What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Countless books have been written and studies undertaken to answer this question.
The focus is so often on confidence, business acumen, networking skills and an astute ability to spot a gap in a market. However, far less attention is paid to what is, for me, often the determining factor: a person’s socioeconomic background.
Last year, a new report was released by angel network Cornerstone Partners, diversity and inclusion consultancy Engage Inclusivity, and non-profit Diversity VC. They surveyed 1,882 European startups that had either raised venture capital (VC) funding or were eligible to do so. It found that 75% of the founders came from advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, with parents or carers in managerial or professional roles. Only a handful came from families living on welfare entitlements.
In truth, as stark as those figures are, they should not come as any great shock. All of those key skills listed earlier – confidence, business acumen, networking – are ones that flourish more freely in affluent communities.
The path to becoming an entrepreneur
Put bluntly, people from less advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds have more hurdles to overcome if they want to become a successful entrepreneur. For one, starting a business typically requires some financial clout, which is often enough to deter people from embarking on such a venture.
Just as important is the lack of access to high-quality education. Better education will not only instil students with essential skills for the business world, but also a level of confidence and self-belief in their ideas.
Exposure to role models and networks is also hugely important. Having relatives, friends, neighbours, or professional connections who run their own business can have a significant knock-on effect on anyone hoping to do the same – not only can it provide inspiration and show the path to be taken, but these contacts themselves can provide a great of mentorship along the way.
Again, those from working class communities are more likely to lack these immediate role models within their own social circles. They might not ever consider it an option.
Certain personality traits are essential to entrepreneurship: resilience, persistence, drive, self-belief, the list goes on. We might like to think that the requirement for these characteristics could act as a leveller of sorts; however, without addressing the barriers mentioned above, these traits will be less common among those from underprivileged backgrounds, making it harder for them to start and grow successful businesses.
Entrepreneurship education is key
Entrepreneurship education can help tackle these problems. In doing so, it can also aid social mobility, ensuring more people from marginalised and disadvantaged groups can become successful businesspeople.
Where is the gap in the market? How can I develop a product or service to satisfy it? How do I brand, market and position my business? How do I manage the finances? Where do I turn for investment or support?
Some people may have the networks, education, or professional experience to tackle these fundamental questions. Many people will not have. As such, courses focused on entrepreneurship will, to some degree, help level the playing field.
Again, the benefits of entrepreneurship education are as much about creating networks as they are about technical training. “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know”, as they say (although this certainly does a disservice to the hands-on challenges of running a business). Attending a higher or further education institution provides an opportunity to simultaneously hone networking skills while developing an actual network of contacts – something I have seen first-hand – is vital in accelerating both your personal and business growth.
Mentors, teachers, alumni and peers can all offer guidance and, more importantly, a different point of view. This is crucial; being an entrepreneur can so often prove a lonely, challenging, and insular experience, so having outside voices and the support of people who understand the journey is just as valuable as any tuition you get on business plans and revenue models.
Entrepreneurship education is not just for startup founders
Entrepreneurship education is, then, important for providing much-needed support for those from less advantaged backgrounds to pursue a career path running their own businesses. Furthermore, it can actually prove highly beneficial for those who have no ambitions of taking that path.
The ability to spot and solve problems is valued across so many job roles and organisations. As such, courses that are focused on developing a person’s ability to do just that will likely speed up career progression. From my experience, there is nothing better to see from a team member than them showing initiative to identify issues and propose solutions; it is a key element to being an entrepreneur but is relevant in most roles.
So, by making people more skilled employees, entrepreneurship training can open up access to higher-paid roles and positions of greater responsibility, influence and pay. In this way, again, entrepreneurship education can aid social mobility.
In my opinion, more ought to be done to promote entrepreneurship education – whether in secondary school or further education. Whether wanting to start and run a business, or looking to fast-track career advancement, formal education can empower people from all backgrounds to pursue new paths. It can address gaps in skillsets that are more prevalent among those from disadvantaged communities. And it can unlock networks that will support someone’s long-term growth and success.
Christina Taylor, Founder of The Purpose Agency and alumni of University of Manchester’s Postgraduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship
Christina Taylor is the founder of The Purpose Agency, a digital agency that only works with influencers who have a strong purpose and engaged community. Christina is also an alumni of University of Manchester’s Postgraduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship, which she attended before starting her agency. The course allows students to study part-time alongside their working life and learn how to take their business ideas into practice.