– By Bryony Chinnery
I don’t know about you but it feels to me as though everyone these days is talking about entrepreneurs. Be it on TV, with the likes of Dragon’s Den, in the papers – discussing amazing new companies founded from someone’s bedroom or in the hubbub of the City – where Silicon Roundabout has been dubbed the entrepreneurial hub of London. But while the term entrepreneur, has existed for hundreds of years, it’s really only been in the last decade that it has come into everyday use. So what really is an entrepreneur? And why are they important to those of us in the comms business?
What is an entrepreneur?
I am fortunate enough to be part of the team here at Proof that work with the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub. The Hub harnesses the expertise and insights of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders in order to support the country’s most promising engineering entrepreneurs. Last week the Hub hosted the final for its new competition, Launchpad, which looks for the best engineering and technology ideas from entrepreneurs aged 16-25.
At the event, serial entrepreneur and angel investor Sherry Coutu delivered the (rather inspiring) keynote speech. She spoke about the fact that entrepreneurship wasn’t really a thing when she was growing up, and that when she met entrepreneurs she wasn’t aware that that’s what they were. For her, it just wasn’t a phrase that was used, even by business titles such as The Economist, of which, as a motivated student, she was a frequent reader. She admitted that, back then, it took her some time to understand what an entrepreneur was and the important role they play in our economy.
So how is ‘entrepreneur’ defined? Dictionary.com defines it as: “a person who organises and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” While this analogy isn’t incorrect, I feel there should be more to it than this, that entrepreneurs have a much more significant value. I recently read an article that defined entrepreneurs as being “people who dream big, achieve much and make the nation a better place.” To me, this definition best reflects the modern-day entrepreneur – people who look for problems to solve and ways to help others.
Why do entrepreneurs need to be heard?
Entrepreneurs are those individuals that tackle issues in our everyday lives. They save us time, money and stress by designing innovative solutions that we didn’t even know that we needed. Without open, interactive communication, its possible that these potential improvements to our lives could pass us by. Take for example something as simple as hailing a taxi. Companies such as Hailo have spent considerable amounts of money on marketing and communications, but that investment has been worth it – it has grown from a clever stress-saving start-up idea to a multi-million pound company with a business strategy that looks set to keep getting stronger.
As communicators, it’s our job to get to know these individuals, and to help them become known. By spreading the word about interesting and upcoming businesses, we help them to not only grow their business and build a reputation for their company, but also encourage entrepreneurs to give back, by ensuring that they let others know what’s possible. After all, an important part of entrepreneurship is to give back to the community. These individuals hold the power to encourage others who may not think that they really have what it takes to succeed, or inspire those who have an idea but don’t know where to start.
How can communications support the entrepreneurs of the future?
Entrepreneurship and self-employment can sometimes be seen as a route open only to an elite few – those who happen to be technical geniuses or outstanding creatives. But simple, well-thought out ideas can often come from a mix of people that begin in a whole range of backgrounds and skill sets. Research by the Prince’s Trust has shown that one in five young people claim they could set up a viable online business from their bedroom within the next six months, but 59% said that not having enough money would be a barrier for them. An important point is that 33% of those young people claim that having a mentor would make them more likely to consider self-employment. As a society, we need to ensure that these support schemes are in place, but as communicators, we must help young entrepreneurs find and engage with those schemes.
This is important for all sectors but particularly for STEM subjects where, despite the changes and developments in our society, there is still a lack of women at higher levels, and a scarcity of young people choosing this as their discipline. As HRH, the Duke of York stated at the Launchpad event: “Engineering is one of the widest market spheres, yet one of the least understood. We can change that by encouraging young people to deliver innovative ideas.”
Our work with the Royal Academy of Engineering, along with the work of many other brands and individuals, looks to promote entrepreneurship as a valid career path – changing perceptions of entrepreneurship and encouraging young people to believe that they can make a difference. Without this support, the STEM skills gap will keep growing, and we will see a fall in the level of innovation our country has to offer.
Although there are many of us campaigning for change out there, it is down to each and every one of us to support the next generation. Together we can help to create better job prospects, as well as innovations and technologies that will change our lives. So, the next time someone proposes a slightly “out there” idea, why not take the time to see if you can help somehow – after all, they could be the next Sherry Coutu, Arianna Huffington or Mark Zuckerberg.