In today’s rapidly evolving digital world, Millennials and Gen Z are embracing autonomous lifestyles and striving to create a lasting impact. Entrepreneurship has emerged as a powerful pathway to fulfill these aspirations. This blog post captures insights from our recent discussions with prominent young entrepreneurs, investors, and startup ecosystem leaders, including Meagan Loyst, Cecilia Zhao, and Gilles Ametepe, exploring various aspects of navigating the entrepreneurial landscape, such as leveraging technology, acquiring relevant education and skills, and building a compelling personal brand.
What enables digital natives to be entrepreneurial?
Two-thirds of all Gen Z want to start their own business, which can be largely attributed to the increased accessibility of technological tools and platforms that helped democratize entrepreneurship, particularly among younger generations.
According to Gen Z investor Meagan Loyst, in today’s digital world, being a founder does not necessarily equate to starting a business or raising venture capital. The concept of entrepreneurship has evolved to encompass a broader range of possibilities. The ease of selling digital products and services, as exemplified by the success of a 15-year-old in India who made a million dollars selling NFTs, highlights the power of technology in creating diverse entrepreneurial avenues for digital natives and not only.
Cecilia Zhao also acknowledges the role of technology and social media in enabling entrepreneurship. Access to global resources and platforms like Shopify has made it easier for younger generations to de-risk starting and managing multiple projects. Additionally, personal branding has emerged as a vital factor, with individuals leveraging social media platforms to build their own brand, distribution channels and reach a wider audience across the globe.
Education and Skills
Education plays a pivotal role in fostering an entrepreneurial mindset and equipping individuals with the necessary skills to succeed. However, educational systems vary across countries, and not all prioritize the same skills.
Cecilia highlights Sweden’s approach, where entrepreneurship is taught as a subject in high school, providing students with practical knowledge and early exposure to running their own businesses. On the contrary, the educational system in the UK predominantly prioritizes academic pursuits with a strong focus on career development, while not adequately emphasizing the acquisition of skills like financial literacy, coding, and technology.
When it comes to skills, Meagan and Gilles believe that while technical skills like coding are valuable, creativity and problem-solving can be even more important for investors. The education system should recognize the importance of nurturing creativity skills, enabling individuals to not only consume but also produce content. This includes encouraging students to think outside the box, providing platforms for self-expression, and integrating real-world experiences into the curriculum.
While education systems have a significant role to play, it is essential to recognize that entrepreneurship goes beyond formal education. The cultivation of an entrepreneurial mindset requires a lifelong commitment to learning, adaptability, and embracing a growth-oriented mindset. Outside of the classroom, this mindset can be fostered through various means, such as mentorship programs, entrepreneurship incubators, and communities that provide guidance, resources, and networking opportunities.
Supporting Female Entrepreneurs
As of today, only 2% of the global venture capital funding goes towards female founded businesses. This clearly demonstrates the need to create a more fair and equal environment for entrepreneurs, where everyone has a chance to succeed.
Meagan explains that the core mission of her company – Gen ZVCs is to enhance accessibility to the venture and tech industry for the young generation. Their marketplace offers opportunities for founders, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, to minimize startup expenses by leveraging the experience of other entrepreneurs. Meagan advises founders, particularly female entrepreneurs, to take the initiative and approach young investors to seek guidance and early feedback. It is essential to disrupt the current network-focused approach in the venture capital industry in order to ensure equal opportunities for founders from various backgrounds.
Cecilia focuses on the issue of decision-making within VC firms, where there is a lack of representation of women in senior positions. To address this systemic problem, it is essential to increase the presence of women in decision-making roles, ensuring diverse perspectives and equitable capital allocation decisions. Creating initiatives and programs that promote diversity in VC firms and encouraging female representation in leadership positions can foster a more inclusive and supportive ecosystem for female founders.
She also underscores the significance of strategic decision-making in terms of identifying potential sponsors and allies, emphasizing the crucial role of networking. Recognizing the value of building connections, she highlights the importance of establishing meaningful relationships to expand opportunities and support in the entrepreneurial journey early on.
The significance of appropriate policies in promoting entrepreneurship, particularly at the local level, cannot be overlooked. Gilles Ametepe is actively engaged in the development of the Ghana Startup Act, a legislative effort that aims to remove obstacles and create a favorable environment for startup growth and funding.
In Ghana, where the government plays a dominant role in driving economic growth and policymaking, Gilles strives to establish a clear legal distinction between startups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as startups have unique needs that require separate attention.
The Ghana Startup Act addresses three key areas: education, infrastructure, and funding. It aims to attract investments by creating an Entrepreneur Support Office (ESO) that helps foreign organizations set up their headquarters in Ghana. Additionally, it aims for stronger integration within the diverse African market, which consists of 54 countries with different laws and policies related to startups. This calls for comprehensive policies that take into account these varying dynamics.
Advice for young entrepreneurs
Identify the problem you care about and think where you can add unique value. Don’t be afraid to start and learn by doing. Remember, Investors are investing in you, so prioritize building your knowledge and expertise around the problem you are trying to solve. Don’ts overcompensate for the lack of experience with relying on an advisory board. This might come across as a red flag for many investors. The focus should be on you, not on the advisors.
“Don’t wait until your product is perfect, launch early and talk to your potential customers as much as possible. Work with people who can bring different perspectives to the table and those that can wear different hats. Invest in building your personal brand and your network.”
Being an entrepreneur is a difficult journey, so don’t underestimate emotional readiness. Build a positive support network to ensure longevity of your work. Invest in finding the right co-founders whom you can rely on when things get hard. Think about Generative AI and how that might affect/disrupt your business now or in the future.
You don’t have to quit your job right away. It’s okay to start part time and build outside of your work hours. It’s okay to bring in outside expertise, you can’t do everything on your own. Take it easy on yourself, it’s a big learning curve.
Mariam Chaduneli is a Senior Policy Associate who has worked extensively on research and policy analysis in the area of technology policy and innovation.
Mariam is in charge of monitoring relevant national and international policy developments and producing research relating to digital policy, innovation readiness, and digital transformation. She is also responsible for coordinating long-term research projects, communications, and administrative work across key focus areas for PI. She is the lead project manager for the Network Readiness Index (NRI) published in partnership with Saïd Business School, University of Oxford and coordinates the publication of the Global Innovation Index (GII) in partnership with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).