From the editor: The bigger deficit

Written by Ian Portsmouth

All the debate over Ottawa’s willingness to slide back into deficit is much ado about nothing. It’s like worrying whether to eat that extra piece of pumpkin pie during Christmas dinner — a small indulgence that you can work off on Boxing Day (provided you do work it off).

But there’s a bigger deficit that bodes ill for a country that wants to maintain its status as a world economic leader (or, at least, a close follower). It’s the dearth of business-savvy, entrepreneurial youth.

Don’t get me wrong: many are out there. One is Ray Cao, president of Impact Entrepreneurship Group, the largest student-run entrepreneurship organization in Canada. Another is Boris Remes, chairperson of Enterprize, the country’s biggest student-run business-plan competition. When I first met them in November, they were in the heat of preparations for Global Entrepreneurship Week, which, like Impact and Enterprize, exists to inspire and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Boris and Ray preside over organizations that, between them, have hundreds of volunteers and many paying sponsors. Thanks in part to their efforts, their organizations are growing. No wonder: Boris and Ray are bright, ambitious and energetic. More impressively, their confidence, composure and vision are far beyond their years. They’re scary good kids who’ll make for successful entrepreneurs.

How’d they get that way? Credit their exposure to entrepreneurship from a young age. Boris, 21, came to Canada five years ago as an international student; his family is still in Kazakhstan, where his father runs a successful chain of fitness centres. Now 22, Ray came here with his mother when he was three years old, while his dad ran hotels and developed commercial property in their native China. “Entrepreneurship is as fundamental as math or science,” says Ray. “It’s a basic language of life.”

But who’s teaching that tongue to the millions of kids who don’t have entrepreneurs for parents? It’s not our secondary schools, where some “business” courses focus on typing and PowerPoint. “The school system moulds people who won’t realize their full potential,” complains Ray. “It points you down the safest path.”

Fortunately, some might learn the language by working for entrepreneurial companies. Others might catch the bug accidentally — say, by watching TV’s Dragons’ Den — and then hone their managerial skills in post-secondary courses or community training programs. But what if all the kids with entrepreneurial potential got into the game earlier, and all the bad ones got a taste of the toil, stress and failure that accompany business ownership before taking the real plunge? The chance of marketable innovation and effective execution intersecting in this country would increase by an order of magnitude — and federal deficits would become a thing of the past.

Entrepreneurship is as fundamental as math and science. It’s time our schools treated it that way.

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