“The World Belongs to the Young Entrepreneur” Innovation Magazine
Perusing a copy of Innovation magazine some time ago, this article title grabbed my attention. As someone who’s mentored a number of brilliant young entrepreneurs throughout my career, the topic of celebrating young talent is close to my heart.
The writer asserts, “You don’t have to be an adult to be an entrepreneur. You don’t even have to be a high school graduate…” then bolsters the claim by citing a handful of international sensations, 15 and 16 year olds who were building and selling companies for millions of dollars.
I read the article and found myself looking for more. The writer told only part of the story of one subset of young entrepreneurs. To throw out these rarities then go on to proclaim to young thinkers, “…you don’t even have to be a high school graduate…” to become a financial whiz kid seems cavalier at best, reckless and misleading at worst.
The few teens mentioned were either extraordinary or just plain lucky. Yes, their stories are remarkable and they certainly deserve recognition and praise for their enterprising spirits and enviable accomplishments. But their stories are by no means typical, nor should their path to success be heralded as such.
When advising budding entrepreneurs, let’s talk to them about the full spectrum of successful entrepreneurs and captains of industry and the varied paths that got them to their career pinnacles. Yes, there are the teen sensations, and America’s most famous college drop outs Gates and Jobs who took an unorthodox road – and their stories should give comfort and hope to those kids who feel like square pegs being shoved into ill-fitting round holes at certain schools. But don’t let assurances for the few cast into obscurity the message that the traditional high school, college, internship, university models are still valued ones that lead to great success.
Does the world belong to young entrepreneurs? Well, yes. In part. It also belongs to the industry giants that are run by seasoned, well-trained and committed leaders who have wonderfully talented teams behind them. I believe Jeff Immelt, Andy Grove and Michael Bloomberg were college graduates and young executives before achieving their esteemed positions and success.
I¹d rather encourage bright, young, would-be entrepreneurs to get the best education they can, get the best and smartest entry-level jobs they can, and spend their early career years soundly learning their trades. Then, become great entrepreneurs. You’ll still have plenty of time in your 20s, or God forbid, you may have to wait until your 30s to reach that pinnacle. But let it be only your first pinnacle. Keep setting your sights on the next peak for the whole of your career, so you can experience the extraordinary highs of masterful successes over and over, even as you are becoming that seasoned, respected, successful expert in your industry.
Yes, there are the lightning strikes – those who bring their innovative idea to exactly the right spot at exactly the right time. And that could happen to you. But don’t let your hopes be dashed if your first brilliant idea didn’t make it out of the garage while you still had braces. It’s the odds you need to consider. The lightning … the lottery … the luck o’ the Irish … they’re not the norm; they’re the exception. Don’t be fooled into thinking that manner of rocket-fueled success is the only success that counts.
No, boring as it may sound, the old proven path of study, intellectual and emotional development, seasoned with vision and experience from great ones who’ve gone before, is still the greatest path for entrepreneurs. But be assured, it’s a wide path, with plenty of room on it for scores of young entrepreneurs to travel a phenomenally successful journey.
Now, if I’m going to encourage bright young minds to stay the educational, intern and apprentice course, then I need to nudge universities, businesses and industry to step up their games when it comes to encouraging and even funding youthful entrepreneurs.
In assessing the marketplace, I find there aren’t enough budgets and resources dedicated to cultivating our future dynamos. I’m not seeing the universal interest in young thinkers I believe there should be. Companies wanting to capture the best and the brightest young talent would be well served to start investing in promoting their development. It’s gratifying work mentoring a rising star. Watching someone you believe in and invested in crossing the biggest stages and earning the highest awards has its own rewards. It’s time and money well spent.
So, to my peers, let’s keep investing in young talent. To you young geniuses, don’t worry if you’re not making headlines in your teens. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, hey, you’ll be old enough to raise a glass to toast your success.