- - Monday, September 28, 2015

Since the end of the Great Recession, most policy makers have focused on boosting jobs and job opportunities. Yet just as important, if not more so, has been the deterioration in the entrepreneurial spirit and mindset. Last year, the Brookings Institute, Gallup and the Kauffman Foundation warned in separate reports about the decline of American company formation. While American startups tend to create domestic jobs, established companies tend to add them overseas. Therefore, as the rate in which entrepreneurs are building businesses at home declines, so does the number of job opportunities.

Now more than ever, training programs must support and build up would-be entrepreneurs. We live in one of the most innovative and exciting periods in history, but the resulting change in what it means to prepare for a job and career has been a difficult transition for many. In the past, getting a college degree, landing the corporate dream job and working up the so-called corporate ladder was the ultimate path to success. However, many paths have been disrupted by the very technologies that promise to create new opportunity, and the traditional career model is no longer sufficient.

The pace of change is accelerating and so are the opportunities for those who are nimble, flexible and willing to listen to the needs of their customers. Customers are the true job creators; everything else is just a catalyst. A successful entrepreneur is one who understands this dynamic and runs with it.

Today and moving forward, any training program that seeks to successfully empower individuals to become entrepreneurs must provide participants with the fundamental tools to expand their minds and help them apply this customer-focused job creation model. What do customers need to make their lives better, and how can I give it to them?

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor funded such a program in Florida that seeks to measure the effectiveness of this entrepreneurial training model. Startup Quest pairs unemployed and underemployed individuals with experienced entrepreneur mentors to develop a business and marketing plan for a simulated company, transforming an invention or discovery into a product for the marketplace. The goal of the 10-week program is to help graduates create their own jobs – either by building a new business or bringing their learned skills and business acumen to an existing company as an employee.

Startup Quest has already put nearly 1,000 Floridians back to work. Of those, 185 are self-employed. The results of Startup Quest, which is believed to be the largest study of its kind, will soon be analyzed and formally presented to federal officials; but by any measure, these results to date are impressive.

This “mind to market” approach is, in fact, capturing attention as a new model for entrepreneurship and job-readiness training. In late July, Orlando became the ninth region of Florida to launch the Startup Quest program with the help of the University of Central Florida and other local economic development leaders who saw the results elsewhere and wanted to bring that kind of success to their community.

At the end of the grant study in October, Startup Quest will look to expand to other U.S. communities whose leaders, like those in Orlando, want more than just a typical technology entrepreneurship program. I believe this is what the future of talent training and job creation will look like.

By ingraining entrepreneurship as a defining element of our culture, we can redefine what it means to build a career and find a job. The impact of that sea change will have endless benefits for local economies and the nation as a whole.

Michael Judith has over 25 years of experience in business development, global strategic planning, and mentoring entrepreneurs and startup companies worldwide. He serves as Orlando Program Coordinator at Startup Quest and has been a guest lecturer for numerous organizations such as the National Association of Foreign Consuls, Blackstone LaunchPad and the University of Central Florida.

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