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Startup Early – Fostering Entrepreneurship Through Education

It wasn’t long ago when the Institute for the Future (IFF) collaborated with Dell Technologies to publish a report which estimated that around 85% of the jobs that today’s learners will be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.

While some have challenged the accuracy of the report’s predictions, there can be no denying the fact that demands of the future jobs will seriously challenge the traditional learning establishments. Plus, the debate that schools are failing to adapt to a sharp shift in the nature of job skills cannot be called totally baseless either.

The numbers in the IFF report predictions may be questioned, but the concerns it raises are solid. Technology is transforming the world so fast that even the most modern of global education models haven’t been able to keep pace with the rapid change. Naturally, the situation is worse in developing countries like Pakistan.

Here, expecting the public – or even private – education landscape to change and adapt to the fast-evolving job demands anytime soon would be hoping against hope. But what can be done to prevent further unemployment in the future is to prepare students not for the jobs, but for their own business ventures.

Lack of an entrepreneurial mindset

Surprisingly, entrepreneurship is not a novel concept in Pakistan. In fact, up to 99% of economic establishments in Pakistan, according to stats from SMEDA (Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority), are small and medium enterprises set up by individuals or groups of entrepreneurs.

Yet, Pakistan performs poorly in nearly all of the formal entrepreneurship indicators that include but are not limited to enterprises, human resources, innovation, social economy, initiative, and knowledge.

Besides traditional business, Pakistan’s performance in innovation-driven enterprises (IDEs), more commonly known as startups, isn’t remarkable either. Here, too, Pakistan is plagued with challenges in all indicators from digital access, adoption, openness, and protection to business freedom, and financial facilitation.

This is despite the facts that tech startups require much lower capital investments compared to traditional businesses, and that Pakistan has no dearth of the relevant human resource required for a robust digital entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Startup Early is changing that

Startup Early, a Pakistani entrepreneurship education initiative, is on a mission to foster entrepreneurial mindset in the country ahead of a digital and very different future. Through its Virtual Entrepreneurship Program for teenagers, Startup Early is instilling an entrepreneurial spirit within the future generation of young Pakistanis.

In 2019-2020, leading schools like Aitchison, Choueifat, Lacas, and City hosted the Virtual Entrepreneurship Program on campus where over 100 students attended and successfully completed these workshops.

“Startup Early was born when a realization occurred regarding the dearth of entrepreneurship opportunities for young people, especially during their elementary and high school years,” shares Hamza Ansar, the man behind the initiative who himself is the founder of PRSRV, the world’s first energy preserving power bank.

“We see entrepreneurship as a key vehicle for change, and an opportunity for students to live a life filled with passion and on their own terms, while solving issues in their communities to make a positive impact on their world and to screed in a global economy,” Ansar adds.

The Virtual Entrepreneurship Program

Startup Early and its Virtual Entrepreneurship Program build on the premise that entrepreneurial skills are skills for life and teenagers should be prepared to succeed in future roles, beyond conventional textbook studies.

“We had to find the answers to some pressing questions like: What inspires students to identify and hone personal abilities and those ‘eureka moments’? What class or curriculum can support students in building the skills that matter in today’s demanding workplace?” shares Ansar.

The program, he says, is built to provide all the answers. It is a six-week-long program that taps into the potential of ambitious high school students. The program delivers quality experience and community in an online environment. Moreover, the virtual environment allows for a more tailored student experience.

The workshop prompts students to ideate, create, and present their business plans by experiencing Startup Early methodologies including business creation exercises, peer learning, guest speaker sessions, and case studies.

Plus, the participants are offered a framework and tools to train the young minds in the skills and innovative thinking that allow founders to create successful businesses, challenging them to take a real startup from idea to execution.

Why the initiative is crucial

Enterprise is a crucial engine of economic growth. Without enterprise and entrepreneurs, there would be little innovation, little productivity growth, and few new jobs. But, entrepreneurial success does not take place in a vacuum; the entire structure of a society contributes to shaping a business idea and determining its future success.

Entrepreneurship is all about innovation and risk taking. When such activity thrives, high growth rates are achieved as well as opportunities offered to all segments of society, including the poor who benefit from growth and employment as well as through opportunities for entrepreneurship.

In Pakistan these very enablers of entrepreneurship are severely inhibited by various factors that range from lack of an empowering policy framework to low ease of doing business and intrusion from the government.

On top of this, of course, is the lack of innovation, funding, education, and fear of failure. “This is what our program is aiming to address and fix,” says Ansar.

“When students, are exposed to entrepreneurial thinking, they become aware of opportunities around them. They think more critically and creatively,” he says.

“Entrepreneurship isn’t just about starting companies; it is a skill set and a way of thinking. It involves identifying needs, brainstorming creative solutions, innovating, and taking calculated risks,” Ansar adds.

Anyone can be entrepreneurial in their own way, says Ansar, For example, artists and doctors may open their own gallery or practice. And even within companies, innovation is necessary in order to stay competitive.

“That’s why we believe that learning and practicing entrepreneurship builds the ability to be confident and creative; to learn from failure, and to work well with others to bring your ideas to life.”

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