Are young people today more entrepreneurial than past generations? The proportion of young people starting businesses has more than doubled in some parts of the UK over the past fifteen years. The Entrepreneurs Network, in partnership with Octopus Group, wanted to understand this shift, so we commissioned polling company ComRes to ask over 1,500 young people (aged 14-25) what they thought about entrepreneurship.
On the whole, young people are positive towards entrepreneurship. Just over half (51%) are either considering starting or have already started a business. A further third (35%) say they have not thought about it but are open to the idea, while just 15% say they have not thought about it and don’t think they ever will.
The research reveals the impact of age and education on entrepreneurial intention, with young people’s willingness to start a business rising with age. While just 33% of 14-17 year olds have thought about starting or have started a business, 60% of 22-25 year olds have. A university education is a major predictor of entrepreneurial intent too. Young people are more likely to consider starting or have started a company if they are attending (65%) or have graduated from university (63%), compared to 18-25 year olds who haven’t attended university (53%).
The polling also sheds light on the gender gap in entrepreneurship. Men are twice as likely to have started a business compared to women and female-founded businesses raise just 8% of all equity finance. Yet, our polling finds that young men and women have considered starting businesses at roughly similar rates (45 per cent and 41 per cent).
Two factors might explain the gap.
First, when we asked young people to name an entrepreneur who inspires them, half (49%) of young men (aged 14-25) could name someone, but only a third (35%) of young women (aged 14-25) could do the same. Looking at the entrepreneurs named there’s an obvious pattern: they’re almost all men (85%). Of the 15% that were female, the most commonly named entrepreneur was Kylie Jenner.
The polling hints at a lack of relatable role models. Among those with a family member or friend who are business owners, men are more likely than women to say that it made them more likely to consider starting a business (74% vs 64%). This is important because respondents who had considered starting or had already started a business were more likely to say they have a family member or friend who is a business owner or entrepreneur.
Second, women were more likely (71% vs 63% for men) to say that a fear of failure was a barrier to starting a business. This could be linked to the former issue of a lack of role models. Starting a business must be more daunting when you lack mentors to show you the way. For example, Olga Kravchenko and Kaitlin Fritz the young female founders of VR edtech startup Musemio told us they overcame a fear of failure by accepting “the unknown on a personal level” and drawing on support from their mentors.
Looking more broadly, the top three barriers preventing young people from starting a business were not knowing where to start (70%), fear of failure (68%) or not knowing the right people (67%). Student debt was the weakest barrier, a contrast with the US where studies link it to a decline in startup numbers.
Our research also looked at the motivations of young people. It found that young people were motivated to start businesses by more than money. A desire ‘to be your own boss’ (86%) and the ‘freedom to do what I want’ (84%) were the top reasons reported by young people who have thought about starting or have started a business. This is closely followed by ‘being passionate about a particular idea or cause’ (83%) and ‘wanting to make the world a better place and/or make a positive difference’ (76%).
To supplement our research into the entrepreneurial motivations and intentions of young people, we also interviewed over 500 parents with children under 18 to gauge their views on entrepreneurship. The results were overwhelmingly positive. Almost all parents who have children aged 18 or under (97%) say they would be supportive if their children were looking to start their own business in the future, with seven in ten (71%) saying they would be very supportive. Significantly, 52% say they would be no more or less supportive if their children went to university first.
Our polling gives reason to be cheerful. Young people want to start businesses and their parents are backing them to succeed. The challenge now is to tackle the barriers they face by improving the quality of enterprise education in schools and raising the profile of more relatable entrepreneurial role models.