Today’s young people are tomorrow’s entrepreneurs - they will be the ones driving Scotland’s economy in future decades.

But to do so, they need the right support and the right mindset, and developing these qualities starts in the classroom.

Is our education system providing the environment they need or, to put it another way, is it in itself entrepreneurial in its thinking? Can it and does it really provide the learning stimulus necessary to nurture the next generation of risk taking business leaders?

It’s a compelling subject, and one that has just been explored in a webinar organised by Young Enterprise Scotland (YES) in partnership with The Herald.

The event was chaired by Jacqui Low, a hugely respected communications professional who runs her own PR company, Indigo, and is Chair of Partick Thistle FC. You can watch it by clicking play below.

Those joining the discussion were YES’s three current ambassadors - high profile individuals who work to positively support the organisation’s aims of making Scotland a place where all young people are given the opportunity to learn and embrace enterprise for a rewarding future in work and life.

As Jacqui Low pointed out during the session, much work remains to be done here in entrepreneurial development: a 2018 report showed that new business creation north of the border fell far behind the UK as a whole at a level of 2.4 per 10,000 population in Scotland compared to 13.2 more widely.


“We were also home to five of the worse performing areas studied, and the recent Hunter Foundation Report suggests that things haven’t improved since then - in fact, they’ve probably got worse.”

One of the ambassadors, Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal and vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde and a director of multiple companies, said that to try and address this problem, part of his solution would be to intensify the commitment in government and business to an enterprise-led economy.


“We need a new approach to disruptive innovation - we really need to step things up and take risks. Let’s be entrepreneurial through the public sector and support the education of the youngsters we want to be the entrepreneurs of the future.”

Another ambassador, Peter Proud, who is CEO and Founder of fast-growing global software business Forrit Technology, is a strong believer in education as a foundation.  He believes that all students have different skills and learn in different ways.


He did not mince his words: “I think as a nation we have a lack of confidence to take the plunge. I didn’t start my business until I was 44. I wish I’d felt able to just dive in earlier and give it a try.

“I’d really shout from the rooftops that a failure isn’t really a failure if you use it as something to learn from.  We need to eradicate it as a negative thing.”

The third ambassador, Scottish-Indian entrepreneur Poonam Gupta, is CEO of PG Paper and was Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019. She sees a role for education as an essential driver when it comes to leadership.


“I would like children to be taught entrepreneurship sooner. At the moment it’s not always considered a good thing and I’d like to change the attitude towards ambition. We need to teach students young and to tell them that they can do it.”

She added: “I don’t think they are ever too young. They can be given the confidence at school that nothing is unachievable if you put your heart and mind to it. Perhaps we could give them stories that could inspire and intrigue them. WIth the right education and environment, leaders can be created.”

What, though, are the character attributes would-be entrepreneurs need to learn? Peter Proud said he believed it included leadership skills, team working and attention to detail.

“The key one is tenacity - the ability to keep going and not give up. You also need to adopt empathy and kindness. You have to understand how to get the best out of people and that means being a good person.”

Interestingly, he said he felt that sport had an important role to play. “Being competitive in this is very similar to being competitive in business. I’d encourage anyone wanting to become an entrepreneur to get involved in sport as it’s a very good foundation and provides a discipline.”

Of course, entrepreneurial teaching and learning stretches beyond the school classroom and up into further and higher education.

Jim McDonald pointed out that his own Strathclyde University had just launched a programme called Entrepreneurship For All which resonated with Young Enterprise Scotland’s own 'Company Programme’ and the Ladder of Enterprise.

“We should absolutely start as early as possible, and the young people coming into Strathclyde are fantastic. But we need to see things happening in a connected system.

“It’s not just about the schools and it’s not just about colleges, universities or mentors. We have to look at the interdependencies and the synergies.”

There was a general agreement that role models were also important, and Professor McDonald stressed that we needed more of these.  There also needed to be a recognition, he added, that people could be entrepreneurial not just in business, but in a range of settings.

“Some may do it in the public sector. Others may do it in the third sector, in social enterprises or in large corporations. For me it’s about thinking creatively, being emotionally intelligent, solving problems and recognising the need for a continuous commitment to learning on the journey.

“Given the pace of change technologically and the need for business to evolve, lifelong learning is truly a necessity. That really is key.”


This article was brought to you in partnership with Young Enterprise Scotland (YES) as part of The Herald's Future of Education campaign