Debunking the myths around Youth Entrepreneurship

Rowena Humphreys

CEI's leadership in the field of youth development takes an exciting step this Friday, International Youth Day, with the launch of the Youth Action Lab (YAL).

The Lab, hosted at, is an online knowledge bank and interactive community designed and built by Results for Development (R4D) for those working to advance youth development around the world.

The platform provides access to cutting-edge research, reports, and other resources in a practical, user-friendly format, and is the first step in a larger consortium to advance youth development, led by Restless Development and in partnership with War Child, and Youth Business International.


“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”
- Earl Nightingale

Young people account for almost 40 percent of the world’s unemployed and are up to three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. The situation is set to get worse in most developing and emerging regions.

Today a growing number of young people are opting for entrepreneurship as a way of taking control of their economic fates. Increasingly they are ready and willing to put their ingenuity and resources to work for themselves and their communities and Youth Business International is dedicated to expanding the number who are able to do so by raising the chances of success through helping young people start and grow their own business and employment.

YBI is a global network with Members in over 42 countries around the globe; we assist under-served young entrepreneurs through a combination of training, access to capital, mentoring and other business development services.  YBI Members have a unique understanding of the local realities and therefore the challenges and opportunities of providing tailored enterprise support within their unique entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Last year, YBI’s members equipped young people aged between 18 and 35 with the practical skills to start and grow their business, helping over 18,500 entrepreneurs to start or grow their own business and providing training to many more. We understand that whilst sharing success is pivotal, learning from failure is key too – this can only be achieved through sharing and collaboration and that’s why YBI is proud to be a founding member of the Youth Action Platform. We wholeheartedly encourage youth and those working in this sector to contribute action-oriented resources to help us overcome these challenges and take action!

Over the years the YBI network has been privileged to have played a role in many positive stories from entrepreneurs that have, against all odds, achieved success.  Along our journey we’ve also noticed that a number of myths exist when it comes to the subject of entrepreneurship that often hold people back. Let me debunk five of them right now!

1. Entrepreneurs are born and not grown

Our experience shows that entrepreneurship can indeed be taught! Whilst you perhaps can't teach someone to be passionate about entrepreneurship, people can certainly discover their passion for entrepreneurship in a training setting, a classroom or simply by being exposed to ideas and other entrepreneurs. Whilst some personality traits considered hereditary, such as risk-taking and tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty are critical to entrepreneurship, there are many ways that entrepreneurship can be learned. 

If people start out with interests or endowments that make them more likely to be entrepreneurs their ability can be enhanced through teaching and therefore some entrepreneurs can be made better. Professor Saras Sarasvathy, author of ‘Effectuation - Elements of Entrepreneurial Expertise’, interviewed 52 entrepreneurs from 17 states throughout the USA, whose revenue varied from US$200million (£130million) to US$6.5billion (£4.2billion), she concluded that entrepreneurs are characterised by certain types of actions, rather than inherited personality traits which in turn showed how it is possible to learn how to become an  entrepreneur, rather than it be a natural tendency, a gift or a consequence of the environment to which the person belongs.

We encourage young people to find a YBI Member in their country and see what support is available to you! Find out more here.

2. You need money to start a business

We have found that practitioners who work closely with young entrepreneurs over time cite low confidence as the greatest barrier to success, debunking the myth that finance is the biggest stumbling block. Recent research from YBI explores this (see report here) and how barriers facing young entrepreneurs can be overcome. As a network, all YBI members provide training and mentoring services to young entrepreneurs and some provide access to finance, showing how much can be achieved with non-financial support.

Entrepreneurs will often only risk what they can lose, and as time goes by, they learn how to take greater risks - Sara Blakely, started her billion dollar company SPANX with her personal savings of only $5,000. In Addis Abbba, Bethleham Tilahun Alemu of SoleRebels, came from humble beginnings and is now on track to be the first global branded retail chain from a developing nation to open 100 stores and is likely to achieve over US$100 million in revenues by 2017.

Charles Ocici, CEO of Enterprise Uganda shares tips on how to start a business with no money -

3. You need a formal education to be an entrepreneur

Are you starting a new venture or planning on making changes in a working business? Have you thought about searching for support in your region?

The best time for entrepreneurial training is when people are first starting out or planning an expansion of an existing venture, was the conclusion of extensive research on how education can help entrepreneurs grow, conducted by The Kauffmann Foundation The YBI Network understands that entrepreneurs need practical, relevant knowledge, not abstract and theoretical courses which is why our Members assist under-served young entrepreneurs in starting new and growing existing enterprises with tailored training followed by mentor matching and providing access to finance and other business development services.

We know that entrepreneurship can be a daunting path and one that isn’t for everyone which is why we provide the right support to the right entrepreneurs at the right time.

4. Your business needs to be big for you to be a ‘success’

When you think of successful entrepreneurs, think about your local community – who is making a difference? They are often not big businesses…

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a major role in most economies, particularly in developing countries.  According to the World Bank, Formal SMEs contribute up to 45 percent of total employment and up to 33 percent of national income (GDP) in emerging economies. These numbers are significantly higher when informal SMEs are included. 

When you think about successful entrepreneurs, what names come to mind? Most people still link success to the size or the revenue of a business. However, the idea of success varies from one person to another and it has much do with each person’s dreams. Many people do not dream of having big businesses but rather of having their own business, even if small. As long as they are well developed and showing creating results, this is success.

5. Successful businesses don’t make mistakes

“Failure was not something to be afraid of, that it was not the opposite of success. It was a steppingstone to success. So I had no fear of failure. Perseverance is everything. I don’t give up. Everybody has failures, but successful people keep on going”

- Arianna Huffington.

Despite the Huffington Post’s ubiquitous online success Arianna Huffington’s second book, was rejected by 36 publishers before being accepted. Walt Disney, one of the most creative geniuses of the 20th century was once fired from a newspaper because he was told he lacked creativity and his first company, Laugh-O-Gram was forced to close. More important than failure itself, is learning how to manage, adapt and overcome it and then how to use it to favour the business and the entrepreneur’s overall development.

Eric Ries in “The Lean Startup”, states that whilst mistakes are beneficial to the development process of a new business it is important to fail as soon as possible and to therefore learn as quickly as possible!  In other words, entrepreneurs should try to keep their failures small and then eliminate them to avoid creating bigger problems.

In summary your success as an entrepreneur doesn’t depend on genes, money, classroom education, size and constant success. Believe in your abilities and don’t be afraid to ask for support! Good Luck!

Rowena Humphreys part of the Partnership Programmes Team responsible for delivering cross sector development partnerships globally. Rowena has 12 years’ experience managing multi-country, multi-million pound projects and business development activities in private sector development and rural development programmes globally. Rowena is also an entrepreneur and has first-hand experience of the challenges and opportunities young people face when starting and growing a business. Prior to working with YBI Rowena worked for international development focused consultancies in the UK, Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Photo Credits: Restless Development

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