Without realising it, today’s young create a start-up environment around themselves In the book ‘Outliers’, essayist Malcolm Gladwell, made famous the 10,000-hour rule, which says that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, you will eventually reach a level of mastery.

In the book ‘Outliers’, essayist Malcolm Gladwell, made famous the 10,000-hour rule, which says that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, you will eventually reach a level of mastery.

As a member-leader within the Entrepreneur’s Organisation (EO), I’ve had the pleasure of interacting and engaging with leading entrepreneurs who have become established leaders in their respective fields. Each entrepreneur I’ve come across has earned my respect because they’ve had a story to tell and experiences, both positive or negative, that have helped define them.

I know I’ve learnt from experiences over the years and when I’ve had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other entrepreneurs, it feels like I’ve been able to benefit from this 10,000-hour rule, multiple times over.

There is though, a time when you want to gain a different perspective and during the last few months, I’ve had the privilege of gaining this by engaging with student-entrepreneurs, or as they’re often called ‘studentpreneurs’. As the UAE Chair for the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), a global competition that aims to recognise the best student-entrepreneurs, I’ve been visiting various university campuses, talking to students and what surprised me is that many of them were entrepreneurs but didn’t realise it.

On virtually every college campus, you find someone who is a DJ, graphic designer, drone photographer, app developer or baker. Many of them do freelance work and they are their own boss. The DJ without realising it, starts doing event management or ventures into sound and light rentals, where he or she starts to make a living.

That same DJ, is marketing themselves on social media, understands content distribution models and more importantly, knows how they can earn money. However, when you speak to that same DJ and tell him he is an entrepreneur, they would probably laugh it off, as in their mind, an entrepreneur is launching a dotcom venture or spends time looking for investors.

However, in many cases, this DJ has created in their mind a business plan which even established industry executives are struggling to put together in this age of digital transformation.

While running the GSEA, I’ve come to realise, I’m probably learning more out of engaging with these students than they are from me. Concepts like mentorship, which traditionally is about the old guiding the young is being turned on its head, as I find myself wanting to learn more about what these students have figured out. I find myself looking at the 10,000-hour rule and realising, I need to invest multiples of this if I, as a 40-year old, want to be current.

There are today job titles and career paths being created by studentpreneurs that didn’t a few years ago. They’re finding gaps and opportunities quicker than most established entrepreneurs are, so what we need to be doing as a society is finding ways to elevate these individuals quicker.

Within the UAE, we’ve seen programmes like the ones at in5 at the Dubai Internet City, the Dubai Future Accelerators program in Emirates Towers or Sheraa, which is as part of Shurooq in Sharjah, that are incubating or creating an environment for these young entrepreneurs to grow. What these studentpreneurs need apart from these platforms is the ability to access finance or investment, which is what Silicon Valley has traditionally provided start-ups but what we often struggle to find enough of in the UAE.

Most studies on employment patterns for the future indicate that more people will be contractors who have the flexibility to work their own hours and for those who give them the greatest opportunity. Essentially each contractor is an entrepreneur because they are self-employed and licence to you their know-how. We’re moving from a society where individual entrepreneurs will rule the roost.

My hope is that when we have our first GSEA winner from the UAE this February, who will then go on to compete in the Global GSEA finals in Frankfurt next April, we will have made many more students realise they are indeed entrepreneurs. Studentpreneurs are the future and platforms like GSEA help create a sense of structure for many of them to embark on their entrepreneurial journey.

The writer is a Governance Director for the Middle East, Pakistan and Africa region for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and the UAE Chair for the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA). The GSEA competition in UAE will take place on February 18, 2017 at Dubai Knowledge Park.

Picking up a few lessons from student entrepreneurs
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