Entrepreneurship education boosts social mobility, and not just for startup founders 

Published:

Having a great idea for a product or service is seldom enough to become a successful entrepreneur. It is often a key component, but there are many other skills required.  

These include confidence, discipline, business acumen and networking skills, to name a few. However, one determining factor often not discussed, and at times even avoided, is a person’s socio-economic background.  

Last year, a new report was released by angel network Cornerstone Partners, diversity and inclusion consultancy Engage Inclusivity, and non-profit Diversity VC.

They surveyed 1,882 European startups that had either raised venture capital (VC) funding or were eligible to do so. It found that 75% of the founders came from advantaged socio-economic backgrounds, with parents or carers in managerial or professional roles. Only a handful came from families living on welfare entitlements. 


Social mobility through entrepreneurship:

Social mobility rises up the business agenda

Employers pledge support for action on social mobility

How can HR help build models of success?


Being born privileged means you are likely to remain privileged due to attaining vital entrepreneurial skills from a young age, regardless of any intentions to start a business.  

So, it is important that we consider the role of entrepreneurship education in levelling the playing field and boosting social mobility.

Crucially, better training in core entrepreneurial talents is not something that should be reserved for those with ambitions to found their own venture; it can be hugely important across a multitude of career paths.  

Exposure to entrepreneurial qualities  

Speaking plainly, there are more barriers for disadvantaged people to climb if they want to successfully start a business or become a high-achieving employee. 

Of course, the most obvious reason would be having less financial backing to embark on their ventures.

For example, most crowdfunding platforms will not onboard a startup for a funding round if it cannot show that it already has between 25% and 40% of the investment in pre-commitments. 

Also, equally as detrimental, is a lack of access to high-quality education.

When looking at prestigious positions in the UK this becomes very apparent.

According to figures from Deloitte, 32% of MPs, 51% of top medics, 54% of FTSE 100 chief execs, 54% of top journalists and 70% of High Court judges went to an independent school, compared with 7% of the population.  

This is not surprising when you consider the fact that education does not just inform the specific things they learn, it develops their all-round personality.

Those skills cited earlier – confidence, an ability to network and unwavering self-belief – are likely to be better instilled among those who receive a superior education.  

The need for role models 

It is a vicious cycle; the fact there is a dearth of successful entrepreneurs, leaders or C-level executive who come from disadvantaged backgrounds means that other people from those same communities simply do not have the contacts or role models to call upon.  

Having role models and networks is incredibly important in entrepreneurship. It allows a person to observe the successes of people they can connect with, providing insight and inspiration so they can forge their own, similar path.  

However, areas where the flow of investment is limited tend to experience an enterprise gap.

According to a government report this is not limited to those with a lower quality of education. It states that despite one in three students graduating wanting to start their own business, it is still less likely for those living in deprived communities to feel that starting or owning their own business is an aspiration within their reach.

Evidently, in the UK, skills gaps amongst different social groups are prevalent and must be addressed if social mobility is to flow.  

The importance of entrepreneurship education  

Entrepreneurship education can play a significant role in tackling these barriers. As such, it can also increase social mobility, enabling disadvantaged groups to become successful business leaders.  

Business acumen is essential and must be learnt. So, gaining it through entrepreneurship education can level the playing field for those who did not have the opportunity to pick up these skills during higher education. 

Confidence and ambition will only carry a person – or their business – so far if not supported by an understanding of how to structure, run and grow a business.

Plus, there are hugely important soft skills to be picked up, such as presenting ideas to key stakeholders or building relationships with colleagues and partners. 

Furthermore, courses present an opportunity to access a ready-made network.

The phrase 'your network is your net worth' may be an incredibly simplified way of expressing its importance, but it is not far from the mark.

Indeed, networking is an avenue to exchange ideas, gain support, discover new opportunities, stay informed and form mutually-beneficial relationships; all critical tools startup founders and business employees alike. 

Ultimately, entrepreneurial education should be promoted properly – as a logical and reasonable option for all.

Whether that encompasses students’ dreams of building the next ground-breaking startup venture or those seeking to fast-track career advancement, formal education can equip people from all backgrounds with essential skillsets. In turn, it can empower individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

Christina Taylor is founder of The Purpose Agency