OPEN ECONOMY: Priming desirable entrepreneurial impulses

It takes time to strike the right business venture.

Let’s tone down the romanticism; not all entrepreneurial success stories came from situations of hopelessness, deprivation or unimaginable hardship.

Sure, we all like the feel-good David vs Goliath story. I concede that there’s nothing like a rags-to-riches narrative to get the troops lined up for entrepreneurial engagement. But before we lose our wits and get captivated in the warmth of entrepreneurial fantasy, let’s get back to basics.

Entrepreneurship requires certain conditions to thrive. Quite unfortunately, I worry that the global society at large, for the love of playing up “the struggle”, has found comfort in discounting essential conditions for an entrepreneur to achieve success.

Not often spoken about in our own Zimbabwean economic discourse is the idea of social behaviour and social psychology.

For any economy to succeed, there are preferable human mindsets, encouraged human behaviour, and more essentially, desirable human impulses that must be possessed by market agents.

Risk-taking, for instance, is a desired trait for an economy that would like to encourage entrepreneurship; the spirit of daring to pursue a passion or product, especially when the odds don’t seem to be in one’s favour.

Innovation is a widespread mindset in an entrepreneurial society; many market offerings being tried and tested until the right one catches onto consumers. Patience is an entrepreneurial virtue. It takes a time-disciplined person to weather tough market conditions, to correspond with business cycles and to hit the market with the right offering at the opportune moment.

These are just a few desirable impulses that draw an individual closer to entrepreneurial success. I would argue that our current economic circumstance has had the contrary effect, specifically on our youth trying their hand at entrepreneurship.

There are three areas where our youth impulses are deviating from entrepreneurial necessity, and they all seem attributable to economic deficiencies in the country or economic pressures that continue to pile up on the youth. First, our youth are not being studious in their entrepreneurial ventures. Pursuing a business requires diligent research and insight into the venture one is trying to enter.

An entrepreneur has to study the potential consumer market, study the product or service and study the value chain which one aims to integrate into. Due diligence! The economic deficiency here is that we are not an information economy. Our data gathering and availing is not the best in Zimbabwe.

As a result, many entrepreneurial ventures, especially at a micro level, do not have studious material at their disposal.

I credit this also to our very informal economy. It is hard to come across compiled market information for an entrepreneur to depend on statistics, create market projections, and conduct project feasibility tests.

We are just not that environment; and these are all necessities for more successful entrepreneurial ventures. Second, our youth are finding it hard to sustain prolonged effort in a business venture. It takes time to strike the right business venture. A great, but failing idea may just need a modified business model before it is right for the market.

It takes time to gain experience in a business before the type of success that our youth are hoping to achieve in the short-term. Unfortunately, this has caused market saturation in many fields because we are not allowing ourselves the time to understand and grow our businesses.

Instead, many youths rush to pursue the “hot business” of that moment, whether it is transport, poultry farming, or commodity trading in times of shortage.

Very few youths are taking the time to go through the growing pains of developing a long-term business. As a result, we do not cherish the principle of continuous improvement.

Instead of finding out what didn’t work or how a business can be improved, many of us move onto the next venture immediately or quit just before that critical breakthrough.

The economic pressure here is that the majority of youths do not have a financial safety net that allows the privilege of entrepreneurial patience. Without day jobs to sustain a livelihood or attend to basic food, clothing and shelter, there is an increased pressure for immediate success in whatever ventures we are taking on. Third, the youth have not embraced the principle of intellectual property.

I can only assume that it may be because of desperation, but many youths are reckless when it comes to protecting their business ideas. In our very impressionable society, the quest for successful mentors or the chance to network with the bigwigs leads many youths to give their ideas away to better positioned individuals.

Understand that I am not saying mentorship or networking with successful people is wrong; in fact it is good. However, youths must protect their ideas and learn how to present their case in an attractive but protective manner. Along a similar thought, many youths are not networking within themselves. I encourage young people to form incubators, or business teams amongst friends or peers of similar interests and enthusiasm. We should not be in haste to network with stars, but, instead, we should try to create our own networks of stars.

The economic pressure here is that with the shrinking of the private sector, there are not too many successful mentors to go around. As a result, youths tend to narrow their targets for guidance or business idea approval. Perhaps the solution would be to trust within themselves as youth.

Many youths have compatible skills to create self-sufficient and competitive businesses. It is quite unfortunate that when the story is often told of successful businesses, the single frontman gets all the publicity and reverence, but many of the successful start-ups across the world had teams of individuals who shared the effort.

The thesis is that for entrepreneurial success, certain conditions have to exist within the environment we expect entrepreneurship to thrive. An entrepreneur’s environment primes his impulses which have a bearing on business success.

I worry that we tend hold high expectations on the youth to start successful businesses, but pay little mind to social conditions that influence their economic impulses.

We leave too much room for the romanticised perception of entrepreneurship; that all you need is desire, guts and will.

This is a shallow and incompetent view.

We must create an environment that stimulates desirable mindsets.

I suspect and hope that there is greater dialogue to the idea I am projecting here.

If we want to encourage entrepreneurship within our youth, we should ask ourselves; is our society priming them with desirable entrepreneurial impulses?

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