OTTAWA – Unlike many people, I don’t grumble about today’s youth.
It’s fashionable to criticize young people. Supposedly, “kids today” are spoiled, insulated from reality and unprepared for life’s challenges. They don’t understand the value of hard work like previous generations. Instead, they spend all their time texting and playing video games, they don’t pay enough attention to national and world events and they won’t move out and get real jobs.
In fact, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The vast majority of young people I meet – from high school and university students to 20-something entrepreneurs – are clever, open-minded, innovative, motivated and mature beyond their years.
While older generations are still trying to figure out technology like social media, younger people are employing it for philanthropy, activism and business. They aren’t disconnected or disenfranchised; they’re just connected to the world and to each other in different ways that older people don’t grasp.
They are also far more likely to incorporate social responsibility into their activities as an essential element rather than a goodwill gesture. And they show a much higher level of concern about the environment, perhaps because they will be around longer than the rest of us to face the consequences of bad decisions.
I’m increasingly impressed by the new generation of entrepreneurs that is surfacing in Ottawa, young business leaders at companies such as e-commerce site Shopify. They’re not just building interesting products, they’re helping to establish a community of smart, progressive, engaged men and women who care about their city and the world, see problems as opportunities and refuse to be held back by traditional limitations.
This generation seems to look at entrepreneurship the same way they would snowboarding. Launching a business is an adventure sport that combines a wide range of objectives: experiential, social, humanitarian and financial. I’m impressed by their big-picture thinking and can’t wait to see how far these companies will go.
Another impressive group of young entrepreneurs showcased their talents this week at the Nicol Entrepreneurial Awards, the business-plan competition spearheaded by the incomparable and indefatigable Wes Nicol.
The judges, a group of successful entrepreneurs and seasoned professionals, were uniformly impressed with the calibre of ideas and the quality of the presentations. In fact, Peter Eddison, a partner in Reid Eddison and the national program director for the awards, suggested that most local technology chief executives couldn’t deliver an “elevator pitch” as effectively as the students in the competition.
The winning company, from Brock University, has devised a remarkable product that uses the motion sensors and GPS technology in smart phones to alert municipal governments about potholes and other road damage. Basically, if your phone is bouncing around a lot while you are driving on a particular road, that information can be sent in real time to the city so it is aware that the road needs repair.