Do entrepreneurs go to state schools?

I ask this question on the basis of a BBC magazine story that successful app creators have tended to be ex-public school pupils. (Public in the sense of fee-paying schools for those not from the UK). Now the BBC article didn’t have any real research data, just a few observations on the part of the writer . It is certainly true that some recent high profile success stories of young men in the IT world, and it often seems to be men – Baroness Lane-Fox apart – that have sold apps for mobile phones for a healthy profit were educated at such schools.

It is also true that the one app company where I have an investment stake was started by three young men who all went to public schools, so many be there is something in the idea that such schools are the breeding grounds for risk-taking business tycoons. May be it is also that to start a business of this type needs time funded by someone, and parents who can afford school fees may be able to subsidise the business needs of their creative offspring. Those who have a more pressing need for money to support the family have always encouraged their children to ‘get a job and start earning’. Indeed, one of the reasons the school leaving age was raised twice after world War II was to ensure working-class children stayed at school long enough to gain qualifications. Even in the 1950s some pupils at the grammar school I attended left at 15 because the family could or wouldn’t continue to support their education.

Innovators, and entrepreneurs who are often also innovators in new fields such as mobile phone apps, are often non-conformists; school sometimes don’t like those who won’t conform because it makes the task of running the establishment that much harder.  Indeed, some schools are also often anti-risk, despite the fact that an appreciation of risk is an essential requirement for any budding entrepreneur. Occasionally, I think that working in state schools offers a job in an environment where risk has essentially be almost completely removed despite the ever-looming presence of Ofsted. One of the good things to come out of the drive for higher standards in schools is an acceptance of trying new ideas, although paradoxically that notion clashes with the opposing view of enforcing uniformity, whether in curriculum or teaching style. Nowhere is this better articulated in the debate about whether each generation should discover its own heroes and heroines or accept the choice handed down by their ancestors. I wrote in an earlier piece how this particular circle might be closed to the satisfaction of all through the sensible use of new technology, and the encouragement of public-speaking that would boast self-confidence, something else of use to entrepreneurs, and also something some state schools have not always been good at encouraging.

If our economy is to thrive again, it needs entrepreneurs, and they need to come from all walks of society, and that means all schools must play their part in encouraging entrepreneurship for the sake of the common good. In the 1980s film ‘Gregory’s Girl two cameos have remained with me; the penguins on the way to nowhere, and the boy who is forever selling things to his school mates. There is no doubt that he was a budding entrepreneur. As this was a Scottish film it seems apt to remember the travail of Robert the Brue who motto might have been ‘the only failure is to give up trying’, an apt encouragement for everyone, and especially entrepreneurs not all of whom will have the initial success of our recent young mobile phone app developers.


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