John Van Reenen, a professor in MIT Economics & Sloan is leading “The Lifecycle of Inventors,” a data-based research project looking at how the early lives of innovators affected their careers. Working with a team from Harvard, Stanford, and the U.S. Treasury, he’s looked at 1.2 million people who applied for or were granted a U.S. Patent between 1994 and 2014, and correlated this data with their education and family financial records.
One of Van Reenen’s hypotheses about young inventors involves mentoring, or rather the lack of it.
Well, maybe the reason is that poor kids just don’t think about or even consider the possibility that they could grow up and be an inventor,” Van Reenen says. “They haven’t had the role models, or mentors, or thought about the possibility of doing this. It’s outside the things they would even think about. That’s the kind of thing that we tried to explore and find some evidence for.”
With regard to programs than help kids, especially around STEM subjects mentoring comes up again:
This extra mentoring is not just about more study; it’s intended to encourage an innovator’s mindset at an early age.
Mentoring plays a key role in helping young innovators reach their potential, especially those who lack parents in the top one percent of income distribution.
If your parents are the top one percent of the income distribution, then you’re 10 times more likely to grow up to be an innovator than if you’re born in the bottom 50 percent. That’s a huge difference, says John Van Reenen,