Teaching Next Gen Entrepreneurs

Can we teach someone to be the next Fortune 500 CEO?

by Hardy Farrow

Meet Bob. Bob is a white guy who grew up in a good family and went to a good college. Bob worked in an industry for 15 years and then came up with a great idea that turned into a Fortune 500 company.

Bob’s story is the classic entrepreneurship story we heard in the 1980s and 1990s. However, Bob’s story doesn’t represent the past 20 years of tech companies and the rise of female and minority-led companies. So, why are we still training students to be Bob?

The great American cities of the 1950s and 1960s (Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh) were built on strong industrial companies that had employees that worked their entire lives for one company. Our education system was formed around filling jobs for these industrial pipelines. As our economy has globalized and specialized, these companies struggle to fill jobs in the United States and these cities struggle to innovate.

 
A smoke from the chimneys billow over St. Petersburg, 03 March 2005. Russia's greenhouse gas emissions fell by up to 38 percent between 1990 and 1999 due to its economic collapse in the early 1990s, according to a UN report, giving Moscow broad room to manoeuvre despite recent rapid economic growth. The Kyoto Protocol, the strictest environmental agreement concluded by the international community, entered into force thanks to its ratification by Russia in October 2004. AFP PHOTO / SERGEY KULIKOV / INTERPRESS (Photo credit should read SERGEY KULIKOV/AFP/Getty Images)Memphis has chosen a different path than other cities in the heartland of America. Memphis has prioritized training the new generation of “Bobs” by helping them become entrepreneurs.
EpiCenter Memphis is empowering 1,000 entrepreneurs to launch scalable businesses in Memphis by 2023. Over the past several years, I’ve worked with over 2,000 high school students with Let’s Innovate through Education and we’ve seen incredible results. Over 90 percent of students are showing extreme growth in career skills and 85 percent of our low-income students are showing persistence in graduating college within 4 years.

Our vision is to radically disrupt poverty by creating the next generation of entrepreneurs who can create wealth in their own communities. We’ve been named one of the 20 ideas that can change the world by Forbes Magazine and one of the 5 most innovative teaching ideas by the Teach for America National Innovation Award.

According to the Kauffman Foundation, the average age of successful startup founders is age 40. High-growth startups are almost twice as likely to be launched by someone over 55 than between the age of 20 and 34. Why? These founders have had more experience in launching ideas, failing at them, and learning from them.

Imagine a world where we accelerated the process of failing and started students at age 16 instead of at age 31 with their first business. Instead of training students to be experts in industries that might not even exist in 20 years due to automation, we can train students to be multi-industry entrepreneurs. Like reading or math, the key to building entrepreneurs is longitudinal interventions that build habits and skillsets that can be applied over and over.

According to Robert Fairlie and the GATE experiment, entrepreneurial education programs that are under 6 months in nature have no effect on business success in the long-run. We need to build interventions that expose students to networks, capital, and experiences that are real world and multi-year in nature. Due to how fast millennials change jobs and the growing scale of automation, the next generation of Fortune 500 CEO’s won’t be industry experts. Let’s start training students to be the leaders of tomorrow through learning how to fail and adapt ideas today. Let’s start building cities around the companies of the future.

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