Millennials are supposed to be deeply schooled in disruption.


 
New curriculums changed how they learned, new technologies changed how they communicate, and new forms of work have changed their career paths. So why don’t more millennials embrace the challenge of entrepreneurship?

It’s hard to measure just how many Canadians are building innovative startups, but those born after 1980 are lagging behind—in 2014, three quarters of small-business owners were aged 40 to 64.

For millennials, who now represent the biggest age group in the Canadian labour force, entrepreneurship might seem like a natural choice as careers have become less predictable—according to LinkedIn, early-career millennials are already switching jobs twice as fast as some Gen-Xers.

“Millennials have this special passion, an ability to just want to disrupt everything,” said Emily Bland, who was 22 when she was part of the Enactus Memorial team that founded hydroponics startup SucSeed in 2017. “We don’t look at things as the way they are. We look at them for what they could be.”

What Canada needs to do is harness that mindset to build the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Next-gen Tools

Today’s entrepreneurs have a real advantage. It’s never been easier to start a company, build a website, and get your message out. Of course, that also means it’s never been harder to get noticed.

Emma Harris didn’t have a background in coding when she built her startup, Healthy Pets, at the age of 25. The company offers an online service connecting pet owners and veterinarians via phone and a mobile app.

“I’m not an engineer and yet I was still able to pursue those opportunities because of what exists today,” she said. “The flip side to the low barriers to entry is that it’s now harder than ever to succeed and make your way to the top of the industry that you’re pursuing, simply because more people are entering themselves.”

Harris and Bland spoke at the Aug. 21 RBC Disruptors event along with Daniel D’Souza, the 22-year-old co-founder of inclusion-training startup Crescendo, on the future of youth entrepreneurship.

They agreed that it’s never been easier to get a business up and running. The challenge is getting others to follow in their footsteps.

Innovating in the Classroom

One answer may lie in giving students more exposure to entrepreneurial options during their schooling. In 2017, more than 64,000 students participated in entrepreneurial competitions in Ontario and Quebec alone.

That’s how Bland got her start. Before she started working on SucSeed as a social enterprise to improve food security through hydroponic grow operations, she wanted to be a lawyer.

In university, she got involved with the Enactus socially conscious entrepreneurial competition and, in her final year, led a team that beat students from 1,700 other campuses with a business idea that would become SucSeed.

Bland said that international success showed her the value of entrepreneurship as a career, and showed her how to think big.

“I think as Canadians, sometimes we cut ourselves short,” she said. “We look at success as building a million-dollar company, doing a hundred thousand dollars in revenue, getting one big sale. But we need to take initiative, we need to believe that we can build billion-dollar companies here.”

What’s NEXT

Bland, Harris and D’Souza are all involved with the entrepreneurship programs offered by the non-profit NEXT Canada. Supported by RBC, it provides mentorship, professional development and networking opportunities for select groups of entrepreneurs at varying stages of their careers.

D’Souza said it’s a great time to be running your own business. The celebrity status of founders has never been higher, with innovators like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and even Kylie Jenner making headlines and becoming role models.

“Being an entrepreneur now is sexier than it’s ever been,” he said. “That inspires a lot of people and shows that it’s not as difficult as you might think.”

 

As Senior Vice-President, Office of the CEO, John advises the executive leadership on emerging trends in Canada’s economy, providing insights grounded in his travels across the country and around the world. His work focuses on technological change and innovation, examining how to successfully navigate the new economy so more people can thrive in the age of disruption. Prior to joining RBC, John spent nearly 25 years at the Globe and Mail, where he served as editor-in-chief, editor of Report on Business, and a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, India. He is the author of three books and has a fourth underway.

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