I’ll admit it. In high school, I was an uninspired student. I was passionate about my own hobbies and projects outside of school, but the day-to-day grind of classroom learning wasn’t experiential enough. A lot of the innovators I admire, it turns out, fell into the same boat: Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were all high school or college dropouts.
So at 16, with some savings and a loan from my parents, I decided to start my first business: a paintball supply company. While my classmates were enjoying summer vacation, I was getting real-world lessons in marketing and logistics.
By the time graduation approached, I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to entrepreneurship. But as I pored over lists of bursaries and scholarships, I found lots of opportunities for people interested in sports, music and drama … and really nothing for people like me. As a young entrepreneur, I felt I was stumbling in the dark without anyone to guide me. A little mentorship and guidance could have radically accelerated the entire process and improved the odds of success. The reality is that, even with lots of heart and perseverance and hustle, I still had to get pretty lucky to be where I am now.
This is why last month, I launched The Next Big Thing, a charitable foundation to identify the world’s brightest young entrepreneurs. Through the The Next Big Thing, I want to help those who are like me, “unconventionally driven.” And right now we’re seeking 10 promising innovators from the ages of 18-23 who will be selected for a special 6-month program in Vancouver, Canada.
The chosen group of young entrepreneurs will use my company HootSuite’s headquarters as a homebase to work on their individual business plans, connect with mentors (including Dragon’s Den-ers and Ted Talk-ers) and collaborate with partners like the Emily Carr University of Art + Design. And they’ll be supported with $10,000 each in grant funding so that they can focus their time and effort on turning their ideas into viable businesses.
Our goals are simple: Get tomorrow’s most promising entrepreneurs out of the classroom and into the business world. Remove the usual obstacles—grades, degrees and work experience. Reward ingenuity and accelerate the pace at which a good idea becomes a business reality.
After all, tomorrow’s economy depends on today’s entrepreneurs. In the US, new firms and young businesses account for approximately 70 percent of total job creation. Small businesses are the largest employer in the country, representing 53 percent of the country’s workforce and contributing to 46 percent of the nonfarm private GDP. One of the best ways we can ensure a more promising future for us all is to find new and creative ways to support our best and brightest young business leaders.
Thomas Edison, himself dismissed as dumb and scatterbrained in school, may have said it best more than a century ago: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Part of promoting youth entrepreneurship means finding ways to make sure young people don’t give up on great ideas too soon.
I hope this is a small step in that direction.
To find out more about how to apply to The Next Big Thing, visit www.weareTNBT.com.
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