Talk to any young person of college age these days and you’ll hear a mix of hope and fears. The hope is for a future that’s fulfilling for themselves and sustainable for the world. But all too often it’s heavily outweighed by their fears.
It isn’t hard to see why. As children, today’s youth saw how their parents were impacted by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Now, in a world beset by massive challenges from climate change to widening inequality, many are embarking on their life journey burdened down by student debt – and can see little prospect of finding the job they want or buying a home. The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened their disillusionment.
If all of this sounds bleak, that’s because it is – or, at least, it threatens to be. But we believe there is a way forward for today’s young people and our future world. The vital enabler? Entrepreneurship. That’s why this year’s theme for global start-up event Slush – “Entrepreneurship redefined” – is so timely.
There are three reasons why – right now, in late 2021 – the world needs entrepreneurship more than ever before. Here they are.
While the pandemic has hit many parts of business and society hard, it’s had a disproportionate impact on small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Collectively, they’re huge employers in many economies. But individually they lack the voice and visibility of larger organizations, making it harder for governments to support them through the pandemic.
Many are still struggling and have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic. Looking forward, they’re now set to be one of the sectors hardest hit by the transition to a lower-carbon world. Take the automotive industry. It’s estimated that many of its smaller suppliers such as parts manufacturers through to petrol stations will disappear with the switch to electric vehicles (EVs).
Maintaining an EV is an occasional process requiring completely new garages, training and software skills. Changing an 800-volt battery cell is a specialized job. If they don’t adapt quickly, traditional garages and mechanics may soon become obsolete.
Decarbonization will trigger similar changes in supply chains from pharma to manufacturing. The risk? That much of the activity previously handled by SMBs will become concentrated with larger players, mostly in urban centers – leaving those smaller firms, their owners, their employees, and even whole regions as “stranded assets”.
That would be a societal catastrophe. To avoid it, we need entrepreneurs to step in with innovative new solutions that replace the global layer of small businesses – and enable their people to remain gainfully employed.
The second reason why entrepreneurship is now paramount springs from the sheer enormity of the challenges facing the world. They’re so massive that the firms solving them will need to get to global scale at a speed never seen before.
While committed entrepreneurs have the proven ability to do this, it’ll require a new perspective. In the past, social enterprises used to start out by targeting local issues and building up from there. That approach won’t cut it anymore. It’s simply too slow.
Instead, tackling issues like climate change demands a new level of ambition from the outset. This means setting out on the entrepreneurial journey with a laser-focus on growing at great speed into a multibillion-dollar corporation solving global problems.
When it comes to saving the world, we’re at ‘Ten Years to Midnight’. And entrepreneurs scaling at pace will be key to meeting the deadline.
The third strand of entrepreneurship’s critical importance links to the younger generation’s disillusion and desire for radical change. As victims of the current system, they want and need to wrest control from the vested interests benefiting from it. There are two possible ways of doing this.
One is revolution: destroy the system and tear everything down. The problem? Historical experience from France to Russia and beyond shows that, in a revolution, nobody wins and society ends up sharing one thing: poverty.
The other option is to build something new that can compete with and surpass the old system by virtue of being better. The people who do this won’t be the ones currently in power. It’ll be youth who come up with better ways of doing things to replace the old world.
In the process they’ll open up new vistas of opportunity and growth, not just for themselves but also for others disenfranchised by the current system. Including the owners of smaller businesses squeezed out of industry supply chains by decarbonization.
We’re now poised at a fork in the road. One route leads to revolution where many are impacted by loss. The other to a 21st century renaissance where humanity works to tackle the world’s problems and move forward with optimism. Entrepreneurship is the way forward.
References to "we" or "our" in this article are used interchangeably to convey the perspective of a collective of people or a broader societal context. This language does not refer to, or imply, the perspective of PwC. PwC refers to the PwC network and/or one or more of its member firms, each of which is a separate legal entity. Please see www.pwc.com/structure for further details.