72% of HS Students Are Entrepreneurial and Corporate America Just Doesn’t Get It

According to a study done by Millennial Branding and Internships.com, 72% of high school students want to start their own business someday. 61% percent expect to start a business right out of college. Little do employers know, but Corporate America is quickly becoming the ‘back up’ option – what do to if all else fails.

I was excited to share more about this problem at TEDxCentennialParkWomen where I spoke on the entrepreneurial spirit of not just Millennials, but the generation graduating now, known as Gen Z. While Millennials often focus on side jobs, Gen Z are starting businesses in high school. As a traditional employer, how do you compete with that?

In my talk, I build the case for companies to build an intra-preneurship culture to engage them, citing NCR as an example. NCR is an employer usually considered “not sexy” by the new generations, yet their cultural transformation activities are actively engaging the next generation and as a result, driving new business innovation. NCR is not a common case, however.

The U.S. is Falling Behind the Curve
Millennials are motivated. We get jobs and we’re ready to grow. We’re excited, passionate and driven. But it’s as if companies are fixated with maintaining the status quo. Blinded by adversity, many would rather ignore us, than face change and the new technologies we represent. The result? The best and brightest are not empowered, and modern organizations miss opportunities for collective growth. Bottom line? They’re not engaging our entrepreneurial spirit. #fail.

To be clear, entrepreneurial spirit is not a U.S. Millennial trait – it’s a global trend due to global economic recession, the ease of starting a business, among other factors. Nevertheless, other countries are doing a better job of learning to capture entrepreneurial spirit and using it to grow business. What can we learn from them?

India is a prime example. A few weeks ago while attending a family wedding in India, I struck up a conversation with a young girl who was placing henna on my hands in preparation for the ceremony. She had started a business with a friend practicing the art of mehndi – henna body painting – while attending college. It was now her full time business and she expected it to grow.

I was inspired by her drive and passion, yet not surprised, as many young people in India are encouraged to start their own business, rather than work for someone else. Here are three things we can learn from Indian culture about entrepreneurship:

1. Corporate Innovation Focus – Innovation is a key strategy and process within corporations. While India isn’t necessarily ranked highly on the Global Innovation Index, more recently, they’ve been able to grow a healthy start up culture within large corporations which focuses on strategic risk taking. In the past, the focus was execution innovation. In the future, they’re targeting creative innovation to truly become a global player.

2. Jugaad –  Many cultural concepts exist in other countries that don’t exist in the U.S. In India, there’s a cultural belief based on the concept of Jugaad – a Hindi-Urdu word that means an innovative fix or repairing with ingenuity – using what’s on hand to innovatively solve a problem.  In the 1980’s, we applied the idea of Kaizen from Japan to business in the U.S., which resulted in process optimization frameworks such as lean manufacturing and six sigma. Maybe it’s time to look into the idea of Jugaad and how we can bring it to life in the U.S. as a framework for learning how to do more with less.

3. Upbringing ­– In the U.S., college is the only encouraged way to go. However, in India, many don’t have the opportunity to obtain a degree and they must come up with other solutions. At the end of the day, the goal is to grow in the world – no matter what the path. Kids are encouraged to be entrepreneurial and often join family businesses or start something in their community. When and if they do join larger organizations, they bring the spirit of entrepreneurship with them.

India still has a long way to go and there are still concerns with corruption, leadership, and generation gap holding them back. However, they are already making progress towards building an innovation culture and that is something the U.S. and western world can learn from.

Maximize Our Value
Companies need to be thinking about how to create new initiatives and bold strategies to help those with entrepreneurial spirit think outside of the box, challenging themselves to be better. Remember, there’s a difference between being an entrepreneur and having an entrepreneurial spirit. Despite what many think, leadership isn’t the goal of the next generation. Challenging, meaningful work is.

Companies today are missing the mark when it comes to creating environments that enable productivity and innovation. It’s simple. If you’re not maximizing value, you’re wasting it. And when you waste it, Millennials will look for alternate employment or start their own path.

If you’re interested in learning more about Jugaad, I highly recommend Radjou, Prabhu, and Ahuja’s books Jugaad Innovation and Frugal Innovation.

I invite you to listen to my talk and learn more about Millennials and Gen Z in the US and how they feel they are being underutilized.