Entrepreneurs: Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

It’s a truth universally accepted (and also supported by many surveys) that today’s young people are more interested than ever in entrepreneurship. Having seen their parents laid off from corporate jobs, having grown up with entrepreneurial role models like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, and having witnessed their older siblings’ difficulty finding entry-level jobs in today’s economy, it’s no surprise that youth today often express more interest in starting their own businesses than in working for someone else.

lazy entrepreneur

But are young people interested in starting their businesses for the right reasons—or the wrong ones? A new study by Harris Interactive for ASQ (PDF), which polled teens about their attitudes toward careers and study, paints a worrisome picture.

The teens, ranging from 6th to 12th graders, believed studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects gave them the widest range of opportunities after graduation. Medical doctor and engineer were seen as the most desirable careers by 34 percent and 29 percent of respondents respectively. In contrast, just 11 percent of the teens thought being an entrepreneur offered the most opportunity.

But even among those students who were interested in careers in STEM, 67 percent were concerned about the obstacles they would face. What was bothering them? Twenty-six percent said the cost and time required to get a degree in STEM is too high compared to other subjects. One-fourth said their grades in STEM subjects (math and science) aren’t good enough to pursue this as a career. Perhaps most disturbing, 25 percent said STEM careers involve “too much work and study” compared to other careers.

It begs the question, are the students who want to be entrepreneurs taking that path because they truly want to be business owners, or because they think it’s “easier” than studying math or science?

As an entrepreneur, I truly believe that we are living in the most exciting period for entrepreneurs we have ever seen. But to fully take advantage of the biggest opportunities for entrepreneurship today—those in technology–you need to be well versed in math and/or science.

I wonder if today’s image of the successful tech entrepreneur as laid-back and casual (picture Mark Zuckerberg’s ever-present hoodie) and the fun, campus like environment at tech companies like Google may be giving our kids the mistaken impression that you can surf YouTube all day and still come up with the next great business idea. Sadly, 51 percent of students in the survey admitted they spend more time after school on the computer—surfing the Web or playing video games—than they do on schoolwork, studying or reading.

Being an entrepreneur is a lot of fun, and on the outside, it may look like it’s all play and no work. But getting it right requires lots of hard work. Are today’s kids up to the challenge? Or do they think entrepreneurship is “the lazy way out”?

Young Businessman Photo via Shutterstock

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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

8 Reactions
  1. Great points, first you need to get down to business and work hard. When you have Mark Zuckerberg’s success, THEN you can wear all the grungy sweatshirts you want!

  2. While I agree that it is startling to think that young folks think entrepreneurial ventures are easy, I will also say that I think it would be very useful to foster those who want to enter business at a young age, and even let them have a go at it. Imagine how much a high-schooler could learn, and how much more desire it would create to learn, if they were given the opportunity to come up with a business plan then actually received a budget and the ability to make money from their effort! They would learn to appreciate the value of money, as well as what it meant to be dedicated to something. I believe it would solve a lot of the issues in the public school system if we gave kids the opportunity to pursue a business if they wanted to, as they would learn as much from success as from failure.

  3. With the rising interest in entrepreneurship in young people, high schools should look at adding entrepreneurial and small business ownership classes to their curriculum. This will help students understand that running a business isn’t as easy as it may look and also give them a foundation to build on if they do choose to become an entrepreneur.

  4. I wonder if we would be more successful in getting kids into STEM jobs if the route was more hands on. More like an apprenticeship that is augmented with course work. I was turned off by math classes due to the theoretical nature of the work. I didn’t understand how it would ever apply to a future occupation and I think an apprenticeship could help young workers see the application so that the work was accompanied by a vision.

  5. Wow! An enlightening article, but not surprizing. Susan’s comment on having classes in school on entrepreneurship will really help, and there are lot’s of “non-educators” pushing for it. However, trying the get the bureaucrats in our public education system to make it happen continues to be a challenge.

  6. I think the best teacher is still experience. As Susan said, you want to teach young entrepreneurs-to-be what it takes, but they’ve got that youthful invincibility no matter how well you educate them.

    Getting out there and giving it a shot is the best way to learn how difficult and how rewarding it can really be.

  7. Great post i ever seen.. Thanks Rieva Lesonsky for sharing this wonderful article.. Yeah most of the hard work will be done by the youngsters only.. even Rieva explained the same thing.. I was really an interesting read..Keep doing this Rieva..

    Sowrabh Sharma “Sab”

  8. I think a drive exists among entrepreneurs that does not exist in other people. I think students who want this life as very driven and motivated, not lazy, or choosing it because it’s the “easier” path. I think also the the recession has reminded people of what’s important and starting your own business might allow for you to get into something you are truly passionate about… not marrying a career for money.