Written by Tracy Williams – Wellbeing & Character Educator
Educators often wonder what students will end up doing as a profession when they leave school, asking themselves, has the schooling the students received done enough to prepare them for the world of work? Will students have the knowledge, skills, resilience and adaptivity to survive and be lifelong learners in this ever-changing modern world?
Students can often be pigeon-holed into groups, on the assumption that they will follow certain pathways after leaving school. It is anticipated a student will either go to university, work in a trade, an internship, follow a vocational pathway, or that they may even struggle to find and stay in employment.
One cohort that is often overlooked are the groups of students who have gone on to become entrepreneurs. Living in a time where technology, social media platforms, influencers and creativity appear to be at an all-time high, opportunities for students to become successful entrepreneurs are increasing dramatically. Understanding the skills set needed to be successful in this area needs further exploration.
How does character education support budding entrepreneurs?
For the students who did go on to become entrepreneurs, how did their education assist them? Did their schooling support this pathway or was their success a product of their own character and life experiences?
The CBI education and skills survey, delivered in partnership with Pearson, found that a young person’s attitude to work, demonstrated through character strengths such as resilience, teamwork and leadership, is ‘critical’ to the success of the British workforce, and is the most important factor for employers when recruiting school or college leavers. Yet, the report also found there is a gap between education and the preparation young people need for their future, as well as a gap between the skills needed in the workforce and those young people have.
This said, when dealing with students who have a vision of becoming entrepreneurs, it is vitally important to nurture the character strengths needed for them to succeed. Educators at a whole school level must evaluate if the curriculum provided to their students has given them enough opportunities to develop and excel in the following key areas, which are crucial for developing the young entrepreneurial mind.
- Creativity – A key skill for their business ideas, product development and marketing.
- Empathy – Enabling them to manage staff and their client base with tact and understanding.
- Resilience – Bouncing back from setbacks they are likely to encounter as young business people.
- Perseverance – Giving them the determination to continue striving for their goal and dream, even when things get difficult or are taking longer than expected.
- Gratitude– Appreciating what they have achieved and those who have helped them find success.
- Optimism– A positive intention to continue striving for their overall vision.
- Teamwork – The ability to be able to work with others to bring their vision to life.
How amazing entrepreneurs throughout history have used their character strengths to achieve success
Young people can sometimes wrongly believe that well known entrepreneurs who have achieved success after success and that their ascension to the top has been an easy road. However, as adults it is clear to us that many of the most influential people of our time have overcome adversities, made mistakes, yet were still able to succeed. This ability to succeed despite their challenges, is the real lesson and deserves more attention at a whole school level. The stories of historical entrepreneurs who showed great passion to succeed can be used as ‘steppingstones’ to the future and cement the students wider understanding of character. Once the language of character is embedded, students can then go on to identify character strengths within themselves, their peers and a wider selection of role models, bridging the gap between these historical characters and their own life experiences.
Why not share the stories of the following amazing people with your students, as examples of great entrepreneurs who battled against adversity to become successful businesspeople?
Madam CJ Walker – Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
Madam CJ Walker was born Sarah Breedlove, on 23 December 1867 in Louisiana, USA. She was the first of her family to be born free from slavery. Her parents had been slaves, and both died of yellow fever when she was seven years old.
In 1882, at the age of 14, Breedlove got married. Her husband died in 1887, so she moved to St Louis with their baby daughter A’Lelia, working as a washerwoman, earning about $1.50 a day. Breedlove used the money to send A’Lelia to school. She also became a valued member of her community. As she got older, she noticed that her hair was falling out.
She found a product from haircare brand, Annie Malone, that helped and it made her want to help other women. She became a sales agent for Annie Malone but also worked as a cook for a pharmacist, who taught her the basic chemistry that allowed her to perfect her own hair-care product – a healing ointment.
In 1906, Breedlove married Charles J Walker, who encouraged her to grow her business. At the time, it was very unusual for a black woman, the daughter of slaves, to pursue this type of career. Although the marriage did not work out, Breedlove changed her business name and created the product ‘Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower’.
She travelled throughout the southern states of America, where emancipated Black people lived, selling her product door to door. They wanted to look and feel good. She understood – as they had come from similar backgrounds to her. As her business grew, she set up an office in Harlem, New York. She became involved in politics, fighting for equality and justice for Black people. She rewarded her employees with bonuses when they gave back to their own communities and she donated money to Black charities. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with Hypertension at the height of her success and died soon after. Before her death at the age of 51, Madam CJ Walker had become America’s first self-made, female Black millionaire.
Soichiro Honda – Optimism, Perseverance, Self-discipline
Soichiro Honda was born in Shizuoka, Japan in 1906. His family was relatively poor, but he had a happy childhood. Inheriting his father’s curiosity for machines, as a child he spent a lot of his free time helping him with his bicycle repair business. His fascination with cars at an early age also, led him to leaving home at the age of 15, to work as an apprentice in the Art Shokai garage in Toyoko. Here he learned about automobiles and motorcycle engineering, mentored by the owner of the garage, Yuzo Sakakibara.
In 1937, he used his knowledge to establish a manufacturing company, Tokai Seiki Heavy Industry. During this time, he began building and driving race cars and experimenting with engines. He organised for his company to manufacture piston rings, some of which were sold to Toyota, one of the leading Japanese car manufacturers.
In 1946, he founded the Honda Technical Research Institute and began producing motor bikes, which were met with critical acclaim and led him to create the Honda Motor Company in 1948. Foreign companies were interested in the production of Hondas and by 1964, Honda had become one of the most successful motorcycle manufacturers in the world and began exporting to America.
Soichiro Honda continued finding worldwide success, being included in People Magazine in 1980 on the 25 Most Intriguing People of the Year List, and with his company becoming the first Japanese carmaker to be inducted into the automotive Hall of Fame in 1989. Despite his death in 1991, his legacy continues, and the Honda Motor Company remains one of the top vehicle manufacturing companies in the world. The company plans to continue meeting the needs of their customers and the environment, and is planning on distributing solely electrical vehicles by 2025.
Steven Bartlett – Perseverance, Creativity & Optimism
A relatively unknown name to some, Bartlett rose from being a university dropout aged 21, to multi-millionaire CEO of numerous companies by the age of 29. After abandoning his university course part way through his studies, Steven co-founded the social media marketing company, Social Chain, from his bedroom in Manchester, UK. Dropping out of university was not the route that his parents and peers would have chosen for him, but he persevered with following his dream and used sheer determination to follow through with an idea which he believed could be successful. His optimism and drive for success paid off with huge dividends, quite literally. At 27 years old, Steven took his company public, and today it has a market valuation of over £300 million. Bartlett decided to leave Social Chain in 2020 and has spent his time and money investing in numerous companies and raising the profile of other entrepreneurs from a BAME background. Bartlett is now set for more fame, as he takes a seat as a Dragon on the BBC One prime- time show Dragons Den.
What can these amazing entrepreneurs teach students today?
Entrepreneurs that changed our lives in remarkable ways are worthy of having a spot in our curriculum, classrooms and in teaching the future generations. By sharing inspiring life stories, students get much-needed exposure to the skills and mindsets of these amazing people who survived adversities and went on to create brilliance. What better teaching resource is there, but to tap into these people’s lives and learn from their achievements? and their character strengths.
As teachers, it is beneficial to teach about entrepreneurs that changed history, as it is a reminder not to pigeon-hole students into pre-conceived academic / non-academic groups. The life stories of these ‘Amazing People’ are all the epitome of the old proverb, “never let your past determine your future.” These stories serve as a catalyst and provide hope that any student can achieve great things. Teachers have such an important opportunity to inspire and shape student’s character. With the right amount of exposure, inspiration and support, your student could be the next Steven Bartlett and help shape the future.
More amazing entrepreneurs can be found at our Amazing People Schools website. Why not inspire your students and sign up for free access for your school today? Don’t forget to let us know who inspires you, your students, or your school? Get in touch with us and tell us about the amazing entrepreneurs in your community and how they are making a difference to the lives of your students. Like, share and comment below!