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Emerging Entrepreneurs Program taps Cairns schools

A recent push for budding entrepreneurs in Cairns has highlighted the importance of teaching innovation in schools, and the state of startup education in Australia.

Together with the Department of Education and Training, theSPACE Cairns co-hosted a mega-site at the recent 2015 BLA Careers & Employment Expo where they launched their Emerging Entrepreneurs program, an initiative aimed at teaching students how to develop ideas into businesses. 

TheSPACE’s after-school programs will run for 10 weeks, with one version aimed at students aged 15-18 years and another one tailored for the truly young crowd, ages 10 and up.  Skills taught will include essentials like:

  • developing an entrepreneurial mindset, and what to learn from failure;
  • 30-minute business plans;
  • effective idea screening;
  • opportunity development; and
  • proof of concept.

While it’s always good to see entrepreneurial programs in schools, theSPACE’s drive becomes especially important when we consider that youth unemployment in the region is nudging 21%.  Students need the opportunity to learn how to create jobs, rather than just looking for them. 

Futurist Thomas Frey posits that “… 60% of the jobs 10 years from now haven’t been invented yet.”  Logically, a large number of those jobs will be held by people who are still in school today, and either way long-term growth for the Cairns community will require engagement with students.

The Emerging Entrepreneurs program is a first for the region, but the idea that our youth are savvy enough to do great things (when they’re taught the relevant skills) is not new.

The Foundation for Young Australians’ $20 Boss program challenges high school students to start a viable business with a bankroll of, predictably, just $20. 

Further abroad, a New Jersey-based business skills program called Treps targets students in years 4 to 8.  By the end of the course, students actually launch businesses of their own in the Treps Marketplace.  

Whether those businesses succeed or fail long-term is not really the point.  What’s important are the skills and experience gained along the way, most of which are not addressed in current school curricula.

TheSPACE’s Emerging Entrepreneur program launched to roughly 2800 students at the BLA Careers & Employment Expo. Images: Random Press, theSPACE.

The need to foster an attitude of innovation in our country, particularly in tech, is not lost on our own Bill Shorten, who said in his 2015 Budget Reply speech, “Digital technologies, computer science and coding – the language of computers and technology – should be taught in every primary and every secondary school in Australia.…Coding is the literacy of the 21st century.”

Realistically this won’t be happening overnight, but Shorten is on the right track. We’ve already entered an era where tech-heads rule, so why not equip our students with complementary skills to create a generation of innovation?

Just imagine the startups that could come out of our country if our youth had the opportunity to become hackers, hustlers and hipsters early on.  It’s no longer necessary to wait until you finish school and reach adulthood before you can make something of yourself; just ask the Year 9 winners of Toowoomba’s recent Startup Weekend Education who designed the fitness app Kixfit.  

The tools of success today so often involve technology that young people are generally far more conversant with than their elders.  What’s missing are the agile business skills to turn ideas, technical know-how and that youthful gung-ho attitude into profit.

Like the aforementioned programs, Cairns’ Emerging Entrepreneurs program is aimed at addressing this disparity. And while it won’t begin until June it has already attracted some interest from both parents and teachers.

Elliot Bairstow and his mum Helen have already had some involvement in the Cairns startup scene, having attended theSPACE’s Startup Basecamp, and said they appreciated the idea of the Emerging Entrepreneurs program.    

“I’m very happy with Elliot’s school and his teachers, but what they learn in school is just not enough,” says Helen.  “In this day and age they need exposure to other skill sets as well, like how to use technology and create their own businesses.  I also like the idea of increasing Elliot’s circle of mentors.”

Elliot, who turns 11 this year, has already started coming up with his own startup ideas. 

The world is changing fast.  We’re no longer seeing weekend paper runs or lemonade stands (which, by the way, violate work health and safety laws).  The future will more likely be about adolescent-run, garage-based startups with misspelled or made-up names.  

“It’s important for students to know that just because they may not be good at maths, science, music or sport it doesn’t mean they’re broken,” theSPACE’s Damian Zammit said.  “Richard Branson is dyslexic and Steve Jobs struggled at school, as did many other successful business people.”

“With a passion in their heart anyone can change the world, and … we need our emerging business people to do just that.”

About Karen Ross