Are you ever too young to be an entrepreneur?

 
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My son, when he was 8, had an idea. Seeing the left over fairy wings, tiaras and wands from his little sister’s birthday party he was concerned about the waste - both in terms of landfill and money. What to do? He gathered up all the delightfully pink fairy items, photographed them and created his own micro business - a website selling curious little things. The takings are donated to charity. What’s interesting is how he connected a problem with a solution and had the ability to make it happen.

And it’s a good feeling. It’s what drives many entrepreneurs to set up their businesses. More and more the discussion is revolving around the social responsibility aspects of businesses. For example, on the cover of the July/August issue of Startups magazine the headlines are Sustainability, Social Impact and Plastic Pollution. Any conversation around starting a new venture, having a great idea, developing a viable business will include, “And what good is it doing?”

Having watched children dive into the world of coding and computational thinking with enthusiasm, I’ve realise we are able to challenge them more than we perhaps expect. We’ve always believed that the benefit of kids learning to code is not about learning individual languages, which may be obsolete by the time our students reach secondary school let alone the world of work, but becoming fluent in computational thinking. They then have command of a transferable skill relevant to many situations in life. Recent thinking suggests that learning to code is also valuable in encouraging the ‘entrepreneurial mindset’.

So what exactly is this mercurial entrepreneurial mindset? And why is it something our kids should be learning? According to Christina Lewis writing for EdSurge, “The entrepreneurial mindset is a way of thinking that informs the way in which you problem solve. This mindset focuses on facing a challenge, daring greatly, learning from failure and trying again. The goal is to innovate—to come up with wild ideas and then try them.” This ability to try things out, get creative, and have a process to approach problem solving is what we emphasise when children attend our camps.

An entrepreneurial mindset can be evaluated through a set of metrics, according to The Acceleration Group, such as: communication and collaboration, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, future orientation, opportunity recognition and comfort with risk. We believe that these are the kind of qualities children will need to be future ready - to tackle the challenges and opportunities that our generation don’t even know about - but will be the day to day life of the next generation. Learning to code, through creative projects, really opens the eyes of kids to possibilities and methodologies that help them become familiar and comfortable with technology, and adopt a positive can-do attitude to the future.

I feel that encouraging children to embrace this entrepreneurial urge helps them take control of their destinies. They can begin to feel far more able to understand the fast-moving tech world, see how they can make a difference and gain a sense of empowerment and confidence. In contrast to the daily grim news of the political landscape, the frequent reports of the unknown effect of AI on our future and the overwhelming cloud of environmental impact on the earth - empowering children with the tools to embrace proactivity and problem solving gives children a greater sense of wellbeing, self-confidence, balance and optimism.

And what makes that sense of wellbeing even greater? When you can honestly say that your actions have done some good. Children are highly sensitive to the big events that dominate their world. Climate change, the Attenborough effect, plastic pollution, coral reef destruction, wildlife habitat erosion - all enter our children’s awareness daily. Empowering them with the ability and determination to DO something really does increase their inner strength. I’m constantly impressed by the ingenuity and unhindered idea generation that kids will demonstrate once they feel they have permission to have a go, fail and try again, a sense of purpose and a supportive, nurturing environment to operate in.

Parents today have a lot of anxieties about their own children’s future. One really worrying topic that comes up again and again is the state of our young people’s mental health. Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. There are many things that can help maintain mental health in children, including, according to the Mental Health Foundation, being in good physical health, eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and having the time and the freedom to play, indoors and outdoors. They also mention other important factors to improve mental wellbeing:

• feeling loved, trusted, understood, valued and safe
• being interested in life and having opportunities to enjoy themselves
• being hopeful and optimistic
• being able to learn and having opportunities to succeed
• accepting who they are and recognising what they are good at
• having a sense of belonging in their family, school and community
• feeling they have some control over their own life
• having the strength to cope when something is wrong (resilience) and the ability to solve problems.

Children who have challenging learning conditions also have more mental health challenges. From my own experience, I have seen that children who have dyslexia can very easily suffer from anxiety and low self-esteem. Learning to code is especially good for kids that may have trouble with traditional subjects - the practice of failing and trying again is valued rather than marked down!

Listening to all the students who attend our camps we have noticed a growing and genuine concern for the environment. One of our most popular weeks this Summer was all about code and conservation - our Earth Calling! week. Building on this and responding to the belief that empowering kids with the skills they need to be entrepreneurial can help their sense of wellbeing, we have devised a brand new camp to run this October half-term.

Our Entrepreneur Camp for 5-12+ year olds aims to encourage kids to develop the skills to solve problems, be creative and work collaboratively - whilst generating ideas that have a social purpose. Our theme is all about creating micro-ventures that solve the problem of the over use of plastic in our society. Students will be challenged to generate ideas around reducing, reusing and recycling plastics - and turning their idea into an enterprise. Over the week they will be guided in developing a website to present their business idea, creating a name and visual identity, engaging with potential audiences to gain customer insight and pitching their concept. Our aim is to demonstrate to them that they can make a difference themselves, they are able to learn things that perhaps they thought were out of their reach, and create resilience to overcome difficulties.

With our overriding aim to get children future ready, we are keen to find out just what amazing, innovative ideas they come up with. We believe that this kind of learning and experimentation will give them a more positive outlook, will give them strategies and techniques for overcoming problems, will contribute to social good and maybe actually begin to support their sense of wellbeing.

Are you ever too young to be an entrepreneur? I hope not.

Elizabeth Tweedale