Students are looking at the viability of starting their own business while at university.
The UK Higher Education Statistics Agency recorded nearly 5,000 start-ups created by UK university students last year as students become keen to leverage entrepreneurship for both earning money through their studies and as a potential career.
University is still a time when you can experiment with what you enjoy and student businesses can often be quite varied, from making arts and crafts to creating IT solutions. There are though several conflicting elements for students wanting to start their own business.
On the one hand they lack real-world industry experience and most have very little capital and the credibility to approach investors. But on the other hand they have nothing to lose. Most have no dependants and are not yet used to a comfortable income. They can take a risk and even if the venture fails it is still looked on favourably by future employers who value the entrepreneurial skills gained.
Entrepreneurship education can be thought of as three different aspects — raising awareness of entrepreneurship as an option, skills building, and practical support. Today, this pipeline of support is much more joined up than it used to be, from initial idea through to reality. Indeed, many universities ensure there is the infrastructure available, both physical and intellectual, to facilitate entrepreneurship and help normalise it as a career path for their students and graduates.
Organised support within the university system can include accelerators and incubators, access to mentors and academic experts, help for filing intellectual property claims, and the vast resources of market databases and journals that universities have access to.
Many external actors to the university are also very student friendly. For instance, Station F in Paris is the world’s biggest business incubator, housing more than 1,000 start-ups and aimed at young entrepreneurs. The T-Hub in Hyderabad, India, involves government, universities and private companies. The Y Combinator accelerator in the US has spawned businesses such as Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit and Coinbase.
There are numerous funding opportunities too, including venture competitions, seed funds and grants to help students get started.
Employers value entrepreneurial skills highly. They help to keep the firm innovating and offset the well-documented phenomenon of companies losing their entrepreneurial spirit as they grow.
The benefits of a university setting
Diversity is important for entrepreneurship, with several studies suggesting a diverse range of founders is more likely to lead to success. And universities are extremely diverse places, with students from around the world and experts from a range of subjects.
There are also more on-curricular units now that mix students from different subjects to solve problems, often aimed at entrepreneurship or sustainability. Overall, university culture has changed greatly to reflect an interest in entrepreneurship by students.
Students are also in a great position to spot opportunities as all the classical ways an entrepreneur can identify opportunities and solutions are open to students. They can bring ideas that are successful elsewhere in the world to their home countries and apply them to new markets, they can use their subject specialism to solve problems, and they can experience problems for themselves and develop solutions.
Networking is vital for entrepreneurship and there are also opportunities for students to meet others from outside their immediate subject area at entrepreneurship societies, which are often among the biggest societies at university.
Hackathons — normally centred on specific problems (often now increasingly directed at social issues) — are especially important for bringing different skills together, while the growth of ‘makerspaces’ allow for experimentation outside of the curriculum.
Often, extracurricular activities work well as you can focus on the practical rather than the academic side and don’t need to create a potentially constraining assessment.
However, entrepreneurship education can have some unintended effects. Sometimes it can actually put students off starting a business as confident students prior to the course begin to realise how hard it could be and realise it is not for them.
That said, employers value entrepreneurial skills highly. They help to keep the firm innovating and offset the well-documented phenomenon of companies losing their entrepreneurial spirit as they grow when the company becomes siloed into separate departments with rulebooks and standard operating procedures to be followed.
*This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in University World News.
The Masood Entrepreneurship Centre, based at AMBS, is the focal point for enterprise and entrepreneurship for all students, recent graduates and staff at The University of Manchester. It offers a range of competitions, speaker events, workshops, and start-up support programmes.