Encouraging entrepreneurial spirit

Richard Branson. Michelle Mone. Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg. There are plenty of famous entrepreneurs whose success inspires budding business minds. Faced with a challenging jobs market and armed with ideas and enthusiasm, many people are opting to set up their own companies and go it alone.

The popularity of programmes such as Dragon’s Den, where hopefuls pitch their business proposals, and The Apprentice, which has changed its format to see Lord Sugar offer an investment rather than a job, shows just how many people have ambitions to work for themselves.

The University of Wolverhampton has many innovative initiatives to support their aspirations and help them become both more employable and more entrepreneurial. The latest has seen students from the University’s School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications taking part in a new scheme aimed at achieving this and giving them the chance to shine.

Unipreneur Challenge aims to promote and develop entrepreneurial skills for young people, develop relationships with businesses in the region, boost enterprise and create potential employment opportunities.

Employability skills

The scheme has been set up by Gary Lennon, entrepreneur and founder of Wist Ltd, which supports learning and development, primarily in entrepreneurship.

He says that at a time when there is so much publicity around youth unemployment, Unipreneur is a chance for students to develop skills valued by employers and improve their future prospects, as well as providing them with inspiration for their own businesses in the future.

Students participating took entrepreneurial ‘scans’ to assess their skills and then undertook workshops to hone these skills. They were placed as teams within businesses for several weeks to work on a live brief, culminating in formal presentations competing for awards.

Five Black Country companies came on board for the pilot – Accord Housing, Beacon Centre for the Blind, Quality Solicitors Talbots, WH Law and ER Grove and Co Accountants.

The students worked on a variety of projects from fundraising to marketing and impressed both the University and participating businesses with their ideas, enthusiasm and ability to rise to the challenge. Beacon Centre for the Blind gave the students an option of two tasks including asking them to come up with ideas to market the Centre and issues around visual impairment to their peers, as well as planning an event to fit into the charity’s major fundraising campaign Challenge 2012.

Clare Thomas, Fundraising and Marketing Manager, says: “I was very impressed by the students’ enthusiasm and grasp of the challenges which Beacon Centre faces and I am sure that they can bring a fresh perspective to these challenges.”

Equally positive is Derek Simmonds, of Talbots, who says: “I have a long-held belief that there is far more to be done in forging links between employers and education. There are many benefits to be gained for businesses and for students. I find it astonishing that graduates can go through the education process to get the best qualifications possible to improve their prospects, but yet have no exposure to the workplace.

“For those reasons, I was eager to support the University with the innovative Unipreneur Challenge. My goal was to work with my team to provide them with an opportunity to work on a dedicated assignment for them to add value back to our business.”

Added value

The project selected was to help package and promote Quality Solicitors Talbots’ mediation services - the Court system has been actively promoting mediation as an alternative route to resolving disputes.

The team, Superlative, identified specific areas where they could provide some immediate assistance adding real value.

Their first task was to gather information and understand the mediation process, which included one of the team having the opportunity of shadowing a mediator on a property dispute. Derek says he very much enjoyed working with the team and they presented an outstanding pitch and added value to the project.

Katrina Calvin, a final year Social Care and Social Policy student, is one of the students taking part and believes the Challenge has been very beneficial and has helped inspire her for the future.

“I have started to network with lots of different people that I wouldn’t network with on a day-to-day basis,” she says.

“The Unipreneur Challenge has helped me to develop a more business mindset. I am more driven to start my own business now.

“I want to develop my concept of establishing a child consciousness foundation and I have already set up my own website.”

Gary is delighted by the positive feedback from participants and hopes Unipreneur will expand in the future to include every university which wants to encourage would-be entrepreneurs and also to boost skills desired by future employers.

He says: “Initiatives like these increase the desire to improve entrepreneurial skills and this results in making students stand out, increasing the likelihood of becoming employed or deciding to become self-employed or to start businesses, having gained confidence and practised the skills that will help them get started.

“Businesses need entrepreneurial people so either need to provide training or hire those who display these skills. Students can learn and practise the skills whilst in universities and by having short term engagements with businesses to implement new ideas they will create good value in advance of potential employment.”

For more information email: Gary Lennon: gary@entrepreneurscan.co.uk.