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How can we build a stronger technology industry from our student talent pool?

In recent research from YouGov, commissioned by Google, 22 per cent of young people in the UK, aged between 15 and 18 expressed an interest in starting their own business. The survey revealed that just under a third of teenagers believe they would benefit from starting their own business, while 47 per cent stated they were unafraid of taking risks to make money.

Record numbers of people in the early stages of their careers are reflecting and continuing this interest and starting businesses in the UK, according to Duedil and small business network Enterprise Nation. Perhaps also driven by the impact of the recession, in 2006 there were 145,104 companies founded by people under 35, by 2013 it had jumped to a staggering 247,049, rise of over 70 per cent.

It is, on the surface, a very encouraging sign for the future of the UK that young people want to push forward themselves - and in turn the country’s economy - by their ideas and energy. For the tech sector, it is crucial that such trends are in the ascendancy and that patterns continues.Yet, with a media and celebrity culture making entrepreneurship a thing of aspiration, complete with glamour and rewards, we must readjust our thinking if it is to really bring the benefits we all want.

In my experience I know the majority of contemporaries that started businesses did not develop their projects into something more substantial and long-lasting. I would say 90 per cent of these businesses, many in tech, failed. What can we do about it? How can we ensure that we create value, jobs and great tech products that we have the potential to build into something bigger?

I started my business while studying full-time at university on an economics, accountancy and finance degree. I can say without pride that my business was firmly established and gathered strength during that time. Yet, at a time when intellectual capital has never been more important, combined with everyone’s personal responsibility to map out their future career, I cannot think of any of my peers that left in a similar position to myself. Why is that so many start-ups fail and what qualities are needed to develop raw talent and ambition into something more tangible? Perhaps the following are starting points that we need to consider as an industry and at large.

It is not an easy option to set-up your own start-up and there are certain skills and qualities that are essential at any age. I say the following without self-congratulation. The first quality is hard work. It is that simple. When I set-up my software compliance business I was working with my Indian based development team from 4am in Manchester, where I went to the university. At 11am, I switched my attention to study and lectures. I graduated this year with a good degree on economics, accounting and finance and a business that now turns over $2.5m and employs 80 great members of staff.

This brings me onto the second quality: resilience. There are inevitably set-backs, challenges and learning curves that test you again and again. You will fail, but you have to get up again each time whatever your ability. I readily admit for instance that one of my early failings was that I have been too ambitious, and had too many projects at one time. Yet, this type of experience is essential to improving yourself and your offering. Nelson Mandela said “I either win or learn” – it is a good mantra.

Underpinning hard work and resilience is motivation. We are all driven by different factors and circumstances. However, I would say that it has got to be about more than money. What is really going to drive you when things get tough? Of course we all need money, but setting up and running a tech enterprise surely is about more. For me it is about creating a great business and a love of what I do. I want V-Comply’s products and services to create value through changing and challenging current technologies, offering something new and better. When you achieve that goal, I have no fear that revenue will follow. So a vision is crucial. Have a plan and be guided by your vision.

All business success starts and ends with your people. You cannot build a tech business alone. And you must not build it thinking that you are the most important element, which is a sure way to failure. Any successful tech business will use the talents and insights of all its staff. We work together as a team and if one part is not performing it will affect the running of the whole business. So recruit well, treat your employees with respect and they will repay you with their enthusiasm, knowledge and ideas.

Likewise, treat clients with respect, not just because they pay fees, but because they can be your greatest advocates. They can also be a valuable source of feedback. In a fast moving world, your technology offering can never stay the same. It is crucial that you tap into this vital source of information that can help move you forward.

I round up my thoughts by thinking back on how we can develop technology entrepreneurs at an early stage. Like emerging sporting talent, we also have to encourage and coach those who have real enthusiasm for technology. It cannot be underestimated how important it is to give students coaching, encouragement and more importantly real-life responsibility for projects. Skills such as leadership and working effectively with your team are crucial to building successful tech businesses.

I leave you with the prediction that India will become the next tech world leader within a short few years. You might ask, “How can a country known for handling the US and Europe’s low level technology outsourced work become a world beater?” The answer is in large measure incubators, developing and shaping a large pool of talented, determined and driven students at countless educational institutes throughout India. We should take note of the example the US has followed for some time.

We have the opportunity to achieve greater things in technology. The potential is there, but we need to nurture it and make no illusions as to what it takes to build a technology business. Hard work and resilience is the key. I look forward to seeing the next generation of technologists shape our future. 

Harshvardan Kariwala, founder of V-Comply

Image source: Shutterstock/Kirill Wright