High school teens give startups an important lesson – StartupSmart

Eight weeks ago a group of students from Brisbane State High approached me with an idea – they wanted to create a podcast “for teens by teens” called Mental Music.

Underestimating the sensitivity and vision of 14-year-olds, I thought, “okay, so it’s a radio station that’s going to play Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber or whatever else kids listen to”.

But no, it was a platform where teens could talk about mental health candidly, listen to music uploaded by other teens and seek advice from mental health experts without feeling judged.

As part of the entrepreneurial program the school was trailing, called Thunder Lizards, I asked the group of students to identify a problem they saw as the biggest issue in the future, and find a solution for it today.

As adults, we might assume technology replacing traditional jobs might the most obvious threat, but to these kids, it was much more refined.

In their minds, the stress and anxiety developed from unrealistic expectations placed on them, both academically and socially, was far more troubling.

And they’re not alone.

In the past week Mission Australia’s Youth Survey revealed young Australians believe mental health is one of the top three issues facing the country.

The survey discovered concerns about mental health have doubled since 2011. Of 22,000 young people surveyed, 20% cited mental health as their primary concern.

But these issues aren’t just confined to the school yard. There’s a darker side to the startup community.

We see free food, beer and brightly coloured bicycles offered at Google and interpret startup life as laid-back freedom.

What we don’t see are the blurry-eyed individuals, working 80 hour weeks stressing about MVPs, fund-raising and equity.

A recent study conducted by UCSF, found that out of 242 entrepreneurs surveyed 49% reported suffering from mental health related issues.

With an increase in flexible work arrangements and a thriving entrepreneurial economy, people are entering the startup world with a misconception that it will lead to a healthier work-life balance.

But as people increasingly begin to operate from their lounge room, the line between work and home becomes blurred, meaning they’re never able to truly switch off.

As an entrepreneur, I can attest to the loneliness and anxiety experienced by many startups, often feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you’re in it alone.

Investing in supportive co-working spaces that encourage, motivate and inspire members, is an obvious way to prevent mental health issues in the start-up community.

A recent global co-working survey found 70% of entrepreneurs operating out of co-working spaces felt they had a greater sense of physical health and belonging after taking up residence.

With Malcolm Turnbull agreeing to commit $1.1 billion to promote innovation, there needs to be equal emphasis on supporting the mental health of those who choose to take up this profession.

In order to truly get the most out of the era of innovation, we need to nurture entrepreneurs, so they don’t burnout before they get there.   

By Little Tokyo Two owner Jock Fairweather.

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