Picture an entrepreneur. Who would you think of? When I ask that question to most people (including myself), the first picture that comes to mind is that of a older white man. I started my first business at 16 years old, and in the past 5 years, I have been living and breathing entrepreneurship every day – yet it is only this year when I truly feel comfortable with the label of an ‘entrepreneur’.
More than a year ago, a friend of mine has kindly invited me to speak to his 8-year-old daughter, whose homework assignment was to profile an entrepreneur. She shared my story with her 24 other classmates, in Hong Kong. My story was the only story of a female entrepreneur shared, and one of the few stories of Asian entrepreneurs, and one of the few stories of young entrepreneurs. That moment really crystallised for me how underrepresented women, young people and certain ethnic groups are, in global entrepreneurship.
Having the privilege to share my story on many global platforms, most recently as part of the Lavazza calendar advocating for gender equality, I will make it one of my New Year’s Resolution to encourage more diverse founders in 2018.
Let’s look at some statistics: In the United States, while 62% of young people want to start their own business, only 3.6% of all businesses were owned by someone under the age of 30. In fact, the share of people under 30 who own a business has fallen by 65% since the 1980s and is now at a quarter-century low. Statistics are less readily available for other countries but it would be plausible to assume a similar picture across the world.
In my firm’s own research, co-authored with Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Youth, it was clear that young people across the world are invariably passionate individuals, with a determined vision to fill unmet needs and deliver positive change for the communities, societies and the world they live in – and they identify entrepreneurship being an important channel for this vision.
What, then, is prohibiting them? There is a remarkable consensus on their relative lack of financial resources. Young social innovators consistently identified difficulties in accessing financial capital as the main barrier to progress, and this poses even further challenges when it comes to scaling the solutions. For women, according to a NatWest study, what’s prohibiting them is rather a fear of failure.
In 2018, I pledge to be focusing on encouraging more diverse founders, through three key ways:
Increasing visibility of diverse founders and challenging gender and cultural stereotypes, through the work of Lensational
Sharing best practices in my entrepreneurial journey through public speaking and mentorship
Increasing the diversity of funders and social investors, through the work of The Social Investment Consultancy
If you are reading this and you are thinking of starting a business as a young person, I think it comes down to thinking creatively – what can you do without money? Leveraging on volunteers and using social media are two simple ways to demonstrate traction, which will help you to attract capital to your company.