Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, and the younger generation is more eager than ever to join the ranks of successful entrepreneurs. In fact, 72 percent of high school students and 64 percent of college undergraduates surveyed by Millennial Branding said they had dreams of someday starting their own businesses.
Still, when it comes to starting a business, the classroom isn’t a perfect substitute for real-world experience. That’s why it’s more important than ever for established companies to insert themselves into the startup ecosystem in ways that can help them achieve their own objectives while developing the next generation of business leaders.
Generation Z (those born after 1995) wants more than just the opportunity to run a company; these aspiring entrepreneurs want to change the world. Sixty percent of those polled in a survey reported by Marketo said they wanted a job that would impact the world, and 76 percent were worried about humanity’s impact on our planet. So, if brands want to help young entrepreneurs succeed, they should start by helping them help others.
Growth with a purpose
Many companies today are helping to foster entrepreneurial growth by creating partnerships with a variety of nonprofit organizations, including ones related to their core business.
For example, Meltwater, a global media-intelligence company headquartered in San Francisco, established the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) in Ghana in 2008 as a Pan-African training program, seed fund and incubator for aspiring tech entrepreneurs.
Every year, the nonprofit arm of the company selects high-performing graduates from across the African continent to participate in a fully sponsored entrepreneurial education program that lasts two years. The company has developed its nonprofit organization with the goal of creating opportunity, rather than simply providing charity.
Like a growing number of companies, Meltwater is investing in its own long-term success by fostering the growth of tomorrow’s leaders. Prudent business leaders will recognize the explosion of interest in entrepreneurship as an opportunity to do the same. For CEOs and founders looking to tap into the possibilities of the booming startup ecosystem, here are five strategies to consider:
1. Start a mentorship program.
Research shows that mentorship can go a long way toward improving the odds of an entrepreneur’s success. While half of entrepreneurs fail without a mentor, 88 percent of founders in a survey (reported by the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit) who said they had access to one or more mentors went on to start a company that survived.
Many Fortune 500 companies, including major financial institutions such as American Express and the Bank of America, are turning to mentorship programs like Year Up when searching for new talent. The nonprofit organization helps young adults from low-income families learn the skills they need to launch successful careers at top companies.
By starting a mentorship program, you’re creating more than just an outlet for corporate social responsibility. You’re equipping future leaders to take advantage of a lifetime of opportunities.
2. Create a scholarship.
One of the most effective corporate scholarship programs today was created by Coca-Cola more than 25 years ago. The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards an achievement-based scholarship to high school seniors who show a special capacity for learning and service to their communities.
Since its inception, the Foundation program has awarded more than $63 million in educational assistance, selecting 150 scholars each year. Not only does this type of program demonstrate the company’s commitment to giving back, but it provides ongoing opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t have them.
3. Promote innovation through education.
The University of Missouri has taken entrepreneurial education to a new level with its Entrepreneurship Alliance. The program places an emphasis on teaching not only the technical skills offered in traditional college entrepreneurship courses, but also the less tangible essentials, like risk tolerance, passion, self-confidence and vision.
Business leaders may therefore contribute by funding student-led business initiatives, like MEST, or providing direct education and guidance to students dreaming of becoming entrepreneurs. Either way, they can cultivate innovative thinking within their own organizations while equipping future founders with the tools they need to succeed in the real world.
4. Provide networking opportunities.
The University of Missouri’s Entrepreneurship Alliance offers students plenty of chances to connect with forward-thinking companies, and other schools are following suit. The University of Florida Career Resource Center, for instance, has been ranked among the best in America by BestColleges.com. Recruiters surveyed by the Wall Street Journal have said they love the fact that the school offers several annual career fairs, in addition to an online resource that helps students figure out how to turn their interests into careers.
Networking is a critical part of achieving success as a startup founder, and, like schools, companies can play a big role in opening doors for young entrepreneurs. Companies can leverage existing business relationships to introduce young people to different types of work and different industries. Even if your company isn’t hiring, helping qualified candidates make meaningful connections within your network can pay off down the road.
5. Equip schools with teaching materials.
Samsung, the world’s largest electronics company, works to advance education with its global citizenship program, Hope for Children. Through Hope for Children, the company partners with a variety of nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life for kids around the world.
While a global impact is impressive, if you’re just starting to develop your own opportunity-building program, consider supporting the educational institutions close to you. Donating materials is a great way to build a relationship with a school or teaching program. Eventually, you can expand your involvement to provide more hands-on services and direct engagement with entrepreneurial students.
The time to act is now: The sooner you become involved in cultivating entrepreneurial talent, the sooner that involvement will have a positive impact on your own company and the lives of others. Many companies make it a point to tell the world about their charity efforts and corporate philanthropy. But when you provide future leaders with opportunity rather than just charity, chances are you won’t have to tell the world. They’ll do it for you.