Career Kick-Start

Wolverhampton Wanderers have been flying high this season, with promotion to the Premiership. The football club is now set to help graduates’ careers take off, supporting a pioneering joint initiative with the University of Wolverhampton to help a new generation of sporting entrepreneurs kick the economic downturn.

Despite the current recession, there is optimism in the air for the sports and leisure industry. With around 621,000 people in 231,000 businesses and organisations throughout the UK, the sporting industry employs over two per cent of all UK workers. Private health clubs and public leisure centres alone employ over 50,000 staff.

Until 2009, an average 68,400 job opportunities have been available annually in the UK within this sector. There was an estimated gross value added output of £5.2 billion in 2004, accounting for some 61 per cent of the UK total.*

High investment levels are planned by the government and employers and London’s 2012 Olympic Games are expected to create a renewed sporting enthusiasm among the British public.

With this in mind, it is worth entrepreneurs with a sporting business idea considering developing their plans further.

And a new initiative, in partnership with the University’s School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure and Wolves, with support from the University of Wolverhampton’s Business School through its Institute of Innovation and Enterprise, is set to support graduates in their ventures.

Working with FlyingStart Programmes at the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship, the development programme for sports-related businesses and social enterprises is the first of its kind in the UK.

Karen Bill, Associate Dean (Research and Income Generation), at the University’s School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure, is passionate about getting entrepreneurship into the sporting curriculum and creating opportunities for graduates to develop their own businesses.

Her catalyst for the idea was the recent white paper ‘Enterprise: Unlocking the UK’s Talent’ in which the government announced the development of initiatives working with the English Premier League football clubs to roll out enterprise education programmes. The FlyingStart programme seemed an ideal place to begin.

“At the time I was studying on the International Entrepreneurs Educators Programme (IEEP), delivered by the NCGE and Enterprise Educators UK,” she says.

“During the course we had to undertake a number of challenges. One in particular was about understanding the ‘state of the game’ (ie. having an awareness of key UK enterprise education developments) and ‘mastering networks’.

“I decided to challenge myself to work with the NCGE to develop what would be the first ever national FlyingStart Programme for would-be sports entrepreneurs. It is very exciting and I hope will provide students with improved enterprise skills, more self-confidence and raised aspirations.”

Karen was thrilled when Wolves agreed to come on board, not just as a sponsor but as a partner.

“It’s exciting that we’re the first university to have this kind of link and I’m looking forward to seeing the initiative take off.” She says there are lots of opportunities in the sports industry. Personal training continues to be a growing area, with more and more people three news focusing on fitness. Other possibilities include sports coaching and linking in with school initiatives.

Sports technology and innovation has tremendous potential for would-be sports entrepreneurs. She has seen success for graduates who have used hi-tech software to provide services to help football clubs who analyse their players’ performances. Graduates who have developed companies printing sportswear for clubs and organisations have also been successful.

“There is potential for business opportunities in many different areas and we’re really pleased to be able to offer this support to graduates.”

The 12-month programme has already started to attract interest. It will be formally launched with a series of specialist workshops, which will take place at Molineux Stadium in June, with football-related enterprise challenges and a sports business focus.

The three themes covered will be:
• Introduction and Orientation
• Building Business Knowledge
• Launching Your Enterprise
determining considered next steps to successfully start a sports-related business.

Before the programme begins, each participant will complete an online entrepreneurial profile questionnaire and receive a personalised development profile report, highlighting entrepreneurial capacities and attributes.

The programme will be free for 60 participants, and 50 per cent of the places will be designated for people from the West Midlands.
Each participant will workshop their business concept with a view to getting their enterprise up and running by March 2010. They’ll also receive their own personal mentor who will work with them throughout the launch and start-up period.

Matt Grayson, Head of Marketing and Communications for Wolverhampton Wanderers, says: “We’re delighted that Wolves are the first football club in the country to support a scheme of this type, which will provide practical help to the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

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*According to research into the importance of sports and leisure to the economy, from the National Guidance Research Forum, 2005; and Skills Active, 2007.