Columns

Monday, 18 January 2016

Is everyone an entrepreneur?

More and more, today’s workers want jobs that are more creative and involving. — 123rf.com

More and more, today’s workers want jobs that are more creative and involving. — 123rf.com

Aided and encouraged by the Internet and social media, the world is acquiring a more entrepreneurial mindset, especially with the emergence of a younger generation that prizes flexibility, openness and the opportunity to make a difference in their careers.

Is the world becoming more entrepreneurial? It seems to me that it is. When I started on my career more than 40 years ago, if someone called me an “entrepreneur,” he was insinuating that I was unreliable.

There’s quite a contrast with the present day: The Branson Centres of Entrepreneurship in South Africa and the Caribbean, which we opened in 2006 and 2011 respectively, have helped over 4,000 budding entrepreneurs to access the skills and support they needed to launch their businesses — 4,000 people who were excited about their plans and proud of their new careers.

Technology seems to be driving this new wave, decreasing the cost of starting a business and democratising the process. Entrepreneurship is no longer a path only taken by the independently wealthy or those with ready access to funding.

Here’s what I mean: Let’s say you want to make handmade shoes and sell them at your own shop. The cost of starting up such an enterprise is a small fraction of what it used to be, say, 50 years ago.

You don’t need to rent a storefront place to be able to sell your shoes because you can open an online store for free. It’s less likely that you’ll overspend on raw materials since you can contact suppliers around the world and shop for the best price.

You also won’t need to pay a crippling interest rate on a loan because you can raise money on various crowdfunding sites. Or through government grants or other schemes. In a little over two years, Virgin StartUp has helped the British government to provide loans for more than 800 new businesses in the UK — almost US$12mil has been distributed.

Finally, you won’t need to pay for advertising, since you can build excitement about your brand for free on social media.

This last factor, social media, is an important facet in the new entrepreneurial spirit. Platforms from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest have had a profound impact on how brands are created and marketed.

The marketing we relied on to launch the Virgin brand was very similar. As I’ve mentioned before, Sir Freddie Laker, my mentor, advised me to make myself the face of the company back when we were starting up. This was great advice!

Our team dreamed up adventures for me to go on and stunts to perform, and the news coverage constituted a form of free advertising. It gave Virgin a human dimension that was easy for our customers to relate to. Building a personal brand has never been easier than it is now. Everywhere on social media — whether chefs, musicians, gardeners and even scientists — are launching their own brands.

People are much savvier about how their image is portrayed.

But does this mean that everybody creating a personal brand on Instagram is an entrepreneur?

Not exactly.

It does indicate that entrepreneurial thinking is being applied across a wide range of industries. And because of this, there is better understanding of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, and the stigma has fallen away.While not everyone wants to become an entrepreneur, the millennial generation, which is now a major force in the global job market, clearly desires many of the benefits that one might associate with entrepreneurship.

About a year ago, The B Team, a group of business leaders of which I’m a member, released a “New Ways of Working” report detailing a shift in attitude toward employment, primarily driven by millennials.

Overall, our research found that rather than traditional perks like pensions and long-term job security, this generation tends to value opportunities to travel for work, the freedom to talk openly on social media, the chance to work remotely and have the option of flexible hours, and doing work that makes a positive impact on people’s lives.

Even higher pay is no longer a deciding factor for many such workers.

Retaining top talent has always been tricky, and companies need to realign their approach to make the most of this entrepreneurial shift.

While some businesses may not be able to offer employees all of these benefits, they might consider at the minimum providing a platform for the entrepreneurially-minded to flourish, since you need a healthy collection of “intrapreneurs” in order to keep innovation flowing.

The report also found that 92% of 21-24 year olds who were surveyed believed that entrepreneurship was vital to the new economy and job market. When I was a 21-year-old entrepreneur, the consensus among my peers was certainly nowhere near this emphatic! The change in attitude is wonderful to see.

While we may not all be entrepreneurs yet, our society is certainly becoming more entrepreneurial. Having more job creators, problem-solvers and intrapreneurs can only be a good thing for all of us. — Distributed by The New York Times SyndicateQuestions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to RichardBranson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, email address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.

Tags / Keywords: Central Region , branson , column

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