It’s “the year of the entrepreneur,” according to Richard Branson, the ubiquitous founder of the Virgin Group.

In a post for LinkedIn, Branson says he’s encountered ambitious entrepreneurs across the globe and that technology is helping small businesses get started at a much smaller cost than in previous years.

“[2013] has seen the growing trend of entrepreneurship being embraced as a positive way to create the jobs of the present and the future,” Branson writes. “From being a dirty word in the past, now entrepreneurship is increasingly being celebrated and encouraged — as it should be.”

Branson’s optimism and words of encouragement could be a source of inspiration for young people, even stretching into the classroom.

Poll Identifies Students Most Interested in Entrepreneurship

A new Gallup-Hope Index reports on student interest in starting a business. Among its findings: Minority students have a greater interest in starting a business than white students, but overall interest decreases as students get older.

The study was based on an October 2013 survey of 1,009 students in grades 5-12. Fifty percent of minority students reported interest in starting a business, up from 46 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, 37 percent of white students showed interest, down from 39 percent.

More than half of the respondents said they learn about finances and banking in school, and 47 percent say they have access to classes about running a business.

“It is crucial to identify these students early and cultivate their entrepreneurial energy if Americans expect to maintain the global advantage in entrepreneurship the U.S. has enjoyed,” the report says. “Creating opportunities for young minority entrepreneurs may provide a much-needed foundation for helping such businesses flourish.”

Little Workplace Exposure Limits Opportunities

The respondents showed a lack of workplace access — just 17 percent work at least one hour a week.

“With little exposure to the workforce,” the study says, “few youth have any experience at all in the workforce or that would help them build a business later in their lives.”

And the dream of starting a business decreases as students get older, according to the survey. While 51 percent of students in fifth through eighth grades said they plan to start a business, that number falls to 33 percent for students in ninth through 12th grades.

Small Businesses Have Power to Influence Economy

The report also notes that small businesses are “frequently the entry point for entrepreneurs,” and the impact that these businesses can have in job creation.

“The power of these small businesses to affect the economy is enormous if they can maintain profitability and their employee levels,” the report says. “Simply put, if U.S. communities are to be thriving places to live and learn well into the future, America needs a strategy that includes investment in its youngest and most hopeful members — its youth.”

More opportunities through schools and community groups could be the key to sparking more interest among students, the report notes.

“Educators, community and business leaders, and policymakers all have a role in formulating plans to encourage students’ entrepreneurial aspirations: Through advisory boards and individual programs, leaders can develop local efforts that help students connect with mentors in their community, with learning opportunities such as workshops or internships, and with jobs that help them unite their entrepreneurial intentions with the experiences they need to bring their innovative ideas to life.”