22nd May 2013 Ottawa, Canada

Investing in the next generation of Entrepreneurs and Innovators

At some point or another, we have all heard the saying that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

But nowhere is this more apparent, and perhaps even vital, than in today’s economically strenuous times. While national unemployment rates have steadily soared across North America and Europe, the recession and the subsequent shortage of jobs has hit youth the hardest.


According to the most recent U.K. Parliament statistics, 16-24 reached a disturbing 20.7%. And although Canada seems to have fared well in comparison to other big economies around the world, at a youth unemployment rate of 14.5%, the Canadian youth might beg to differ.

Not only are these youth facing competition from their own cohort, but also from those who have lost their jobs and have decades of experience. Looking at these bleak statistics, it is no wonder why this generation of smart, educated and ambitious youth has been notoriously labelled “generation jobless”.

There is, however, a silver lining to the current economic times: the persistent frustration of unemployment has compelled this generation to think outside the box and take their future in their own hands. Entrepreneurship is now perhaps the most promising employer of today’s youth.

Being creative and pursuing ideas that may not only change one’s own circumstances, but even perhaps those of the world, is a rhetoric actively being encouraged by both government and non-government organizations.

The U.K.’s Start-Up Loans Company, for example, lends close to £2,500 in support along with mentorship to young people aged 18-30 to help get their business ideas off the ground.

More recently, another £30 million was injected into the programme by the U.K. government in hopes of creating sustainable businesses and consequently, more jobs over the next three years. Since its inception, the company has helped young entrepreneurs launch everything from their own clothing lines and websites to even a Performing Arts Company.

The Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) offers a more substantial start-up capital of around $50,000 with up to $30,000 in expansion financing to entrepreneurs aged 18 to 39 to help turn the initial spark of an idea into a thriving business.

The foundation received a further $18 million boost from the Canadian government in 2013, and since 2002 has helped young entrepreneurs launch businesses ranging from a high-tech audio-visual company to a business offering an improved alternative to traditional hip replacement technology.

However, the organization that most strongly values itself as promoting a “change-maker” spirit in youth is the non-profit international organization, Ashoka.

Ashoka invests in today’s passionate, young social entrepreneurs who are not only looking to make a return on the capital, but also to have a positive impact in their society. These “action plans” are presented to a panel of businesses who decide whether to offer seed money to turn their ideas into reality.

Some of the projects launched from this pad have had positive implications in fields ranging from health care and energy conservation to urban architecture and design.

For example, the Patient Knows Best technology platform seeks not only to reduce health care costs, but also to improve patient-physician communication through patient-controlled digital media records, while other projects like FrontlineSMS are bringing the digital communications revolution to the far and remote places in an attempt to increase social engagement.

Perhaps the most powerful indicator of the confidence in today’s entrepreneurs comes from the success of crowd funding sources such as KickStarter.

KickStarter puts the power to launch projects in the hands of ordinary people, who since 2009 have pledged a total of $619 million for over 41,000 projects.

For example, researchers from the MIT Media Lab requested $100,000 for the FORM1 project to create an affordable, professional 3D printer for the masses, and in turn received close to a whopping $3 million from over 2,000 backers, reflecting a high demand for consumer-level 3D printing. And if you are feeling particularly inspired by Chris Hadfield’s recent documentation of his space mission via social media, you might be interested in the nano-satellite called SkyCube.

The makers of SkyCube quickly reached sky-high popularity, garnering $116,890 from 2,711 from supporters interested in ”tweeting from space” and gathering images of Earth from cameras aboard the satellite.

For an entrepreneur, the level of interest from potential future customers is a priceless gauge of the likely success of their product. More poignantly, investment from ordinary individuals even in these economic times is a strong indicator of the level of commitment and promise to entrepreneurs and innovators.

While this is certainly an encouraging picture, the rhetoric of “Let’s all be entrepreneurs” itself does not solve the overarching problem of joblessness amongst the youth. Investment into programmes that promote innovation and entrepreneurship is only part of the solution.

1 comment on “Investing in the next generation of Entrepreneurs and Innovators

  1. These are laudable programmes that can help to secure the future for the youths and reduce unemployment.

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