The average millennial is often depicted as driving for Uber, making clothes for Etsy, starting a food truck and maybe a software company on the side. In other words, millennials are typically considered the most entrepreneurial generation.
That’s why I was surprised to see that “millennials are on track to be the least entrepreneurial generation in history.” That’s what Economic Innovation Group co-founder John Lettieri told the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship last year. A 2016 survey found that while millennials admire startup founders and self-employment, they’re wary of starting businesses in a touch economic climate and saddled with financial challenges (like high levels of student debt).
As a long-time entrepreneur and mother of four children spanning ages 6 to 15, this survey gives me pause. There’s no guarantee that any of my four kids will grow up to be business owners, though I’d love it if they did. What’s most important is that each child follows his or her passion and finds a career or purpose that’s personally fulfilling. But, if their calling is entrepreneurship, I want to make sure I’m sowing the right seeds to enable them to take that plunge.
And I believe there’s plenty that we as parents can do to encourage kids towards entrepreneurship including these five steps:
Provide or find an entrepreneurial example
When I was five, my family and I immigrated to the US from Iran. Like so many immigrant families, we set up a business here. My parents opened a Persian antique store, and later my grandparents owned several restaurants in southern California. Since I grew up helping my grandparents in their restaurants, the spirit of self-help and entrepreneurship were just embedded in me. Starting a business? That’s just what people do.
Data backs up my experience. A survey found that young people who personally know an entrepreneur showed the strongest interest in starting their own business. If you’re not an entrepreneur, don’t worry. But think about introducing your child to an ‘entrepreneur mentor’, like an uncle, aunt, close friend or neighbor who has their own business. The whole goal is to make entrepreneurship a tangible reality, rather than a fantasy.
It’s okay to fail
As adults, most of us understand that failure is a natural part of life. We’re always going to face a few roadblocks on the way to success. But any kind of disappointment or perceived failure can be devastating for kids. This can be particularly true for girls, as evidence shows that girls are often socialized to be perfect.
As parents, it’s up to us to help our children understand that failure is not such a bad thing. Share an example of one of your brilliant failures; explain that every entrepreneur has probably had a string of miserable failures leading up to their massive success. Each attempt provides valuable experience and insight. I always remember the wonderful words of Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani and try to teach my children to be brave, not perfect.
It’s about passion, not the money
My husband and I got lucky with our first business, but the reality is that most businesses do not make millions in the first couple of years. Starting and running a business can be a lonely, thankless, and exhausting process. If you start a business that you don’t really care about, you’ll be downright miserable in no time.
Investor Josh Linkner said, “People who chase only money seldom find it. A much more productive approach (not to mention a better, more humane one) is to use passion as your North Star and let financial gain become the byproduct of doing what you love.”
My husband and I try to instill in our children that they need to be passionate about what they do, whatever that is. When thinking about summer businesses, we discuss the things they like or the causes they care about, and then brainstorm together how they can turn that passion into a business concept.
Get them started early
I’m not saying that anyone needs to be a CEO or Shark Tank participant by the time their 19, but I believe that dabbling in early ventures will make the next generation more likely to continue that entrepreneurial streak later in life. Whether it’s just a simple lemonade stand or pet sitting business, early businesses can teach kids essential skills like self-reliance, marketing, and communication skills. And those lessons will carry over into adulthood.
Encourage free thinking
Children are amazing, creative and passionate creatures. And that’s exactly who we need to take over the next generation of entrepreneurship. Encourage them to share their wildest ideas with you, and most importantly, take those ideas seriously. Build out each idea: what would they sell, who would be their customers, what do those customers need. Even if they don’t launch that business, you’ll be instilling the confidence that you believe in their ideas (no matter how crazy they might sound!).