Technology has levelled the playing field, opening up remarkable opportunities for young people. According to a Populus survey, more than a quarter of 16- to 25-year-olds want to set up their own business, and 14% are in the process of doing so, compared with 8% only a year ago.
But there is something else at play here, another trend emerging. For many of these new digital entrepreneurs, the primary objective is to improve the world rather than their own bank balance. They are looking for radical solutions to social problems rather than creating a product or service that will make them a stash of cash.
That doesn’t mean their aims are any less ambitious. Take 22-year-old Aaron Jones, whose goal is universal access to education. He has set up the multi-award winning Fikay, a lifestyle brand all about successful living and giving. It produces fashion accessories using recycled cement bags, employs co-operatives and members of fair-trade organisations and, for every purchase made, Fikay donates to educational building projects in south east Asia.
Fikay has already helped to build one school in Cambodia with plans for many more to follow. “Why,” says Aaron, “do some children have the right to an education while others don’t? Fikay is my adventure and mission to change this.”
If social change is the primary driver for many of the new generation of entrepreneurs, digital is their vehicle of choice. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of initiatives designed to encourage young people to develop their digital skills. Code Club, Young Rewired State, Freeformers, Digital Youth Academy and Coderdojo (itself established by 21-year-old James Whelton) are just some of the organisations equipping young people to move from being consumers to producers of digital content, products and services.
A new generation of digital makers is emerging, but more exciting still is the fact that so many young people are using their digital skills to tackle such seemingly intractable social challenges as education, healthcare, human rights and social isolation.