People tend to think of entrepreneurs as lone heroes, but this isn’t how it works in real life. Many live up to their reputation as risk-takers and some remain outsiders, but despite this outlier status, entrepreneurs need support to be successful. In fact, we’re a lot like Formula 1 drivers: The person in the cockpit gets all the glory since fans tend to forget about the pit crew and all the behind-the-scenes effort it takes to keep the driver out on the track. Business is no different, since an entrepreneur does not succeed alone.
This difference is more important than many people realize. Small business owners are crucial for a thriving country—they are the engines that power economies, create jobs, fuel growth and ultimately, transform communities. This means that it’s vital that governments, investors and educators find ways to harness this energy. It also means that encouraging entrepreneurs to start again when a business fails is fundamental to a healthy economy.
For example, an entrepreneur picking himself up after a setback may need a mentor to remind him that outlook is everything. My parents taught me from a very young age the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and of taking responsibility for my actions. These are two invaluable building blocks that have shaped my career.
In some ways, my mother was my first mentor. As a child, I was always impatient to try new challenges in every area— at home, on the sports field, even at school. When things did not go right (and often they did not!), she would always tell me not to look back in regret, but to move on and try the next thing. I believe this basic skill is absolutely crucial to success in business. Starting a business can be a very tough and lonely experience—many start-ups fail in their early years—but an entrepreneur cannot look at a setback as a bad experience; it’s just part of the learning curve.
To help change the world, we need to nurture young people interested in business to develop this entrepreneurial spirit—not an easy task. Universities and colleges can teach some skills, but I think that most budding entrepreneurs would be better off relying on an informal network of coaches and mentors who have the experience and expertise needed to guide them. I myself rely on an amazing team of advisers, managers and fellow entrepreneurs to help me run the Virgin Group.
This was one of the reasons we decided to establish the Branson School of Entrepreneurship (BSoE) at Johannesburg in South Africa. Not so much a school as an incubator of business talent, BSoE is a place for enthusiastic young people with great ideas to learn practical business skills while at the same time meeting and learning from successful entrepreneurs from around the world. This year’s class has had an emphasis on creating jobs in disadvantaged communities in South Africa, and consisted mostly of entrepreneurs hoping to take their existing businesses to the next level.
One business nurtured by the school is Gaming Zone, based in Soweto, near Johannesburg. Founded by Musa Maphongwane and Amos Mtsolongo, Gaming Zone has repurposed seven shipping containers to create a safe and affordable place for customers to play the latest video games. Musa and Amos plan to expand to 40 stores, and also to provide free weekly classes in computer skills that are open to all. This is a great example of a business that can expand commercially while at the same time making a big impact on the surrounding community—and a wonderful example for the new generation of South African entrepreneurs to emulate.
I believe that if we are going to conquer global challenges such as hunger, poverty and climate change, there must be more cooperation, collaboration and shared learning among entrepreneurs. This is why I spend a lot of my time meeting entrepreneurs around the world, looking for great business ideas to foster. This is not just about funding a lot of start-ups; I hope to help aspiring entrepreneurs to find that funding themselves.
In business, there is no substitute for experience. So if you’re an entrepreneur, get on with it. If you’ve achieved success in business, think about giving back to the community by mentoring some promising entrepreneurs. Who knows? They just might be the next Musa and Amos.
BSoE is looking for a new chief entrepreneurship officer to lead it in empowering young entrepreneurs in South Africa. If you would like more information about this role, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY NYT SYNDICATE
Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog atwww.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.
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