When you think of innovators and entrepreneurs, who is it that comes to mind? In my role at Innovate UK, I have the privilege of meeting a great many of the UK’s game changers; inspirational people, who feel passionately about making a difference and just know they can do it – be it an idea, a process, or even an industry - better than the way it is done today. One thing that strikes you about them all is their diversity.
Diversity is the life blood of innovation
It should go without saying that diversity is the life blood of innovation. How can you make something better if you look at things the same way as everyone else? Einstein captured it well when he said:
We cannot solve our problems, with the same level of thinking that created them
- Albert Einstein
Indeed, Einstein is a great example of someone who defied stereotypes; with his formal secondary school education finishing at 16 and first application to study at the Federal Institute of Technology being met with rejection. When we want to change things we often first have to tackle the false perceptions and stereotypes that we carry with us, irrespective of whether they’re held consciously or unconsciously.
Is it perception or reality that needs to change?
When we asked young people, aged 18-30, from diverse backgrounds, in a YouGov research project, about their ambitions, 2 in 5 of them told us they had ideas for products and services which they could sell and more than half told us they would like to run their own company. Brilliant. But, only 1 in 12 would describe themselves as entrepreneurs and 4 out of 5 believed that the world of business was difficult for them to access.
Whether it is perception, reality - or both - that is stopping young people from diverse backgrounds seeing themselves as innovators and entrepreneurs, it needs to change.
It's critical to connect young people with innovation
The World Economic Forum ranks advanced economies by their ability to innovate. As innovation is often the means through which we transform the productivity of our industries, the sustainability of our economies and the prosperity of our societies. With this in mind, the government has laid out its ambitions for building a Britain fit for the future, in its recently published Industrial Strategy, and laid out a vision for the UK of becoming the world’s most innovative economy.
If we are going to achieve that goal, we will need to make sure that young people of all backgrounds see innovation and entrepreneurship as within their reach. We need to solve the evident – and critical - disconnect between young people’s ideas and their recognition. We need young people to recognise that their ideas mean business.
Working with The Princes Trust
So, we have teamed up with The Prince’s Trust to get the message out and to start the journey of changing the perceived and real barriers which are holding young people back from becoming innovators and entrepreneurs. We recognise that this will not be an easy or simple task and that is why we are so grateful to be working alongside The Princes Trust, benefitting from their considerable experience in making a real difference in the lives of young people.
Women in Innovation
We learnt a lot from our Women in Innovation campaign, which we launched exclusively for women last year in order to address the under representation of women in the innovation sector. This first of its kind funding competition encouraged more women to step forward and lead project proposals into Innovate UK’s funding competitions.
We discovered that when you provide diverse and accessible role models who your audience relate to, perceptions and behaviours change. In just 12 months, the campaign has increased the number of women-led project proposals into Innovate UK from 1 in 7 to 1 in 5. A really encouraging step in the right direction and one that we will continue to build on.
Young Innovators Program
Hence, it is with a real sense of anticipation that we now embark on our second diversity driven campaign, in partnership with The Prince’s Trust, to change the outlook and ambition of young people across the country.
Open to 18-30 year olds from a wide range of backgrounds who are simply looking to take their ideas to the next level, applicants to our new Young Innovators Program will quickly receive advice, guidance and the chance to get access to funding to help to turn their ideas into reality.
The very best ideas will be announced in April 2018 and these young people will then receive an allowance, 1:1 coaching and mentoring from an innovation champion. There will also be a pot of money through which they can get the cash they need to travel to meet customers and partners, to pay for training or equipment and to get somewhere to base themselves.
Our ambition is that these young innovators will become the role models to inspire a whole new generation of young people from diverse backgrounds that ideas mean business.
We are running live regional events all around the United Kingdom from January to March 2018. Take a look if you are eligible and register for an event in your area.
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