In the second decade of the 21st-century, it is clear that fresh approaches are urgently needed in order to accelerate sustainable global economic growth and job creation to advance human welfare. In this context we need to stimulate innovation by fostering a culture of entrepreneurship, and this must start from an early age.
The EU now promotes entrepreneurship as a career option, giving recognition to entrepreneurs so they can contribute to Europe’s economy, but taking the stigma out of failing is also key to inspiring people to start their own business. A 2012 Startup Ecosystem survey of people in that most creative of clusters, Silicon Valley, found its people accept failure as part of the journey to innovation. Creative learning should drive a process of trial and error – rather like an evolving jazz jam session – this is also how Betapreneurs operate. The sushi master Jiro Ono: “You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill.” Nurturing and exchanging ideas is another essential skill – the largest start-up ecosystem in Europe is multi-cultural London – a epicentre for cultivating ideas and making change happen. Indeed, it has been said that ‘multi-cultural’ defines global economic clusters – the prime example being Silicon Valley, where almost 2/3 of workers were born outside the US.
Making it Happen
Innovation isn’t just for start-ups – many big companies promote a culture of fresh thinking by employing ‘intrapreneurs’ (in-house entrepreneurs) to stay ahead of the game and act as a recruiting tool. Google’s 20% programme engenders an entrepreneurial spirit within a large company by inviting employees to work one day a week on their chosen projects – no wonder they get over 1,000 job applications a day. Microsoft has a history of investing in a wide range of start-ups – from Facebook in 2007 to the Khan Academy open-source learning platform in 2010. Bill Gates’ championship of this social enterprise – he called Salman Khan’s idea ‘revolutionary’ – has helped its success and attracted further big business supporters.
Innovating through Social Goals
According Sir Richard Branson, using both entrepreneurial and business skills to help solve critical social and environmental issues is one of the biggest opportunities of our lifetime. In 2012, the World Economic Forum reached the same conclusion, emphasising that consciously incorporating social goals into entrepreneurs’ strategic thinking could tackle critical problems, such as poverty and access to health and education. To make this happen, not only do we need to redefine the role of the entrepreneur in our society, but we must also offer incentives for employees to be social innovators within their organisations.
When in Doubt: Innovate
Nokia’s problems had a knock-on effect on the whole Finnish economy and the message was urgent: innovate or die. The government created Aalto University in 2008 to make a bridge between creativity and engineering. This resulted in the ‘Start-up Sauna’, a business accelerator, founded in 2010 by a group of students inspired by a study trip to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The Sauna offers working space, networking, entrepreneurship coaching and global study trips, acting as a platform and business incubator to inspire start-ups. It demonstrates that stimulating entrepreneurship is not just a matter of funding, but requires us to shift mindsets and culture. Also here we see the emergence of an empathic generation where the goal is not just to get rich but to solve social challenges.
The Female Factor
The Nordic Model shows that competitiveness and welfare provision can reinforce each other to enhance both innovation and social inclusion. The Nordics have exceptionally high rates of female labour-force participation – in Denmark 72% of women work compared with 79% of men. By 2020, 2 in 3 graduates in advanced economies will be women, yet still only 30% of European entrepreneurs are women. But these are changing times, in 2011 there were 14 female self-made billionaires in the world according to Forbes – 7 of them in China – and this number is only set to increase. The youngest self-made billionaire in history, Spanx founder Sara Blakely, is a great example of a phenomenal entrepreneurial success.
Disrupt Your Organisation
Leading brands and companies already recognise the value of disrupting their sector before disruption is forced upon them, and it has been suggested that our economic survival depends on improving creativity and entrepreneurship teaching – fostering new companies instead of banking on old giants. For SMEs, it is imperative to adjust to a climate where technology brings disruptions. Initially, innovations may sound crazy and uneconomic and then they turn out to make business sense. Misunderstanding and failure lie on the road to success, so when you take on the role of Betapreneur and disrupt your organisation, take comfort from the fact that great ideas are said to pass through three distinct phases – ridicule, violent opposition and, finally, acceptance as self-evidently worthwhile.
1) Jiro Ono – lessons we can learn >>
2) You Dream Job by Imagine >>
3) Richard Branson on Envisioning Your Business’s Future
4) Elina Uutela – Photo: Tuukka Toivonen >>
5) Forbes Billionaires >>