“Misfortune made me an entrepreneur”

When Real Business and the Aldridge Foundation conducted a major survey of 372 UK directors and chief executives on what makes an entrepreneur, 69 per cent of respondents agreed.

And they’re keen to encourage the next generation of business builders. How? By teaching entrepreneurship and providing mentors. “Young people need appropriate guidance on how to hustle and make a buck while they find their purpose in life. That will give them the motivation to succeed,” comments Dan McGuire, who set up internet firm Broadbean in 2002 when he was just 21 and sold it to the Daily Mail Group last year.

Will King, founder of King of Shaves and winner of the Growing Business Awards Company of the Year in 2008, calls for a change in prevailing attitudes to failure: “In America, failure is a big part of the entrepreneurial experience. In the UK, it’s frowned upon. There needs to be room for trial and error.” Web expert Guy Levine reckons the confidence to brush yourself off and start again needs to be developed early on: “Teachers need to play a pivotal part by instilling self belief, not self doubt, in young people,” he says. “There has to be a break away from the institutionalised education system in place in the UK.”

Chris Rasmussen of East Sussex-based ITM-Soil, which designs, manufactures and installs monitoring instrumentation for the construction industry, would like to see the education and business communities working together much more closely: “Schools must build long-standing relationships with local businesses to place potential and future entrepreneurs,” he explains. “Let them experience the real world and decide on their future with life experience rather than text books.”

Our Origins of an Entrepreneur survey also revealed some novel approaches to encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs. “Give teenagers loans for start-ups instead of university!” cried one respondent. “Set up more mini businesses in schools, such as tuck shops, for kids to run!” said another.

But it’s not just about education. Take Frances Dickens, for example. The fact that she failed most of her GCSEs didn’t stop her setting up one of the fastest growing companies in the UK – £33m-turnover media bartering firm Astus UK. Or Ken Davy, who left school at 16, sold his first company, DBS Management, for a cool £75m and is now heading up SimplyBiz.

What these entrepreneurs have in common isn’t formal qualification but determination. “Entrepreneurship has fewer barriers than other career choices as you don’t necessarily need a professional qualification,” comments Rod Aldridge, who established the Aldridge Foundation – our research partner – in 2006 to further the work of his charitable trust and create lasting social change for young people through entrepreneurship. “What it does need is a determination to succeed and an attitude that doesn’t fear failure but sees it as an opportunity to learn. Unlike America, our culture does not allow entrepreneurs to learn from mistakes and we are too judgemental too soon.”

Nearly six in ten respondents in our survey voted determination as the most important characteristic in running your own business. Glen Manchester, who spurned university claiming it “wasn’t practical enough” and now runs enterprise communications firm Thunderhead, sums it up nicely: “No other quality counts without this!”

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Related articles:The definition of an entrepreneur

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