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Generation of young Brits held back by lack of entrepreneurial role models

Billionaires like Richard Branson are not 'relatable' role models for today's 18 to 30 generation, survey finds. Photo: Sthanlee B. Mirador/Sipa USA
Billionaires like Richard Branson are not 'relatable' role models for today's 18 to 30 generation, survey finds. Photo: Sthanlee B. Mirador/Sipa USA

The same names regularly appear on global rich lists, but the likes of Lord Sugar and Richard Branson no longer motivate and inspire the UK’s younger generation.

Over three quarters (76%) of 18 to 30 year-olds said they lack any entrepreneurial role models who correspond to their values, despite more than half of respondents relating to the “typical” values of an entrepreneur, research has found.

A global study of over 10,000 people, conducted by talent investor Entrepreneur First shows that, while they may lack inspirational role models, the younger generation are no less motivated.

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In fact, more than one in two (58%) 18 to 30 year-olds in the UK believe they are more ambitious than their parents’ generation and almost half see setting up their own business as the best way to truly realise their ultimate professional ambitions.

What’s more, a third now believe new startups have a greater propensity to change the world for the better, rather than larger more established companies (25%) or government (18%).

Despite this, there is a dichotomy between the ambitions of this generation and their hopes of achieving them, with less than half believing they will be likely to set up their own company.

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The data suggests that it’s not only a lack of entrepreneurial role models that’s holding back young people, either.

Financial worries are a factor, with 41% feeling concerned by the risk that they might be worse off financially and 39% lacking the access to capital to embark on their ultimate life and career ambitions.

Meanwhile, uncertainty about how to pursue their ambition is holding back 37% of young people and the same amount fear the lack of stability that could arise as a result.

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Over a third are held back by the fear of failure, while just under one in five don’t pursue their ultimate ambitions because of “the pressure to conform to social conventions around careers and life stages”.

This leaves almost half (47%) of young people feeling as though they have experienced, are experiencing or might experience a quarter life career crisis, the survey found.

Over one third (37%) of young people said they don't believe they are meeting their full potential in their current situation, and a similar percentage (34%) said they wish that they could make a greater impact in life than they are currently able to.

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Matt Clifford, CEO and co-founder of Entrepreneur First, said: “The next generation of talent in the UK is evidently ambitious, but is being held back by a lack of role models. Lord Sugar and Richard Branson are rightly respected for what they’ve achieved, but if the next generation can’t relate to them, surely it’s time to retire these individuals as the go-to entrepreneurs?

“This is critical for global business and innovation or we risk the world missing out on some of its best founders.

“It is our responsibility to empower those with the talent and propensity to work hard to become leaders in their field. We launched EF in order to create a place where ambitious people can forge their own entrepreneurial journeys, and realise their potential. The UK needs to be confident that it can produce the next wave of founders, who can create something impactful that changes the world.”

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Theo Saville, co-founder of CloudNC, which uses AI technology to improve the efficiency of manufacturing processes said he became a founder to drive positive impact, calling it his “ultimate ambition”.

“We are all aware of the importance of having someone relatable and relevant to look up to – particularly when embarking on a career – but I have always struggled to identify this role model in the world of entrepreneurship.

“I don’t share the values of many well-known entrepreneurs, who have built businesses based on different principles that no longer match the aspirations of my generation”.

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