The best business documentaries to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs

Thinking of starting-up your first business? These documentaries are packed with wisdom, advice and inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs...

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens famously wrote. Of course, the great Victorian novelist probably wasn’t writing about job opportunities during a pandemic — but his words still ring remarkably true today. 

And that’s because, despite job losses and redundancies, the working world has never been so exciting. Gone, for instance, are the days of the traditional office set-up. Instead, there’s a newfound flexibility in our approach to work — and there’s never been a better time to take a professional, entrepreneurial risk.

It’s the perfect moment in your career to pivot, or take the plunge and start up a start-up. So, if you’ve got plenty of money-making ideas buzzing around your head — but lack the bravery or final push to turn them into reality, we’ve rounded up the best documentaries to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs…

Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates, 2019

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: The clue’s in the title; but just in case, we’ll shed a little light on this three-part documentary series. It delves into the life and mind of one of the greatest entrepreneurs ever to have graced the world’s stage, Mr Bill Gates.

There is no greater lesson for an aspiring entrepreneur than getting a look inside the mind and motivations of one of the greats. And, as well as giving you a unique glimpse into the creation of Microsoft, this series also explores Gates’ charitable interests. Whether focusing on improving sanitation in impoverished countries, or his work on the polio vaccination, or his co-founding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: this documentary illuminates Gates’ philanthropic selflessness as well as his entrepreneurial genius. A must watch.

Print the Legend, 2014

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: We’ll put it this way: if you’re looking to create a career for yourself as a successful technological entrepreneur, then watching this documentary should be your first move. 

Focusing on start-up MakerBot and its founders, the documentary chronicles the struggles undertaken by those who tried to convince the world that 3D printing was the way forward. It’s a fascinating insight into a true technological revolution — the idea that we could create objects in our very homes with our 3D printers. But it’s a revolution that isn’t without its controversies — as you’ll discover…

The Creative Brain, 2019

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: If you hadn’t already guessed, the buzzword here is ‘creativity’. In this spell-binding documentary, novelist David Eagleman interviews some of the finest innovators of our age to discover how they get their creative juices flowing.

With input from creatives including musician Nick Cave, novelist Michael Chabon and actor and director Tom Robbins, the documentary explores what creativity is. Where do our creative motivations come from? How do we create something with the tools we have available to us? How can we overcome the challenges we’ll inevitably face? There’s no such thing as a non-creative entrepreneur, so it’s imperative that budding businessmen learn these evasive answers.

American Factory, 2019

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: When Chinese glass auto glass manufacturer Fuyao set up a factory at a former General Motors car plant in Ohio, hopes were high as thousands of jobs were created for the American workforce. In a state that had suffered significant unemployment, to call this a meaningful step would be a gross understatement.

But it wasn’t a euphoric moment for long, and major setbacks ensued — making this documentary a valuable learning tool for any aspiring entrepreneur. It can’t all be about ideas and passion, you’ll learn, and good people are at the heart of any good venture. Watch this one, and you’ll start to understand that a happy workforce should top your list of priorities. 

FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, 2019

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: Speaking of cautionary tales, this documentary got the world talking when it was released a couple of years ago. For aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s a world-class lesson in what not to do. 

Billy McFarland was the (fake) entrepreneur behind the notorious Fyre Festival (or lack thereof). The Fyre Festival was billed to be an exclusive music experience on a private island, complete with luxurious villas, performances from world-renowned artists and delectable food and drink. Unfortunately, the total absence of this promised luxury wasn’t made clear to the paying guests until after they had showed up. Watch, learn, and strive for the opposite result in all your entrepreneurial endeavours. 

Becoming Warren Buffett, 2017

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

What it’s about: Quite simply, this is the tale of the greatest investors of his generation (or, indeed, of all time). Any aspiring entrepreneur needs to get inside the minds of those who have achieved phenomenal success (if you don’t aim high, what’s the point of doing it at all?) and Warren Buffett is as successful as they come. 

This documentary is essentially an autobiography: viewers will hear Buffett himself relive every second of his success — from his early flair for maths and his fascination with the principles of investment, to his time studying with the one and only Benjamin Graham (also known as the ‘father of value investing’). More than anything else, the film explores why Buffett is so outstanding at what he does — a valuable lesson for any future entrepreneur to have in his arsenal. 

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru, 2016

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: Moving swiftly from investing to life coaching, this is a (somewhat meta) exploration of success, not only in the field of entrepreneurship — but in the field of life, too.

Tony Robbins is a world-famous life and business strategist, who hosts the internationally renowned ‘Date With Destiny’ seminar in Florida every year, annually attended by over 2,000 people. Robbins helps participants explore their fears, motivations and hopes — and ultimately helps them take control of their lives. This documentary delves deep into the machinations behind the seminar itself, demonstrating the enormous amount of work that goes into pulling it together. So aspiring entrepreneurs, listen up: you’ll be receiving success advice (albeit second hand) from one of the greats; but you’ll also get a privileged insight into what makes him, in turn, so successful at what he does.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi, 2011

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

What it’s about: Family is at the heart of this awe-inspiring documentary; well, family and sushi. It focuses in on Jiro Ono: an 85-year-old world-renowned sushi chef (the first sushi chef ever to receive three Michelin stars) who owns the famous sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. Housed in a Tokyo subway station, the restaurant boasts ten seats and — no surprise — deals exclusively in sushi. 

As well as depicting the character of a man who knows his business in mind-bogglingly meticulous detail, the documentary draws attention to Jiro’s 50 year-old son, Yoshikazu, who works for his father at the restaurant, and will one day take over. It’s a beautiful depiction of the pursuit of excellence in everything we do, as well as the importance of family and human relationships: two vital lessons for any entrepreneur.

Banking on Bitcoin, 2016

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

What it’s about: If you’re headed for entrepreneurial success, we’d recommend completing a thorough crash course in cryptocurrency. Luckily for you, that’s exactly what this documentary is.

Expect to be plunged headfirst into the roots of this internet phenomenon — how it started, how it developed and all the potential it carries. As technology goes, bitcoin is about as revolutionary as it comes — but what does the future hold for this internet sensation? The documentary throws up questions surrounding mainstream capitalism and fringe utopia, through centring on the perspectives of those who have the power to influence how bitcoin will affect us all. A must watch, because after all, every aspiring entrepreneur needs a head for finance, in all its many and varied forms. 

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, 2015

Watch it on: Sky

What it’s about: We started with one of the greats, and we’re ending with one of the greats. This documentary film is a biography of Steve Jobs — because few entrepreneurs were as inspiring as the man behind Apple. 

We’re all familiar, of course, with Jobs’ legacy. There’s a good chance you’re reading these very words on an Apple device right now. But what many of us are not quite as familiar with is the man himself — and that’s what this documentary gives us. Viewers get an insight into one of the greatest entrepreneurial minds ever to have lived, as well as exploring the relationships we continue to have with our computers and the way Jobs’ principles continue to shape the world-famous Silicon Valley culture. By the end credits, you’ll have so many start-up ideas that you won’t know where to begin…

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