By Serenity Gibbons
Legacy is something few founders think about until the ride is over. It’s not that they don’t care; it’s that entrepreneurship means there’s always another sale to make or fire to put out.
So how can leaders make time to help the next generation? Think about it from a business perspective: Eighty-six percent of U.S. consumers want companies to be more socially responsible, and there’s no telling what valuable connections might come from mentoring up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
No matter their motivation, business people who want to give tomorrow’s leaders a leg up have a range of options:
1. Give them a taste of the CEO life.
Unlike engineering, accounting, and other business skills, leadership isn’t something students can learn in the classroom. Even among CEOs, almost all of whom had some workplace experience before assuming the role, 68 percent say they weren’t prepared for the job. With career and technical education disappearing at the high-school level, many aspiring founders aren’t sure where to turn for real-world leadership lessons.
Fortunately, nonprofits like the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship are working to fill that gap. Students that join Midland’s Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) program meet every day before school at participating businesses. While there, students hear stories from local community leaders, and each student is paired with a mentor. Each class of up to 20 students collaborates on a business model or event; real money is at stake, and students are allowed to fail — and develop resilience by bouncing back — while working on their individual or class business projects.
Although 65 percent of CEO’s alumni say they want to start a business after completing the program, according to executive director Craig Lindvahl, all students learn professional skills. “Even if you aren’t starting your own business, it’s necessary,” one student explained in CEO’s recruitment video. “A lot of that stuff isn’t taught in school. If you want a job, if you want to interview well, then you need to do it.”
2. Prove that for-profit firms can do good.
Thanks to bad behavior by a handful of high-profile companies, just 45 percent of young Americans view capitalism positively. Millennials care more about corporate social responsibility than prior generations, and without positive counterexamples, more than half of tomorrow’s would-be entrepreneurs may turn to other means of making a living.
Entrepreneurs don’t need to worry about which cause they support so much as they should concern themselves with how they support it. The two factors that matter most? How effective the company’s effort is and how visible it is. Collier Capital founder Jeremy Collier, for example, doesn’t just invest his own money to end factory farming; he rolled out an initiative, Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return, that highlights the economic, environmental, and moral risks of farm investing. Similarly, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard may work to save the planet, but the outdoor brand’s 1,700-plus employee hours spent protecting ecosystems is what grabs headlines.
3. Take them along for business travel.
Business trips are the testing grounds of young entrepreneurs: When a missed flight puts a sale at stake, can a cash-strapped founder keep her cool? If not, running her own business might not be the best career choice. That’s why it’s important to give teens considering entrepreneurship a taste of travel stressors and high-pressure sales environments before they decide it’s for them.
This method works best for aspiring entrepreneurs within the family. Henley Vazquez, co-founder and CEO of travel site Passported, emphasizes careful planning when taking a son, daughter, niece, or nephew along. “Don’t say, ‘Don’t worry, Johnny can sit in the corner watching his iPad!” Vazquez told Fast Company. “That should only happen in an emergency.”
Weeks in advance of the trip, obtain explicit permission from the child’s parents or legal guardian. Check with prospects or clients to determine whether the child would be welcome to sit in on meetings. Avoid confidential or proprietary subjects, which children may be tempted to share with others, and don’t tour hazardous facilities. Do, however, try to involve them as much as possible: Share handouts, ask their opinion, and encourage them to practice proper etiquette during introductions and meals.
4. Offer seed funds.
Monetary support may not pack the emotional punch of a mentoring experience or a business trip, but it can be life-changing for a young person without the financial means to start a business. Although a study conducted by America’s Small Business Development Centers found that half of Millennials want to open a business within the next three years, it also learned that inaccessible capital holds back more of them than any other factor.
One option is to donate to an existing fund that gives startup monies to young entrepreneurs, such as Prince’s Trust, a U.K.-based organization that has helped more than 85,000 young people start their own businesses since 1983. These groups make the most of donated funds by pairing grants with mentorship. “I knew I had a talent but I wasn’t very good at organising things or managing finances,” Alexander Rhys Boardman, an entrepreneurial artist, admitted to Prince’s Trust. “To think I have my own business now is quite incredible.”
The other option, of course, is to do it the old-fashioned way: Whether through mentoring or other means, identify a young person with drive and a promising business idea. Give him or her the true investor-meeting experience: Ask for an idea pitch, an explanation of how much money is needed and why, and what success metrics should be tracked. If the request is reasonable, draw up a contract. Be sure all parties are clear on whether the funds represent a grant, a loan, or an equity transaction.
Although entrepreneurship rates have been falling for years, the truth is that there are as many aspiring entrepreneurs out there as ever. But without a mentor, money, or real-world business experience, few feel confident enough to take the leap. Would providing one or more of those things to tomorrow’s founders prove to be a profitable investment? Perhaps not — but there’s no doubt it’d be a legacy worth leaving.