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Building a Sustainable Venture Ecosystem – The Long Game

From Shark Tank to The Profit, incubators to accelerators to venture investing, the public seems to be more attuned to the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship than ever before. It’s not just a passing trend. In fact, the Kauffman Foundation estimates that 85 percent of all net new job creation comes from startup companies and small businesses.

However, the focus on driving new startups, establishing accelerators for startups, and deploying capital to invest in these startups is the short game.

One of the less acknowledged components of a thriving startup ecosystem is the focus on developing entrepreneurial talent beginning in elementary school and continuing throughout all stages of the formal education process. It is vitally important that teachers, parents and students of all ages understand that there are viable career paths to entrepreneurship, and that established companies thrive when they have a steady flow of smart, innovative talent upon which to build their companies.

This is the long game.

The Governor’s initiative on computer science has catapulted our state forward in thinking about how to proliferate the development of coding skills among young people. In addition, there are career and technical education options available in most school systems where pre-engineering, health sciences, business education and computer science, as well as other trade and industry-training programs are taking place.   

One example of a partnership that can achieve this goal was recently one of the first partnerships established by the Conductor with the Junior Achievement of Arkansas, a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in a global economy. They do this with some 500 volunteers, and they reach more than 13,000 students across Arkansas on an annual basis.  

The partnership between Junior Achievement and the Conductor focuses on creative programming that will equip K-12 students with experiences in entrepreneurship, innovative thinking, financial literacy and interpersonal skills. The objective is to catalyze multi-generational creative collisions among students, mentors and faculty.  

Junior Achievement is a great strategic partner for many organizations because of its core mission and reach. It also has a commitment to the educational and motivational impact of relevant, hands-on learning. Those programs are focused on financial literacy, soft skills for career success and entrepreneurship — all vital to the talent development mission of growing a sustainable venture ecosystem.

Economics Arkansas is another organization focused on similar, talent-development goals; however, it is more focused on economics and personal finance education. Their objectives are to assist students in gaining the essential, decision-making and money skills necessary to thriving in a free market economy. Since 1962, Economics Arkansas has been educating and training K-12 teachers in how they might best integrate the principles of economics and personal finance into the classroom.

Some might question whether entrepreneurship can really be taught. The short answer is yes! While it’s true that some people are more comfortable than others with the uncertainty and risks associated with entrepreneurship, the specific disciplines of innovation and entrepreneurship can absolutely be taught, demonstrated, mentored and otherwise fostered.  

At the end of the day, entrepreneurs are vital to the long-term health of our economy. While we know that helping adult entrepreneurs during  of their ventures is a critical path to building a sustainable venture ecosystem, that’s more of the short game — chipping and putting our way to success, one venture at a time. The long game, however, is in developing the entrepreneurial talent of our youth, from elementary through high school and college.

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Jeff Standridge is Chief Catalyst at Conductor (www.ARConductor.org) — a public-private partnership of the University of Central Arkansas, Startup Junkie Consulting and Community Venture Foundation (CVF) that launched in November 2016 — the key strategies include one-on-one consulting with entrepreneurs, innovators and students at all stages, commercialization support, high-impact programming and a powerful mentor network.