reports a year-on-year declinein total early-stage entrepreneurial activity rates overall – especially amongst adults under 35. Neither trend is encouraging for UK enterprise.

So how do we make sure that the UK fosters a stronger culture of entrepreneurship to make it a more accessible option? And how do we make sure that the entrepreneurial wisdom that exists in our business community is passed on and that first-time entrepreneurs learn directly from the founders who have come before them,?

One way we can all help this to happen is to find ways for more experienced people to share individual lessons. Fortunately, this is happening through new networks such as Tech London Advocates (TLA).

The TLA consists of over 800 technology sector professionals, from VCs to serial entrepreneurs. The TLA’s group dedicated to entrepreneurs under-35 hosts breakfast briefings connecting experienced TLA members and first-time entrepreneurs.

As I write this, the week ahead at Level39 sees us host the third under-35 group breakfast with Eric van der Kleij, fintech entrepreneur and head of Level39. Over breakfast, first-time tech entrepreneurs will have access to top-class entrepreneurs who have faced all the obstacles that can be thrown a first-time entrepreneurs way.

If the entrepreneurial culture here in the UK is to grow it is also important that we make the ecosystem as open and as welcoming as possible, and this sometimes means thinking forward via education.

Initiatives such as Founders for Schools, a programme founded by senior investor Sherry Coutu, connects entrepreneurs with school students. Founders for Schools helps teachers to arrange for founders of successful businesses to visit their schools and inspire their students.

Universities are another vital area of our education system where we should make stronger connections with enterprise, to help foster a culture of entrepreneurship. Universities are getting better at encouraging entrepreneurship as an option, but it is just as important for those of us already in the space to make the extra effort to reach out more.

We need to connect in as many ways possible to expose students to the countless opportunities available to them as entrepreneurs. We should reach out to students who get a glimpse inside the tech business ecosystem, encouraging them to become the entrepreneurial talent of tomorrow and become advocates themselves later on.

Being surrounded by so many young entrepreneurs, it has become clear to me that having a great idea is only one part of what’s needed. Drive and tenacity needed are also key to growing a business, as are execution and implementation.

Having access to those who have done it before will not only make you into a better entrepreneur – it will help you build a better company.

One other obvious way to access wisdom is by reading. Although you may not think you have the time to read, try to make the time, as countless entrepreneurs have been telling their story for decades. Remember also that is takes a team to build a company, so read not just about Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin but also the people behind them, like Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt.

As the UK’s record of successful shows, we have a great environment here where entrepreneurs can grow their companies. We need to make sure that first-time entrepreneurs know that there is an ecosystem that encourages that growth. We must continue to foster an entrepreneurial culture that encourages early-stage entrepreneurial activity for years to come.