The level of entrepreneurial activity in a country influences its global ranking in terms of innovation, competitiveness, and job creation, and guides its social and economic growth. As a result, governments of developed and developing nations alike have started making efforts to promote an entrepreneurial spirit, especially among students. At a university level, academic entrepreneurship, which has been hailed as the new academic revolution by Etzkowitz, is being given the same importance as academic research. Many UK universities have started offering specialized entrepreneurship and leadership courses in business education which are not restricted to classroom teaching. They provide practical experience to students through business simulations, live projects, and real time employer engagement, thus encouraging them to fully develop and test their entrepreneurial ideas.
There are two ways in which educational institutions have emerged as the hotbed for successful startups;
- By providing the expertise and facilities to enable students to start spin-off firms from the academic research undertaken by them; and
- By providing incubator services to help graduates establish their startup companies.
These efforts are yielding positive results – the last few years have been a testament to the rise and success of student enterprises in the UK. A study by Santander revealed that 518,372 UK students had set up or planned to launch a new business in 2016, a significant increase from the 375,000 student entrepreneurs in the previous year. In fact, student-led startups continue to contribute more and more to the economy. 2016 saw the UK’s student-led enterprises make £913m in total, with the average student venture turning over £13,213 a year. Tech startups and firms related to the arts have proved to be the most popular amongst student entrepreneurs, accounting for 22 per cent and 18 per cent of all student enterprises respectively.
Holly Knower, Chief executive officer at the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs, said in an interview with The Guardian that there is an increase in the trend of students moving away from traditional employment routes. She said, “We’ve found that recent postgraduates are looking for more creative and innovative ways to make their mark within their chosen disciplines, and this includes starting their own business.” She further pointed out, “The current labour marker is not what it once was and therefore we will see a reduced number of young people fulfilling long-term careers in one dedicated role; instead they’ll be making their own dream careers by starting up their own companies.”
The growing entrepreneurial tendencies amongst young students has mobilised the startup ecosystem in universities. They are now creating offerings to support students’ business ideas and transform them into fully functioning enterprises.
What makes universities the best platform for startups
Steven West, in his article for The Conversation, identified three elements which make universities an ideal place to start a business.
A wide network to make connections and contacts
Universities are not only a multidisciplinary hub of knowledge – they also provide contacts, connections and a wide variety of networking opportunities for budding entrepreneurs. Since universities are often at the heart of local economies, they are constantly engaging with people who can possibly support or become major stakeholders in a student’s business venture. They also run innovation networks and work closely with Local Enterprise Partnerships in support of local economic growth, providing a link between startups and other business support networks.
Incubators for startups
Universities provide incubation facilities to support the launch of a company. They extend access to common working space with other entrepreneurs, professional office space, seed funding and organise technical and business mentorship programs to oversee the operations and provide support.
Universities initiate a variety of high impact enterprise initiatives for students to showcase and develop their skills. Business plan competitions, workshops on pitching, cross-campus collaborations and enterprise internships are some of the effective ways in which universities provide young student entrepreneurs with opportunities for funding, networking and publicity.
The field of entrepreneurship is maturing and becoming more ingrained in local and national economies, which is why it has become very relevant in academic curriculum in the university setting. Students are not just taught entrepreneurship courses and modules at educational institutions anymore, they are also exposed to the practical aspects. With universities going the extra mile to stimulate entrepreneurial spirit amongst students, it can be said that universities have become the ideal place for budding entrepreneurs to kickstart their venture and to test them with their peers, experts and professionals.