Celebrating graduates who are turning their business ideas into reality

BalloonStart-up: a story celebrates graduates who are turning their business idea into reality. Their stories give a rich insight into the realities of starting up and the important contribution of our graduates and universities to society and the economy. With economic growth high on the national agenda and employment rates under scrutiny, universities and their graduates have a central role to play in realising Government ambitions.

The scale of, interest in, and support for graduate enterprise is growing and entrepreneurship is in a powerful position to shape economy and culture in the UK today. Appetite among the student body continues to grow; there are now 130 NACUE Enterprise Societies in universities and colleges, up from just 12 in 2009. Student-led enterprise uniquely catalyses entrepreneurship on campuses, complementing and enhancing the impact of the variety of enterprise education and activities available through universities.

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Students and graduates among the NACUE network are leveraging entrepreneurship not only as a solution to the question of employment, but to finance their time at university and to creatively solve real social problems. At the heart of this, the relationship between student enterprise societies and universities is a critical partnership in exposing students to entrepreneurship as a career option.

Herts Entrepreneurs make the most of the diverse student population at the University of Hertfordshire by commissioning a team of student reps as ambassadors for the society in every department. These ambassadors make sure every student has the opportunity to get involved, get connected and get starting up.

Universities are contributing and responding to demand by growing their enterprise education and support, and Alliance universities are leading the way. Turnover from graduate start-ups has doubled from 2008-2010 to over £270m, with turnover from Alliance start-ups accounting for more than half of the total. More people are self-employed than ever before and more unemployed people who enter the private sector go on start a business or work for an SME. We are convinced that students and graduates have an integral role to play in creating the growth which will provide – and sustain – those jobs.

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Universities are ideally placed as regional hubs for enterprise. While London and the South East are often perceived to be a magnet for businesses and talent, these stories highlight how our universities and their student networks are enabling graduates to start and grow their businesses in every region across the UK. University and enterprise are also powerful players in transforming lives and driving social change. Graduates are seeing issues around them and finding solutions, from medical aids to rethinking charity and tackling youth unemployment. Consequently, universities should be key partners when developing Government schemes such as Start-Up Loans and the new national fund for local enterprise.

UWE Innoventors are making the most of the great links UWE has with the local community by hosting regular start-up drinks, connecting students with local SMEs to share their ideas and build their own networks. This is great for local businesses, giving them direct access to potential hires, as well as giving students the chance to find new mentors.

Students want to ensure that their degree and time at university will help set them up for a rewarding and fulfilling career. These are stories of talented and determined graduates; some knew they wanted to start a business and chose their university and course accordingly, others came up with an idea while at university. Each found the support they needed through their course, student enterprise societies, lecturers, friends and university enterprise teams to make it a success. These stories illustrate that a successful graduate outcome is no longer constrained to securing a ‘graduate job’. Instead, students and graduates are creating jobs for themselves, and others, that fully utilise their expertise and abilities.

We are pleased to see that graduate employment data is beginning to change to reflect the diversity of graduate destinations, including starting a business. However, there is some way to go. Reflecting graduate entrepreneurship more fully in employment and business data will drive a wider recognition of entrepreneurship as a legitimate graduate career. There needs to be a cultural shift integrating entrepreneurship into the wider employment narrative or we risk failing to realise the full potential of the graduate workforce.

Entrepreneurial graduates are a huge driving force for innovation, employment and economic growth. Alliance universities and NACUE societies alike are fully committed to ensuring all students and graduates have the opportunity to turn their idea into a reality.

Entrepreneurs @Tees are taking the initiative to become self-sustaining by setting up a t-shirt printing company, drawing inspiration from local landmarks for their designs. They’re hoping it’s going to help them create even more opportunities for students at Teesside University.

Further reading