The next generation of leaders and innovators are currently in college — and they are refreshingly optimistic, according to the 2020 Student Entreprepreneurship Outlook Survey.
The Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars network recently conducted its first Student Entrepreneurial Outlook survey, designed to check the pulse of our student founders. What do our students think about entrepreneurship, as an element of their education and as a possible career path after graduation? What are the unique challenges student entrepreneurs face and what kind of support they most need? Has the COVID-19 pandemic — and the corresponding disruption to businesses and economic downturn — affect the way student entrepreneurs think about their endeavors?
Learn more about the results here. Some of the key findings include:
82% are optimistic about the future of entrepreneurship in the U.S.
97% plan to pursue entrepreneurship at some point in their career (65% immediately after graduation).
86% of peers view entrepreneurship positively.
76% are accelerating or pivoting because of COVID-19 (< 2% are shutting down).
Top Challenges: #1 Customer Acquisition; #2 Fundraising; #3 Balancing venture and school
Most Important resources: Mentorship (84%); Peer Network (72%); Funding (71%)
55% think VCs are open to student pitches (but only 36% have had the opportunity to pitch to VCs).
Most Valuable Skills/Attributes: #1 Resilience; #2 Communication; #3 Leadership
76% think diversity is extremely or very important to a startup.
When asked to write in their role models, 26% of students identified Elon Musk as an inspiration.
Top five write-in answers had no gender or racial diversity, making clear the need for more diverse role models.
The survey revealed a healthy entrepreneurial outlook among students. Entrepreneurship is regarded as a positive undertaking during school and a feasible career path after graduation. Students identified that the most important resources for entrepreneurship are mentorship, peer networks, and funding, all of which LaunchPad provides. With regard to funding, there was a gap between the perception by over half of the respondents that early-stage VC’s are willing to fund students and the reality that only around a third have actually had the opportunity to pitch to VCs. While this suggests students need more funding opportunities, it also appears that students are undeterred by a lack of access to funding and remain generally optimistic.
Students are also committed to diversity: more than three-quarters of students agreed that diversity was extremely or very important to a startup’s leadership team. This is not surprising, as LaunchPad participants attending our events and programs are typically 40% female and 50% students of color. However, when asked which entrepreneurs they admired, a majority of students named white role models aged 46-65. Taken together, this data demonstrates that while diversity is a priority for young entrepreneurs, there is not enough representation in the entrepreneurship space. LaunchPad is committed to supporting inclusive entrepreneurship and – as a step toward closing this gap – plans to expand programming to more campuses with underrepresented and underserved populations.
Regarding the current pandemic and economic crisis, the students appear to have the skillset and perspective to remain optimistic and agile, which might correspond to the fact that almost 90% of students selected perseverance as a critical quality for entrepreneurial success. Many students also have altruistic motivations than older generations of entrepreneurs, with problem-solving and the ability to impact societal change showing up as the most rewarding aspects of being a student entrepreneur.
While there’s no way to know what next year will bring, we are excited to see how LaunchPad participants — and student entrepreneurs from across the U.S. and around the world — face any new challenge with poise and resilience.
Courtney Gras is the LaunchPad Director for Techstars and wrote Entrepreneur is a Verb in 2018. You can follow her on Twitter at @courtneyagras.