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Mind the ambition gap
by Tom Bewick

Can we really make this the most entrepreneurial decade in British history? Rediscovering our ambition DNA is the only way to find out

Ambition is the Cinderella asset. You never quite know how important it is until you have lost it. From careers to corporations, cities to countries, ambition is a driver that lies at the heart of progress and profits. Yet recessions can do much to corrode the empowering spirit of ambition.  All over the world nations are looking for the antidote to economic sickness. They have found their answer and it is the entrepreneur.

In the UK the Prime Minister David Cameron has called for the most entrepreneurial decade in British history. He has urged people to “make a job, not take a job”. It’s the right move because it returns a crucial asset, “ambition DNA”.
 
Cameron is not alone. All over the world, leaders are looking to their entrepreneurs as the pathfinders to lead the search out of recession. Even leaders, who traditionally have not spoken widely on entrepreneurship, like France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, are now calling for entrepreneurial vision and dynamism to overcome the downturn and create new jobs.  
 
But ambition is not just about words, it is also about deeds. It requires a ruthless focus on creating a culture of entrepreneurship across Europe, a greater emphasis on innovation, a relentless mission to help businesses get started. It also means a reappraisal of the role that entrepreneurs play in driving economic growth. The scale of the economic challenge means that simply sitting back and expecting it to happen is not an option.
 
As part of that mission, the recent Global Entrepreneurship Week saw the largest ever mobilisation of entrepreneurial talent with more than ten million people participating in 40,000 events in 104 countries. This worldwide movement helps millions of people around the world unleash their enterprising talents and this year’s events have seen the largest ever number of participants and countries involved.
 
It is vitally important that we do everything we can to encourage people to take the leap into entrepreneurialism and help them overcome the hurdles. Fifty per cent of the UK’s working-age population expresses an interest in starting a business but less than six per cent of people actually take the risk and do it. To put this into a global context, the rate of those planning to start a business in the US is 8 per cent, in Brazil 15 per cent and in China 19 per cent. 

As the head of Enterprise UK, it is my view that we need to rewire the entrepreneurial mindset of the British people—perhaps even change our cultural DNA altogether–and redouble our focus on enterprise education. That’s about changing the attitudes of people who too often ask the question: “Can I?” instead of saying, “I can!”
  
We know that education is critical to entrepreneurship. Taking part in enterprise education at school doubles the likelihood of a person starting a business, according to recent studies, but despite some great exemplars, it seems too many schools and colleges are still not supporting entrepreneurship.
 
Add quality entrepreneurial education to ambition and you have a potent asset that can in no small way change the world. That is why one of the central goals for Global Entrepreneurship Week in the UK is to close the “ambition gap”. Part of our approach has been to tackle the myths that hold people back: myths such as entrepreneurs being born and not made. By diminishing the case that people can be taught we rob people of something truly valuable and that is their potential.

Tom Bewick is the chief executive of Enterprise UK