The sun shone over the Thames as the great and good of student and graduate enterprise gathered at the Terrace Pavilion in Parliament for the launch of Start-up: a story. The room quickly filled, there was wine and cake, much talk and introductions while the 10 Alliance entrepreneurs, featured in the project, showcased their businesses.
Paul Blomfield MP, a passionate advocate of graduate entrepreneurs who kindly sponsored the reception, kicked off the speeches. He described how entrepreneurs and small businesses have taken over as the source of jobs and growth from the large industry that once shaped Sheffield, and cities like it. Entrepreneurs are key drivers of growth and graduates and students are a hot bed of creativity. We heard of the importance of the city’s two universities, with Sheffield Hallam’s Enterprise Challenge and Venture Matrix receiving high praise for getting students interested in enterprise and equipping them to start-up.
The Rt Hon Vince Cable also looked to the UK’s recent past to make clear how far we’ve come. From students protesting about business and universities working together, he then described how entrepreneur societies across our universities are now a real source of hope for the future. It was great to hear him describe small entrepreneurial companies as key to our economy and to hear of his eye opening experience of visiting the University of Huddersfield – entrepreneurial university of the year and home to THAT Creative.
Professor Steve West, Chair of University Alliance and Vice Chancellor of UWE, pointed to the future in his remarks. He said that the event was highlighting a ‘good news story’. We can not only celebrate that spring appears to have (finally) arrived but, as the stories of our graduates show, we can celebrate new business growth as graduates are starting and growing their businesses across the UK. He urged all those listening in (MPs, business leaders, university leaders, entrepreneurs, other interested individuals and now you) to do what they can nurture and support talent.
It was then over to Hushpreet Dhaliwal, CEO of NACUE, who spoke passionately about the importance of peer-to-peer support and the role of enterprise societies in catalysing entrepreneurship on campus. To truly capture the important role graduate entrepreneurs are playing two individuals, who have benefited from university and NACUE support, came to the stage to give their thoughts. Neomi Bennett, of Neo-Innovations UK, believes she could not have set up her business without the university. She said, “I got more than I’d bargained for when I decided to study nursing at Kingston University.” Michael Kashioulis, founder of Smart Cookie Design, agreed and told how he met so many creative people through the enterprise society and university. He said it was meeting these people that made him realise that he really enjoyed business and the thought of starting-up.
As we look to the future and ask questions about how to create growth, increase employment and address underemployment, I’ve been challenged (and inspired) by seeing individuals taking initiative and creating opportunities for themselves and others. New jobs are being created. New products are being manufactured here in the UK. Products and services are being exported internationally. Yet one of the things that has been most encouraging as I’ve met and interviewed these graduates, is that it isn’t about growth at any cost.
It has been seeing their desire to give something back and to do business well. Graduates are going back into their universities and schools to inspire and mentor other students. They are keen to offer internships. They are using their business as a platform to promote the skills of others. They are keen to keep their manufacturing in the UK and to grow their business to help their region. They are keen to ensure their suppliers are doing business well too. That’s the kind of growth I can buy in to. So, needing some inspiration? Have an idea and want to find out more about starting-up? Unaware of how universities are supporting students and graduates to start-up? Take a look at the start-up stories, top tips and helpful links at startupastory.org.uk.