With the news that six months after leaving University nearly 1 in every 10 graduates is unemployed (BBC News, 27 June 2013) you could be forgiven for thinking that the future for graduates is fairly bleak, yet a growing number of students are taking their future into their own hands by starting a business whilst still at University. And why not?
In many respects, University is probably one of the least risky times to start a business (more on this later) and given so many graduate employers complain that none or few graduates are ‘work ready’ (skills lacking include teamwork, communication, and punctuality), those students taking the initiative will surely put themselves at a far greater advantage than their peers.
One of the most famous University start-ups of course, is Facebook, founded by Mark Zuckerberg in his Harvard bedroom. However, we can look much closer to home for examples of students who are running a business alongside their studies. James Headspeath had a few false starts getting to University, but when I spoke with him as research for my book ‘Enterprising Child’ he was 24 and in his final year at Southampton Solent. He had taken part in an inter-university business competition and realising his own University didn’t have a business club, decided to set one up. From there, he started his own business iChallengeU and although since graduating that particular business is no longer running, he is now working on bringing a new business to market whilst supporting start-ups with social media company Spiky Pineapple. Of particular interest is the fact that the business club he founded is now a sustainable organisation continuing to run at the University since he left his post as President.
Given the estimate that one in every three businesses fail within the first three years of trading, it might seem more sensible to suggest students focus on their academic studies rather than ‘dabbling’ in business. However, with the right help in the first 18 months, 85% could well survive beyond 3 years. There is a huge amount of support available to University students wanting to start a business, including NACUE who run a national network of nearly 200 college and university enterprise societies, events, and competitions, so students really are in one of the best positions to take advantage of all this support and give starting a business a go.
So, here are five great reasons why starting a business at University is seriously worth considering:
1. Develop relevant work-related skills and experiences – top companies such as L’Oreal, and Morgan Stanley identify entrepreneurship as a key requirement in their graduate recruitment, so even if you don’t carrying on running a business, your skills and experience will be much sought after by employers upon graduating.
2. Broaden networks – running a business will bring you in to contact with lots of different people and organisations, any one of whom might be beneficial not just to your business but future endeavours and career. Networking remains one of the top ways to build and strengthen a business and your future.
3. Freedom to make mistakes – with the majority of students owning no assets to risk losing, and many not having families to support either, there is arguably greater freedom to take risks and learn from a failed business than if others are relying on you to make it work first time.
4. Take advantage of the support available – as well as organisations like NACUE already mentioned, Universities are fast becoming hot beds of the start-up world, often working with external companies, developing ‘hubs’ or ‘incubators’ to give students experiences of working with established companies.
5. Bootstrapping is best – levels of student debt remain a concern for many, so taking on more debt to finance a start-up business isn’t necessarily a great idea. Students can be a pretty resourceful bunch so channel some of that resourcefulness to ‘bootstrap’ your start-up rather than build up debt.
Of course starting a business is not for everyone, and there will be times when you feel the conflict of focusing on both the business and your academic studies at the same time. Being your own boss means taking responsibility and that includes managing your time, so those skills will not be wasted even if you decide in the end that running a business is not for you - what you’ve learnt could prove extremely valuable to a future employer, so what are you waiting for? Go do!
Lorraine Allman is a mum and business woman with over 15 years' experience running businesses, and supporting adults and young people, to do the same. She is author and founder of Enterprising Child, supporting parents to develop entrepreneurial potential in children. We're pleased to have her guest blog for us again. Did you see her post during Global Entrepreneurship Week? Step up to the mark during Global Entrepreneurship Week