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The Other Side of Fear

by Nicole Dyson, Founder & CEO, Future Anything

As a senior English teacher, I had very little understanding of entrepreneurship- let alone the concept of social entrepreneurship- when I stumbled into what Future Anything is today.

All I knew is that I wanted young people to transform their passion and curiosity into their own innovative ideas, rather than be tested on their ability to regurgitate content back to me in the right order.

I was tired of fumbling for loose and intangible connections between the classroom content and the real world. I wanted real-world relevance to leap from the whiteboard into the hearts and minds of the students in front of me.

But, I was totally out of my depth.

So, I cast a wide net into my professional and personal networks looking for ‘experts’ that could help provide the authenticity and real-world connection to entrepreneurship that I didn’t have.

When I received an email back offering an introduction to a friend that had ‘written a book about young entrepreneurs’, I leaped at the chance.

When I realised that person was Jan Owen OAM, I hesitated.

Jan has three decades of experience founding and leading a diverse range of national organisations, social enterprises, and alliances; advising on strategy and innovation to CEO’s around the globe and providing thought leadership on the future of work, the next generation workforce, and transformation of education.

I mean, she has her own Wikipedia page.

When I emailed her about what I was doing and invited her to be a judge in a ‘shark tank’ showcase event, I expected to get one of those replies from her EA where they accidentally greet ‘Nicola’ instead of ‘Nicole’ and politely explain that whilst Jan would love to be involved, she’s addressing the World Economic Forum in Geneva and would be, understandably, unavailable on this occasion.

I was shocked to get a personal reply back from Jan locking in the date and her attendance.

I learned a critical lesson at that moment. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Admittedly, shock then quickly turned to panic as I realised that I now needed to put on said event.

On the night, we had eight teams of Year 9 students pitch their own innovative business ideas that made their world a better place.

One of those pitches was from a young person called Jordan.

A quiet and introverted student, Jordan stepped out onto the stage and confidently pitched MentalMusic; a music-based podcast for teens, by teens, focusing on teenage mental health-related issues. Jordan pitched podcasts before they were the USD 14.25 billion global market they are today.

As Jan took the stage to announce the winners, she spontaneously announced that the FYA would sponsor three teams to fly to Melbourne to attend Unleashed Festival. Jordan was one of those teams.

Just twelve months later, Jordan went on to win Rookie Enterprise of the Year Award for Years 10-12 at the same Unleashed Awards he had attended the year prior.

I learned another critical lesson at that moment. Action begets momentum.

Fast forward to August this year when I received a LinkedIn message out of the blue from Jordan asking me to speak at an upcoming event for 180 Degrees Consulting QUT. The theme of the event was “What it takes to be a student changemaker.”

After the event, I asked Jordan whether the program he participated in, all those years ago, had an influence on him.

“The Future Anything program had such a profound impact on my life, both personally and professionally. As part of the program, I was not only taught practical, real-world skills such as problem-solving and presenting, but I was taught that I could make an impact on the world as an individual and I didnt have to wait for an adult’ to tell me to do it.

So thats exactly what I did – I turned an English assignment into MentalMusic, a not-for-profit mental health organisation run entirely by teenagers, for teenagers.

The journey that the Future Anything program took me on completely changed the trajectory of my life. It helped me overcome some of my social anxiety and I found myself being able to network and pitch to a room of 200 people.

It fostered my passion for entrepreneurship, specifically social entrepreneurship, which led to my work today at 180 Degrees Consulting QUTIt allowed me to get a real taste of entrepreneurship, and where that could take me in life.”

So years later, at that moment, I learned another critical lesson. The greatest responsibility we have as educators is to show young people they don’t have to wait for permission, or an adult, to have an impact.

And, I believe the only way that we can do that is by stretching young people’s perceptions of who they are and what they’re capable of through challenging and, in many ways, uncomfortable learning experiences.

Jordan didn’t choose business as an elective, he stumbled into entrepreneurship through our English stream.

As an introverted individual who, like many young people, experienced social anxiety (especially at the thought of any form of public speaking or presenting), he didn’t choose to pitch an idea to a room full of strangers. MentalMusic just mattered so much to him that he just kept saying ‘yes’ to hard things in spite of the fear and anxiety.

We find our true selves on the other side of fear.

That’s why it’s with great excitement that I introduce to you our forty Semi-Finalist teams for this year’s Future Anything National Finals. I’d love you to join me to watch as these forty teams pitch in our upcoming Semi-Finals, with the winner of each Semi-Final getting a ‘golden ticket’ into our Future Anything National Grand Final.

These incredible young people are daring, courageous, passionate, and inspiring.

They’re not waiting for permission.

And, I cannot wait to see the way they bend our future; one youth-led idea at a time.

The Future Anything 2021 National Semi Finals take place live on Monday 25 & Thursday 28 October, with 40 teams pitching their innovative, sustainable, scalable for-purpose businesses live online.

Click here to check out the teams and register to watch one (or all) of the Semi Finals live.

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About the author: Nicole Dyson

As a teacher in the USA, UK and Australia as well as a Head of Department and Head of Year at some of Queensland’s top-performing public schools, Nicole has repeatedly led the design and implementation of whole-school changes to support future ready learning; placing young people at the forefront of co-designing contextually relevant learning experiences.

Nicole is an engaging and skilled facilitator, panellist and speaker who is a passionate advocate for equity, the future of education, and empowering young people to bend the future; one youth-led idea at a time.

Connect with Nic on LinkedIn here or Twitter here.

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