If start-up activity is the true engine of job creation in America, one thing is clear: our current educational system is acting as the brakes. Simply put, from kindergarten through undergraduate and grad school, you learn very few skills or attitudes that would ever help you start a business. Skills like sales, networking, creativity and comfort with failure.
No business in America — and therefore no job creation — happens without someone buying something. But most students learn nothing about sales in college; they are more likely to take a course on why sales (and capitalism) are evil.
Moreover, very few start-ups get off the ground without a wide, vibrant network of advisers and mentors, potential customers and clients, quality vendors and valuable talent to employ. You don’t learn how to network crouched over a desk studying for multiple-choice exams. You learn it outside the classroom, talking to fellow human beings face-to-face.
I’ve worked at start-ups— three of them, in fact — but I doubt this writer has. While people may think that if you clone a Steve Jobs you’ll get twice as many start-ups, it simply isn’t true.
The real brakes on a start-up have nothing to do with leadership or mentoring, or any of that Great Man bullcrap. The real brakes on start-ups is always second and third round hiring. You get a small group of people together (I was employee #12 at one company) and you have talent wall-to-wall. You succeed at that scale and go to hire more people and with each round it becomes increasingly hard to find the sort of well-rounded problem-solvers and niche experts you need.
Does education produce those people? The people that actually make the start-up work? I’m not sure, but that’s the question to be asking. Whether people want to admit it or not, we’ve got a surplus of Steve Jobs in this country — but they can’t do anything without a workforce.