Despite the average age of entrepreneurs being between 25 to 45 years old, people today are starting businesses at younger and younger ages. We’re seeing more and more “teenpreneurs”. But what skills do teens have which create successful startups? What are their challenges? Does age matter and what can we do to help teenpreneurs?
The rise of the teenpreneur is no surprise to the UK, where over 26,400 registered company directors are aged 21 and under. Tech today removes the conventional barriers to entry for setting up online retail via apps, resulting in an increasing number of youngsters spurning traditional pocket money jobs in favour of setting up their own businesses. In fact, in the UK digital sector is outpacing the rest of the economy by more than a third and we’ll see more and more young tech geniuses rising to the top of the business world through the dual founder/chief executive role. Henry Patterson for example is a Managing Director of an online retailer; he’s a perfect example of an entrepreneur. He’s ambitious, sociable and self-motivated. Henry is 12. Sky, 13, and Kia Ballantyne, 15, created a product to help parents teach young children to ride a bike. The harness is now stocked by Halfords and Evans Cycles. Every teenpreneur has a different reason for doing what they do, but what connects them is the desire to make extra money, gain business experience, start early to make it big later and get closer to achieving their desire to “make an impact”.
What sets them apart?
Teens are smart, have an appetite for risk, show strong self-direction, independence and willingness to take a proactive approach for their own learning. They’ve never known a world without internet and using technology is a part of everyday life, educated in the use of computers and exposed daily to smartphones and social media. They’re competing in technology and innovation-based industries, where key knowledge can be learned very quickly.
Teens’ networks are different. Teenpreneurs are highly connected and help each other more than their older counterparts. Israeli Nir Jouris created eCamp to promote networking, exchange ideas and knowledge for younger people at home and abroad, whilst founding “Innovation Israel”. Pablo González’s Pangea in Spain project focused on creating a global network to awaken and empower younger generations, to help each other and source external advice and references.
Teens are willing to take risks because they live with their parents, an important safety net. They can dedicate time to a project without focusing on generating income for a young family.
Teens are globally-minded. They’re grown up in a digital world and do not see geographic boundaries.
What are their challenges?
Teenpreneurs face the obvious practical challenges, ranging from financing – teens cannot legally borrow money or even register a company, the inability to sign a commercial contract, to the fact that in most countries, education is compulsory until the age of 16 years, limiting the time they can devote to their projects, customers, partners, investors and stakeholders.
Despite growing available resources that are aiding teenpreneurs, for example Young Enterprise in the UK works with young people to develop skills and business acumen through several programmes, investing £10 at a time in business ideas, we can’t ignore the growing debt amongst millennials, particularly student debt, which is a deterrent for would-be business owners.
There’s also an element of privilege in determining whether a teenpreneurs could get an idea started. Although seemingly commonplace, access to technology and education alongside family-based support to develop these ideas does assume a certain degree of wealth found more easily in developed countries.
Age stereotypes are a difficult barrier. There are misconceptions placed upon teenpreneurs, asked “are you the apprentice?” or “can I speak to the manager/owner?” More often than not, they’re not taken as seriously as someone who is older and the sustainability and credibility of the business is doubted.
Starting your own business makes it hard to make social connections and friends and family may not understand. Teens also face criticism about their business plans, forecasting failure or pointing out negatives.
Finally, starting a business is a stressful endeavour and alongside stress often comes self-doubt. We need to consider the emotional toll of running your own business and dealing with such challenges at a young age.
What can we do?
In today’s world, a great idea is a great idea, no matter the person behind it. We need to provide a space for young idea-generators to bring their creations into the world and test their ideas. Not too dissimilar from the incubator programmes Tesco, Boots and Argos ran.
Although the world is undoubtedly digital, companies are still acting too slowly. An urgent need for them is to find ways to innovate online to keep consumers interested; this is a perfect opportunity to invest in and benefit from young eyes, new ideas and a fresh approach.
What’s our advice to teenpreneurs or young entrepreneurs?
Be passionate about what you’re doing – you’re dedicating some of your childhood to developing a business model, which comes with challenges, highs and lows, so make sure it’s something you believe in.
Be sure in its purpose – know what you want to achieve and how you want to do it. What’s your underlying mission?
Do something that challenges you – it will keep you entertained and might make more of a difference
Disruption isn’t always the way – from our experience, it’s not always about disrupting an industry, but challenging it and helping it improve
Join communities – there are plenty of communities where teens and young entrepreneurs can chat, share ideas and get advice!