At a workshop on innovation I attended a while ago, one of the most revealing moments came when participants were asked to answer the following question: “If you were to advise a 23-year-old to work in a start-up, which one would you recommend?”

To my surprise (and, it has to be said, horror) it transpired that among the 40 or so people who replied, less than a handful referred to genuine start-ups, with the majority citing companies such as Google, SAP or Facebook. This said two things to me: firstly, there is a distinct lack of knowledge and awareness of the start-up environment (especially in Europe); and secondly, many of the older generation in industry are reluctant to encourage young people to join start-ups, often viewing them as more risky and less beneficial for their development or career.

The opportunities within the start-up scene in Europe cannot be underestimated. More and more people every year are choosing to begin their own ventures rather than joining a company (according to a recent government report, there are now 3.6 million sole traders in the UK alone), and numbers are ever growing.

At the same time, the new generation of job-seekers – growing up in an economy where big money is no longer the most pressing objective – are increasingly disengaged from (not to mention disillusioned with) the idea of working the same 9-5 routine, year after year. Instead, they are a generation who favour a portfolio of careers, of many different projects, of ever growing skillsets, with passion at the forefront. For these people, an internship or job in a dynamic and fluid start-up is perfect, as their cultures mesh beautifully. What the older generation may see as risk, the new generation of entrepreneurs sees as endless opportunity.

The World Economic Forum’s new “Fostering Innovation-driven Entrepreneurship in Europe” initiative (within which I am leading a “Promotion of Entrepreneurship” workstream) is an opportunity to raise awareness of the paths available within start-ups and small businesses. Through this we intend not only to help showcase entrepreneurship as a career path in its own right, but also to highlight more entrepreneurial career options – in particular the opportunities which exist for young people to work within start-ups and small and medium enterprises.

The problem, as far as I can see it, is simply awareness. These students and graduates see the bigger companies and corporations attend their fairs and universities, and assume they are the only career options for business-minded youth. This is simply not the case, and it’s up to us to highlight the wealth of other opportunities on offer. With more and more innovations coming out of Tech City, of Silicon Valley, of small businesses containing passionate, brilliant people, I believe that we are gradually beginning to showcase the potential power of the small team. By being present at universities, by continuing to champion the good these companies are doing and by encouraging our start-ups to take a “risk” on bright, passionate graduates, we can show young people that the most exciting, fulfilling careers don’t necessarily lie where tradition might dictate.

This blog post is part of a series written by delegates that recently attended World Economic Forum workshops on innovation, entrepreneurship and global growth in Europe. The next workshop will be held in Berlin on July 3. For more information please contact

Read the Global Growth Company CEO Workshop Series: Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Global Growth report.

Author: Rajeeb Dey is the CEO and Founder of Enternships.

Image: A businesswoman is seen walking in the financial district west of Paris REUTERS/Christian Hartmann