Recent research shows that start-up rates increase by as much as 20% when entrepreneurship lessons are provided in schools. As we educate the next wave of business owners, we should give young people first-hand experience of the link between entrepreneurship and innovation.

Today’s digital natives are the most adept at using technology, but at the same time they are less certain of the innovative processes that created them. The younger generation need to learn how to create value in the digital economy, and embrace the opportunities that abound in science and engineering. This can only be achieved through close cooperation between education, business and industry.

For Europe, being “innovation poor” is not an option. Our competitiveness agenda depends on the development of smarter economies.

A study carried out in Sweden in 2012 examined two groups of people: those with entrepreneurship training and those without. The researchers found that the former group were at least 20% more likely to start their own business.

In addition, they also found that those who had been trained were much more likely to launch an ambitious venture, such as a corporation, as opposed to proprietorship or partnership.

In Norway, meanwhile, a 2011 study involving 1,200 individuals aged between 24 and 25 found that 12% of them had already started their own company. It’s worth noting that in these two countries around 20% of people receive this kind of entrepreneurship training – the highest in Europe.

Elsewhere, a young team of 16- to 17-year-old students from India participated in sessions with mentors from Hewlett Packard. One creative idea they came up with was revolutionary building material made out of rice husks – a product they dubbed “Green Wood”.

It is light, recyclable and inexpensive, and the raw material to make it is everywhere.

Another set of students from a vocational school in Slovakia, mentored by Hyundai, developed a concept for an iPhone app that would allow parents to see what their kids were up to in the back of the car and communicate with them without turning around – making driving safer in the process.

A team of young entrepreneurs from France thought of an idea to reproduce coral in aquariums and worked out how to commercialize the product (selling it to coral reef experts) without incurring taxes or sea levies.

In each of these cases, as a result of interaction with experts, students have been motivated to progress into specialized areas of industry and further develop their own skills. They have also been “switched on” to innovation.

Through processes like these, innovation is being demystified, and anyone can take part. In the UK, researchers found that students who had participated in entrepreneurship lessons and had gone on to start their own companies were more likely to be active in the creative and technology sectors, such as cloud services (21.1%), advanced engineering (10.3%), product development and environmental technologies.

Innovation requires teamwork, fresh ideas and the ability to shape these ideas into something viable. This is a relatively simple process, but it can lead nowhere unless the focus is on meeting a real, existing need.

Educators learn how to help students move through these steps, shifting from a traditional teacher role to that of a facilitator. The involvement of business and industry partners allows students to understand the relevance of what they are doing.

Part of the learning process is for young people to assess the viability of their ideas in collaboration with knowledgeable people. These people are encouraging, but they can also be critical.

Competitions and pitching sessions are well-tried tools to push students, who quickly identify their own strengths and weaknesses.

What if we could channel this entrepreneurial potential even more than we are now? Europe needs more entrepreneurs, yes, but it especially needs more innovative ones. According to the World Economic Forum’s Europe 2020 Competitiveness Report, innovation-rich countries in northern and north-western Europe have “highly competitive markets, well-developed clusters and an entrepreneurial environment that outperform the United States in enabling smart growth”.

It is interesting to note that these are the same European countries investing most heavily in entrepreneurship education. These are also the countries where collaboration between education and business is most common.

The role the business community can and does play in cultivating entrepreneurship is fundamental. There is great willingness on the part of the private sector to contribute, and there is an increasing consensus among researchers that letting students interact with people outside school or university is a powerful way to develop entrepreneurial competency.

This is an essential step if we want to ensure young people have the skills needed for the job market of the future. It is not enough to be born a digital native. Young people must cultivate skills that will enable them to participate in and contribute to the 21st century – the most fast-paced and high-tech we have ever experienced.

Our report, Fostering Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurship in Europe, is available now. 

Author: Caroline Jenner is CEO of JA-YE, Europe.

Image: Students sit for an exam at the French Louis Pasteur Lycee in Strasbourg, June 18, 2012. REUTERS/Vincent Kessle