Youth Entrepreneurship and Creating An Entrepreneurial Spirit in 2022

Economists of Stanford University took four-year-olds one at a time and put them in a room with a single marshmallow sitting on a table. The experimenter told them that he had to leave for a short errand, but if they waited without eating the marshmallow, they would get an extra one upon his return. Seventy per cent of the kids caved, on average lasting 3 minutes before eating it. The rest of the kids were visibly frustrated as they tried to wait. Some turned away from the table so they wouldn’t see the marshmallow. Some covered their eyes. Decades later, the researchers asked the kids (now adults) for their SAT scores. The patient kids scored better…

Without going into too much detail on the Psychology of Instant Gratification, it is important to note the following though:

  • If our children, teenagers and the youth, in general, grow up in a society of ‘instant everything now’, how can we expect these same youngsters to be successful entrepreneurs?
  • Entrepreneurship takes time. Success is not achieved overnight. Instant gratification is a myth when it comes to starting your own business. There is no such thing as instant success. Becoming an entrepreneur does not guarantee success. If you want instant gratification, don’t become an entrepreneur.

These are all bold statements that are not aimed to deter the youth of South Africa from choosing entrepreneurship as a ‘career path’. No, I am merely stating what so many past ‘entrepreneurs-to-be’ have experienced themselves… the hard way!

In my continuous discussions with prospective entrepreneurs from the ‘youth category’, it is evident that these individuals have a skewed impression of what it takes to start a new business. We live in a society where one is seemingly judged more by what job you hold, how much money you have and what business you start rather than the results from it. With an unemployment rate of more than 50% of South Africa’s youth (between the ages of 18 and 34), it is evident that waiting on the South African economy to create jobs for these young adults is not the answer. Creating an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age is perhaps the answer or at least, one of the solutions.

Nothing comes as an accomplishment instantly. Success does not come overnight. Patience is the key! Grow up and be the tree; but remember it takes dry and wet seasons to become a fruit bearer, achiever and impact maker! — Israelmore Ayivor, The Great Hand Book of Quotes

Youth Entrepreneurship and the Barriers to Starting a Business:

In my discussions with young, prospective entrepreneurs, the following key factors are seen by these individuals as their greatest barriers to starting a small business in South Africa:

  • Insecurity in whether the product or service will work and if there is a market for the product and service.
  • Lack of enough start up capital and time to work on the business idea, especially if the prospective entrepreneur is employed on a full-time basis.
  • Lack of business management skills, financial literacy and technical competence.
  • Leaving a full-time job and the associated loss of benefits (e.g. medical aid, pension fund, fuel allowance, etc.) as well as trading a guaranteed monthly salary for possible no salary during the initial start-up phase of the business.
  • Inadequate knowledge of, and experience in the intended business venture or industry coupled with ignorance of the challenges and risks associated with starting and managing a small business.
  • Lack of support from family and friends and pressure from parents and family members telling you “you can’t achieve your dreams” and “you need a full-time, permanent job.” Additional (negative) pressure from social groups further underpins the fear of failure and to be rather content with the status quo.
  • The administrative (non-sales generating) function and paperwork associated with starting a new business. Evidence from dealing with prospective entrepreneurs is that one of the most important functions they do not focus on is adequate bookkeeping, which from the further investigation is primarily due to a lack of financial management skills.
  • Starting a new business is a ‘lonely experience’; going at it alone isolates you. This is a concern to most prospective entrepreneurs, especially if they plan to start a new business from home. Most prospective entrepreneurs do not have access to a mentor that can empathise with the emotional and physical reality of starting and managing a small business.

In my opinion, the high failure rate of small businesses in South Africa coupled with the high youth unemployment rate suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong. The key to small business success lies in hard work, commitment, dedication, and continuous learning; all of which improves the chances of ensuring a sustainable business enterprise. Please don’t get me wrong. This instant gratification society is not the only problem in South Africa’s youth. But it is one of the, perhaps more important problems.

My Humble Tips for Creating an Entrepreneurial Spirit from a Young Age:

Consider the following:

Entrepreneurial Spirit Tip 1 – Think inside the box because while everyone else is outside the box, there is nothing inside:

Not everyone can be a Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. It is very rarely that an entrepreneur can create a ‘one of a kind invention’ that will make him or her billions of rands. Sometimes it is not even about reinventing the wheel. But who says you can’t look at the wheel and change the spokes or perhaps paint the wheel a different colour?

Kids need to understand that innovation doesn’t mean you need to come up with a never before seen business idea or product. It can also mean doing something that already exists a little bit better. Once children understand that innovation is not an insurmountable mountain, they will perhaps stop being afraid of entrepreneurship. No, you don’t have to have a one of a kind idea or product to succeed. You just need to do something that the other guy is already doing a little bit better, faster, cheaper.

Entrepreneurial Spirit Tip 2 – “What do you want to be when you grow up” is the question you need to start off with:

A doctor, mommy. A fireman, daddy. A spaceman, grandma. A pilot, grandpa. All answers we expect to hear and in fact, do hear. So it would be quite a shock to a parent’s system if little Johnny said “I want to become an entrepreneur mommy.” But kids need to realise that this is in fact a career option, and a viable one at that if it is approached correctly.

Of course, there are children that grow up in entrepreneurial households where mom and/or dad owns their own business. And to these kids, I say “wow!” You are already light years ahead of your peers. That is to say if the entrepreneur parents take the time to instil that entrepreneurial spirit in their young. When the child is at that tender age of exploring potential careers one day; do yourself a favour. Introduce the world of the entrepreneur to them. Next time when grandma asks “What do you want to be when you are grown-up Johnny?” He will blow grandma away when he says, “I want to be an entrepreneur.” Chances are grandma will have to bring out the Oxford Dictionary to look up this alien term “entrepreneur.”

Entrepreneurial Spirit Tip 3 – It is a sad irony that with so many unemployed, business leaders still complain that they can’t find qualified workers:

Yes, it is sad, but it is reality. It is not going to change. The sooner this reality is faced, the better. That being said, successful entrepreneurs can create jobs for the unemployed. Perhaps not the qualified CA or Actuarial type jobs, but jobs nonetheless. Ask yourself the question: “Do you want your child to be book smart or street smart as well?”

Entrepreneurship is just as much to do with ‘going with your guts’, being creative, managing your personal finances and taking calculated risks as it is to do with having knowledge of mathematics, accounting, etc. But who is going to teach your child these invaluable life skills? It needs to start at home. And sure enough, most parents don’t have the inclination or knowledge to teach these entrepreneurial skills to their children but with enough research, parents will find out that there are individuals out there, in South Africa, which can fulfil this role of Entrepreneurial Mentor and Life Skills Orientation Coach. As parents, you don’t necessarily have to fulfil all these roles but you can plant the entrepreneurial seed and seek guidance and external help from someone that can water the seed and nurture the plant through its phases of growth.

Entrepreneurial Spirit Tip 4 – Our schooling system is geared at professional professions:

Our South African kids are unfortunately faced with a reality that our quality of schooling has deteriorated over the past 20 years. We have reached a point of being compared to the worst quality and levels of education in the world; as cited by numerous periodic surveys conducted on the subject.

So here’s a question:

“With arguably an extremely poor level of education, substandard quality teachers and an overall curriculum that fails to be even compared to world standards, how can one expect a child to eventually leave school to contribute meaningfully to the local economy and fill these scares jobs?”

With your entrepreneurial spirit, you can one day create jobs for others, make a difference and beat the odds irrespective of the failing educational system!

Entrepreneurial Spirit Tip 5 – Entrepreneurship is so much more than just starting your own business:

It is fundamentally about the desire and internal need to solve problems, creatively. The foundation – curiosity, creativity, risk-taking, imagination and collaboration – are just some of the qualities that one would require in a job as an engineer for example. So if becoming an engineer is a viable career choice, why can’t becoming an entrepreneur be one as well?

When exposing your children to new experiences, focus on activities that will instil the desire and potential to create and innovate, to dream and imagine, and to always challenge and improve the status quo.

To instil an entrepreneurial spirit in a child does not mean just adding another subject or course on entrepreneurship to the child’s school or university curriculum.

One needs to move away from employee-oriented education to a new standard: entrepreneur-oriented education. It is about respecting children as unique and wonderful human beings, with passion, curiosity, talents, dreams and silliness, all of which will be supported and not suppressed. And don’t look at schools to achieve this. Schools work to a strict curriculum or employee-oriented education. It needs to start at home so that our children can truly become global contributors, creative dreamers and entrepreneurial creatures that will change the local economy!

Written by Dr. Thommie Burger, Founder of Symmetry Hub Growth Partner JTB Consulting.

Established in 2006, JTB have successfully written more than 12,500 Professional Business Plans for clients across 25 countries. As a leading Business Plan Company, JTB delivers correctly structured Business Plans with exceptional quality every time.

Request a personalised business plan quote from JTB here.