As students dream of changing the world for the better, many are turning towards entrepreneurship to shape the future of the UK through innovative, sustainable businesses: in the last six years, there has been a 46% increase of recent graduates who have become either entrepreneurs or freelancers. These new faces of the business world are challenging traditional corporate roles by allying profit to change and community development.
However, entrepreneurship is a long, winding road to success, and student entrepreneurs often face many challenges due to their youth and inexperience. Indeed, an important challenge for student entrepreneurs is the need to overcome uncertainty: by breaking away from traditional employment and pursuing a personal project, students often face criticism because of the instability and risk entrepreneurship entails. This pressure can often affect students’ mental health, as it can be hard to accept certain failures or adopt a long-term view when the outcome of student projects is uncertain.
In addition, balancing vibrant student life and university work with the time-consuming goal of building a business is often tricky: not only is it complicated to set aside time to plan and undertake these tasks, but coordinating the members of the entrepreneurial team is a challenge as students have diverse and conflicting schedules. However, having a team is crucial both to divide workloads and to ensure that a necessary diversity of skills (marketing, design, creative, IT…) is present within the team. So not only do student entrepreneurs have to learn to undertake the full-time job of building a business while studying, but they also have to organise themselves as a functional team, making time-management a key skill to develop.
Nonetheless, the status of student entrepreneur can be valuable when building a start-up: universities are characterised by an exchange of ideas, values, and opinions, which facilitates the creation of a diverse and motivated team where each member has key skills to bring to the table. Student entrepreneurs, therefore, have the advantage of having a team with a richness of backgrounds, enabling them to think outside the box and compete with more experienced businessmen. Likewise, working as a team enables young entrepreneurs to tackle time-management issues by dividing the workload and ensuring a balance between university life and their project.
Moreover, student entrepreneurs have to learn business skills through trial and error, competing against experienced corporates: knowing how to overcome uncertainty, finding the right time to take risks, and building a long-term business plan are competencies that have become second-nature for those with experience. Although certain student entrepreneurs have studied in business schools, they often lack the reflexes of the trained corporates with who they compete. This is enhanced by the fact that many students are not aware of their own entrepreneurial skills. For example, Isabella Ghassemi-Smith, the Ecosystem Manager at Seedlegals, reveals when discussing her first start-up, that she was not aware of her own potential and drive towards entrepreneurship, and only recognised it after a conversation with a more experienced businessman at a networking event. Isabella’s example, therefore, reveals how inexperience can hinder the success of student entrepreneurs.
Nevertheless, students have proved to be more flexible, holding a capacity to adapt to new situations, technologies, and innovations: where many businessmen follow traditional patterns of marketing and production, student entrepreneurs are resourceful and find alternative, more up-to-date approaches. Therefore, they build their hard skills through risk-taking and failure, quickly adapting and becoming fierce competition to accomplished entrepreneurs. Young entrepreneurs’ experiences not only reflect this capacity to learn on the job, but also the fact that many traditional roles are becoming obsolete in business, and new jobs centred around sustainability and innovation are emerging. Here, experience loses the fight against enthusiasm and versatility as these new roles demand the fresh, creative, and contemporary approach to business which student entrepreneurs have.
When it comes to building a clientele and gaining funding, however, a traditional or wealthy background seems to be more valuable than the capacity for innovation. Indeed, students often lack the network and contacts with investors that experienced entrepreneurs have, thus struggling to address practical issues like budgeting and funding. Indeed, having contacts with important investors enables experienced entrepreneurs to quickly implement their ideas, reducing the uncertainty and workload which student entrepreneurs often face.
However, the UK is increasingly recognising the potential of young entrepreneurs, and investors are not afraid to explore these new ideas and projects. An important investor for students is their own universities: not only do they often provide opportunities for funding through bursaries or summer projects, but they also put in place contests such as the ‘competition for startup funding’ undertaken by UCL. In addition, the UK government has been active in promoting student entrepreneurship: loans are increasingly facilitated for young entrepreneurs. For example, young entrepreneurs between eighteen and thirty have the opportunity to apply to the Prince’s Fund to receive a low-interest loan. Likewise, opportunities to gain work experience can be found through schemes such as Kickstart, helping them to gain the skills they need to pursue their projects.
Furthermore, young entrepreneurs have created a vibrant community based on mutual support across the UK, enabling them to build their networks with the businessmen and businesswomen of tomorrow. For example, the Youth Entrepreneur Movement has helped many aspiring entrepreneurs to create their startup, not only through coaching and advice but also by giving tips on funding prospects and possibilities. This possibility to network through these types of movements has enabled students to support each other in their projects, reducing uncertainty and creating a community where startups can work together and ally in their objectives.
Finally, recognition of corporate or private investors towards the potential of student entrepreneurship has led to a deprivatization of networking events, where anyone can attend. This is a way for students to overcome their funding and networking challenges: going to these events, they often have a strong chance of finding people who would be willing to explore the potential of their startups, as investors have shown a growing interest in student or recent graduate entrepreneurship in the last years.
Ultimately, what matters is the capacity of entrepreneurs to develop a client-base and sell their products: despite the challenges, many student entrepreneurs have managed to develop their own start-up, brand, and clientele, revealing the power of motivation, new ideas, and youth. Indeed, students seem to be the future of entrepreneurship in the UK as they hold the capacity to adapt to shifts in the market, to constantly innovate and create, and to develop skills and networks that are yet to be implemented in traditional corporate circles.
Pauline Morere is the President of Warwick Baking Society. She is currently studying Politics and International Studies at Warwick.