Going to university is life changing. Higher education improves your employment and economic prospects and expands your mind. When a potent mix of new ideas, experiences and people coincide with our ‘formative’ years, it’s not surprising that quite a few great business ideas emerge.
When I graduated a few years ago I was able to turn the ideas in my undergraduate dissertation into a reality. I raised the funding and established the UK’s first microcredit programme. Now, I occasionally deliver training workshops to students looking to develop their own ventures.
Here are my top tips for entrepreneurial students who want to make the most of their time at university or college.
University and college are full of opportunities to expand ideas. But be careful, the education system can kill creativity. Staff who teach or promote entrepreneurship, sometimes (not always!) have a narrow view of what it means to start a business. Being enterprising is about taking the initiative and seeing things differently. Don’t let yourself be channelled into someone else’s idea of entrepreneurship.
The sooner you take your entrepreneurial education into your own hands the better. Make the most of the opportunities available on campus, but don’t stop there.
Start small and start soon
There is no end to the types of business you can set up while at university to earn some extra money in your free time. I know of student businesses delivering exercise classes, organising events and importing homeware. The internet has exploded the opportunities available and student businesses are involved in website and App design, online teaching and selling products and services to a global marketplace.
The more experience you have, the better you will know yourself and the more confident you will be about setting your own goals and aspirations. Then you can go out there and grab support, advice and information when and how it suits you.
Build a network
Carrie Green, who now runs the Female Entrepreneurs Association, started her first business as a 20-year-old Law student in Birmingham. She stumbled on a great process for unlocking mobile phones and turned it into a successful business, which both funded her studies and fuelled her passion for business.
Carrie hasn’t looked back. But after graduation, she was hit by the isolation of working for herself and started the Female Entrepreneurs Association to build a community of women in the same position.
Most universities now have student enterprise societies where you can begin to build a network of like-minds while still at university.
Networking is one of the most important things you can do to build your business. A network helps promote your business, stretch your ideas and to provide a supportive group of people who’re dealing with similar challenges. If you’re stuck with some element of your business development, chances are a quick chat with someone in the network is all you need to find a way forward.
Mix it up
Research shows that businesses with larger and more diverse networks are more successful. The truth is that your closest friends are likely to have a similar background and similar values to you, so they’re not going to be able to bring much to the table that you haven’t already thought of yourself. It is the people on the margins of your network, with an entirely different set of life experiences and connections who will really stretch your thinking and introduce unexpected opportunities. These days, universities are truly global institutions. Make the most of your time there to meet a wide a range of people. Be open to different areas of knowledge too and take advantage of open lectures and events in other faculties. The best innovations happen at the crossroads.
University can be a great launchpad for start-ups. Make the most of those formative years. There are few better vantage points to a more enterprising future.
Published Saturday January 25, 2014