I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur from an early age. As a kid, I’d wash windows in town for spending money. At 16, I decided to start a paintball field. While my classmates were enjoying summer vacation, I was getting real-world lessons in marketing and logistics.
But at school, there was nothing for aspiring entrepreneurs like me — no classes, not even a single after-school club. (The closest I got to an entrepreneurial education was a semester-long outdoor school experience. I learned more about leadership, team-building and self-reliance by kayaking, rock climbing and telemark skiing than I ever did in the classroom.)
By the time graduation approached, I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to entrepreneurship. But as I pored over lists of college programs and diplomas, I couldn’t find anything focused on teaching me how to be an entrepreneur. I felt I was stumbling in the dark without anyone to guide me.
Fast forward 20 years or so and, amazingly, that situation hasn’t changed dramatically. Yes, some progressive high schools are slowly starting to integrate entrepreneurship into the curriculum. (The innovative Young Entrepreneur Leadership Launchpad, for example, gives high school students three semesters to incubate their own ideas with mentors.) But, by and large, young entrepreneurs are on their own.
This is all the more surprising considering that rates of new entrepreneurs in the U.S. are growing at 15% a year, according to the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. It’s no exaggeration to say that today’s economy depends on entrepreneurs: small businesses are the largest employer in the U.S., representing nearly half of all private sector jobs.
As a serial entrepreneur, I know that a little mentorship and guidance (and a little funding) could have radically accelerated the entire process and improved my odds of success. To be honest, even with lots of heart and perseverance and hustle, I still had to get pretty lucky to be where I am now.
That’s the reason I’m starting a new program this fall called League of Innovators. The goal is to provide programming and mentorship to young entrepreneurs, all the way from discovery to market. The program officially launches in October, but I’m kicking things off by giving away $10,000 to the young entrepreneur age 18–25 with the best business idea.
And, of course, this will all happen live on social media.
To enter (or just watch the action), check out LOI: Live Pitch, a Facebook Live series that debuted earlier this month. (The next episode is Thursday, September 21, at 9am PT/12pm ET.) In the spirit of social media, contestants have to compose a 200-character written pitch in the comments section during the broadcast. Those selected to advance then have two minutes to pitch via live video. The winner goes on to the next round and a shot at a $10,000 investment in his or her business, not to mention admission into the League of Innovators program and a trip to Vancouver for a mentorship session with me.
I think there has really never been a better time to start your own business. With the spread of crowdfunding platforms to raise money, the emergence of social media as a marketing channel, the rise of 3D printing for prototyping, and the access to a global audience afforded by the Internet, this should be the “golden age” for young entrepreneurs.
But it’s not — at least, not yet. In my own backyard, Canada was recently singled out in a recent EY G20 Entrepreneurship Barometer report specifically because “too few education and training-related efforts focus specifically on the needs of entrepreneurs.”
That’s exactly why it’s critical to better support and nurture young entrepreneurs. I know that the wheels of change in formal education turn slowly, but integrating entrepreneurship into the curriculum represents a big — and important — step forward. Outside the classroom, we need to get creative, as well. Part of promoting entrepreneurship means finding ways to make sure young people don’t give up on great ideas too soon. The next big thing — be it in tech, entertainment, medicine or the environment — might be just a pitch away.
For a chance to pitch your business idea, and win $10,000, tune into LOI: Live Pitch on Thursday, September 21, at 9am PT/12pm ET.