Supporting Young Business Owners. Making it Count.

Posted by The Icehouse on 15/11/2022 10:00:00 AM

The Icehouse has long-championed the under-35 business owner. Emerging leader workshops and regionalised Young Business Owner Programmes have been integral to The Icehouse's desire for greater on-programme diversity.

In 2020, we were appointed as Google YBI's COVID-19 Rapid Response & Recovery Programme delivery partner in New Zealand to provide support for underrepresented groups hit by the pandemic, with a special focus on the challenges facing younger (under-35) business owners.

BLOG_Supporting Young Business Owners

Of course, young owners face the same varied and multiple barriers to success experienced by "older" owners. A lack of education and training, knowledge gaps in the business, recruiting the right people, limited financial resources and networking opportunities, self-doubt and mental health issues abound across all age groups.

Many younger business owners who reach out to The Icehouse aren’t new to the world of business. They are not start-up tech entrepreneurs on the cusp of world domination. They may have come through the family business, bought into an existing businesses, or unexpectedly find themselves sitting in the boss's chair due to sudden and unforeseen circumstances.

Henry Melville is the owner and Managing Director of QC Engineering in Pandora, Napier. "[My father and I] had never really talked about me taking over. I was 24, doing my thing in the South Island and five weeks later I was sitting in the office in a business I didn't know too much about with a staff of ten.

"It took a lot of learning for four or five years and I feel I've just caught up! It took me a couple of years to learn the business and how it all runs, and then a year or two to plan and implement changes. It doesn't happen overnight." 

After completing his Icehouse programme, Henry came away "feeling more confident in communicating with my team, executing change, and working on a three-year plan. The biggest thing was getting in a room with other business owners. You discuss all your problems and soon realise that no matter how big or mature a business is, we all have similar challenges. It was a good feeling learning that."

Paribas research reveals that 78% of polled millennial entrepreneurs came from families with a history of running their businesses. Owning a business is in their DNA.

"For many [younger] SME entrepreneurs, it often feels like we are flying by the seat of our pants and trying to spin too many plates at the same time. The team feed off my energy, which is a compliment, but you can be a victim of your own success because you always want to make yourself available," says Blair James, owner of the James Group and OMP alumni.

The very people who can benefit from programmes such as the Owner Manager Programme are often the ones who are holding themselves back. We hear common objections from younger alumni: lack of confidence and experience, feeling they're not ready to learn, or aren’t experienced or important enough to be able to contribute.

"One of the challenges for younger business owners is that they are in a different place and time in their life. They may have younger families and own an emerging business where they still have to work quite actively in it," says then Customer Growth Partner Eamon King.

"The irony is that these are the people who need OMP, and need to work on the business and not in it. A major focus of OMP learning is about being able to remove yourself from the business to spend more time with your family and doing other things, but for younger owners, this isn't possible."

'I Wish I Did It Sooner can solve this mindset problem. To be able to do something to power up you and your business now, and not in 20 years' time, may seem a huge and insurmountable commitment, but alumni tell us it was the kick-starter to even more significant growth and success. 

Moreover, The Icehouse's OMP facilitators and directors often report back that when there is a broad demographic of programme participants, what takes place is a symbiotic process of ever-growing support and knowledge-sharing between the age groups – and a reverse mentoring – where the younger cohort impart what they've learnt in their journey to the "older" cohort elements, and vice versa.

"Realising that stepping out of the business, and getting some input would be really useful – not just in building your capability and your skill – but also your confidence, isn't the preserve of the under 35 demographic,” says Liz Wotherspoon, Chief Executive at The Icehouse. 

"It really does have less to do with how old you are, and more to do with your experiences, the responsibilities that you hold, and the idea that maybe you've reached a reflection point in your owner journey." 

For information on programmes, workshops and business coaching services from The Icehouse, click here.

For more business ownership and leadership advice, check out more of our resources.

Icehouse Alumni? For exclusive content on Icehouse Central, register now.