Why fostering entrepreneurial spirit has never been more important

Thrive co-founders Ben Winford (centre) and Michael Nuciforo (right), with chief technology officer Warren More. Source: supplied.

Entrepreneurship contributes to the economic development in all countries across the world and has always been a powerful driving force of innovation, productivity, job creation and economic growth. 

2020 has seen a groundswell of entrepreneurial spirit among Australians. Data from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASICs), reveals that business registrations in 2020 increased 5.72% YoY compared to 2019, with a further increase likely in 2021. 

When it comes to the economic impact of entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses, Australia has always seemed to punch above its weight. In fact, small businesses are the backbone of the Australian economy — as 97 per cent of Australian businesses qualify as a small business.

While the global pandemic continues to wreak havoc on businesses around the world, it has also inspired an entrepreneurial awakening. Technology and deregulation democratising entrepreneurship has allowed more Aussies to ‘have a go’, and combined with external pressures such as job loss, have led many people to take more control of their lives by setting up their own business.

Despite all the challenges facing the economy right now — even with the availability of the vaccine — entrepreneurs have arguably never had a better playing field.

Nowadays, being an entrepreneur, especially amongst younger generations, is aspirational and there are a number of trends that make the entrepreneurial dream easier, faster and cheaper.

These include lower costs, the ability to work remotely or on the move, and the capability of reaching audiences directly and quickly through the internet and social media platforms, which have all significantly removed the complexities that once existed with starting a business.  

Now, anyone with the basic digital skills can establish a brand, website and product collateral in days, which has undoubtedly been accelerated even further by the increasing digital ‘up-skilling’ of workforces during the pandemic.

According to a recent PwC study of 32,500 workers across 19 countries, 40% of workers say their digital skills have been improved through the prolonged period of lockdown, and claim they’ll continue to embrace training and skill development. 77% say they are willing to learn new skills or completely re-train, and 49% of respondents are focused on building entrepreneurial skills with an interest in setting up their own business.

As Australia slowly emerges from COVID-19 restrictions, entrepreneurship will play a key role in rebooting our economy, which has suffered relentlessly over the past 12-18 months following the ravaging bushfires, ongoing lockdowns and the recession.

Successful entrepreneurs have the ability to change the way we live and work, improve standards of living and contribute to a growing economy. The importance of entrepreneurship is not to be undermined.

In fact, fostering the entrepreneurial spirit has never been more important.

There are three main areas Australia needs to focus on in order to fuel the entrepreneurial spirit of the nation: education, government support and technology.

Modernise entrepreneurship courses

Universities play a crucial role in underpinning innovation and entrepreneurial activities. They not only prepare the workforce of existing organisations, but also prepare and create the next generation of entrepreneurs by providing the conditions, the facilities and developing the talent that foster the emergence of breakthrough ideas. 

Currently, there are a growing number of programs worldwide oriented to entrepreneurship.

In Australia, there are 41 universities offering nearly 600 subjects related to entrepreneurship. Student demand for entrepreneurship courses keeps rising, reflecting student desire to take control of their future. 

While there are no unified standards in entrepreneurship courses, the core curricula usually cover the theory of entrepreneurship, new venture creation, venture finance, intellectual property and negotiation skills. More recent additions include design thinking, creativity management, and Lean Startup: teaching the skills to shorten business development cycles.

But, recent reviews by the OECD and the EU around the impact of higher education institutions in supporting entrepreneurship, recommends a boost the curricula by including more up-to-date and relevant courses such as developing an entrepreneurial mindset, problem-based learning, enhancing interdisciplinarity, and linking students with the local, regional and international economy, which will better arm the entrepreneurs of the post-pandemic world.

Government needs to walk the walk

It has never been more important for government to embrace innovation, foster entrepreneurship and support the role of the startup ecosystem in delivering economic growth and job creation.

To deliver on its promise to boost prosperity through innovation by 2030, the government needs to create programs and public policies that regulate activities, either by encouraging productive sectors and/or improving the conditions to open companies, as well as having conditions of intellectual property rights to exploit opportunities. 

The government needs to ensure Australia has the right support mechanisms in place, including high quality, tech accelerator programs and other educational support, to help aspiring entrepreneurs develop their ideas into truly global companies through dedication and more focus on investing in the digital economy.

Maximising the power of technology to unlock innovation

Technology has always been a key driver in accelerating the pace of innovation. It has enabled entrepreneurs to disrupt major industries and sectors across the economy – from finance to commerce and healthcare. Ubiquitous cloud services, accessible, low-cost open source software, big data analytics capabilities, AI and machine learning technology, all have led to an ongoing explosion in entrepreneurial activity in recent years, and it will not slow down.

Australian entrepreneurs tend to embrace technology. In fact, according to Austrade’s 2021 Why Australia Benchmark Report, Australia is ranked #1 in the world for technological readiness and #6 for global entrepreneurship.

This doesn’t come as a surprise considering the string of highly valuable Aussie tech companies that have reached unicorn status and are global category leaders today, such as project management software titan Atlassian, buy-now, pay-later giant Afterpay and design platform Canva. These success stories have inspired the current generation of entrepreneurs.

If we want our entrepreneurial economy to thrive, it is imperative that we continue to lean in on technology and uncover new ways to leverage, enhance or advance existing technology.