The Real Reasons New Business Generation is Shrinking

Tim Askew’s recent post about the state of entrepreneurship in the US was filled with interesting statistics and a provocative, editorialized rationale for the reason people aren’t launching small businesses.  While nobody would challenge the diminishing  numbers, I think they have less to do with government overreach and more to do with our children not being adequately prepared to creatively lead businesses.

In 10+ years of advising students in entrepreneurial endeavors, I have not once heard a student say “I was going to start that business, but overreach by the US government is holding me back.”  For me, it is the constraints our education system has placed on student development that I find most troubling.  Here are three reasons I believe new venture creation is shrinking in America:

1. No Child Left Behind
In 2002, I began my career as an elementary school music teacher.  Unfortunately, that was also the first year of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Over two years I witnessed, first-hand, the deconstruction of the arts in the public schools.

We are now 13 years into this grand experiment of standardized testing, which leaves me in a unique position.  Many of the children who were kindergartners in 2002, are now freshmen in college in 2015.  I have worked with kids at the beginning of the pipeline as an elementary school music teacher, and now at the end, as a professor at The Colburn School in Los Angeles.

NCLB has created a generation of test takers who are only thinking about how to score well on said test.  Creative thinking, contextualization, and critical thinking skills are, sadly, missing from NCLB.  Common core is attempting to change this, but I am not surprised that many of the students now leaving our public schools are not thinking about creatively solving the world’s problems.  NCLB has created a generation of followers who demand that information is delivered to them instead of curious leaders who seek it out for themselves.

2. No arts and no play in the schools = zero time for creativity
Without the arts, and without play, students aren’t being set up to creatively follow their passions.  Thirteen years of learning to a test doesn’t leave much room for big thought and eliminating recess doesn’t allow for collaboration or imaginative play.  New business generation isn’t happening because Millennials have not been shown how to see creative pursuits in the business world as a career path.

The arts continue to be seen as ancillary to core subjects and, therefore are often on the chopping block when budget cuts arise.  Play, especially for younger children, has been reduced to a matter of minutes at most schools in order to maximize prep for standardized tests.

3. Collegiate Entrepreneurship Programs
If we look beyond the classroom to statistics on the American workforce, we find that only 12.7% of Americans are entrepreneurs. It is my belief that programs aren’t placing enough emphasis on culling out effective leaders as a way to vet potential budding entrepreneurs.  There is even an interesting study that suggests entrepreneurs (effective leaders) may need to be a jacks-of-all-trades, rather than specialists in order to thrive.

If only a very small percentage of students studying entrepreneurship will actually become small business owners, that means the rest will become employees.   Treating each cohort of students like a venture capital firm thinks about investing in businesses doesn’t necessarily make for an educationally sound model.  Perhaps we would have more businesses launching out of university entrepreneurship programs if more time was spent with a smaller cohort of vetted students.

 

The over-sensationalized process of entrepreneurship has been reduced to a 5 minute pitch on a TV show or an evocative blog post title.  Unfortunately, that’s not serving as a catalyst to create start-ups at the same rate as a decade before.   In my opinion, the responsibility for this rests squarely on the shoulders of an education system that has largely created an entire generation without the tools to creatively imagine business generation on their own.

Why do you think there has been a reduction of new business creation in the US?  I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Header image  “Startup Weekend Houston” by Ed Schipul, CC-BY-2.0.
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