Tackling Business Entrepreneurship – From a business student to a modern day entrepreneur

I have been very privileged over the last 15 years to have been the course leader for the University of Northampton’s BA(Hons) Business Entrepreneurship degree. Once upon a time, a Business Entrepreneurship degree was very rare indeed, in fact we were only one of three universities in the UK which offered such a course. Over those years, many changes have taken place, both in terms of the academic environment and, of course, the changing business environment, plus there are many more offerings now with many different types of course available. Despite the changes and challenges that occur, we have welcomed in the region of 800 fresh faced, budding entrepreneurs to our course.

A regular question that used to occur at our Open Days used to be “How can you ‘teach’ entrepreneurship?”. To which myself and my colleagues would often reply that it is less about ‘teaching’ a student, but more about enabling and encouraging the skills of an entrepreneur. It is interesting that these days, it is rare for such a question to be raised.

A key difference that we have experienced in the last five or so years is a big shift in attitude from our undergraduates. No longer are they passive learners, but instead they are arriving with a head full of business ideas and concepts (some of which they are already market testing). Perhaps this is due to the interest that mainstream media has brought to the general public, with the likes of Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice, or perhaps it has come from schools encouraging ‘entrepreneurship’ as a real career opportunity. Either way, we have certainly seen the difference in the students arriving here.

As a result, there have been many changes in our approach to tackling Business Entrepreneurship as a subject area. As students are more engaged in the entrepreneurial process, we need to facilitate this enthusiasm, guide the students and encourage them to develop their ideas and promote a ‘stick-at-it-ness’ approach.

Regardless of the ideas a student arrives with, it is imperative that we still develop the ‘skills set’ associated with entrepreneurs, including spotting and evaluating opportunities, attitudes to risk, reflecting on feedback (which is usually a tough ask!). Additionally, successful entrepreneurs must also be able to ‘survive’ basic business disciplines such as understanding their market and their customers, and being able to work out if they are making a profit!

A huge part of the success of a course like this is the lecturing staff, no surprises here I guess! With many years of experience in running their own businesses, as well as years of lecturing experience makes them a font of knowledge for our undergraduates to tap into. Of course, their networks allow them to bring in ‘real entrepreneurs’ to the classroom environment (always a winner) as well as provide opportunities for work experience for their students out in the real world.

So what does it take to achieve success and move from budding undergraduate entrepreneur to fully fledged entrepreneur owning their own business? Clearly a lot of hard work – both academically as well as the additional idea focus, networking and incremental developments required. We are extremely proud to see so many of our graduates now running their own successful businesses (wherever possible we bring them back to talk to the undergraduates – nothing ‘sells the dream’ as well as a recent success story). Such a range of businesses and sectors have been tapped into, from clothing, to fitness, to hedging, to design, to consultancy. The list is pretty endless.

So to the future…. We anticipate many more changes and challenges to come, the academic and business environment never stops ‘churning’. We expect the interest in entrepreneurship to maintain, and we expect our students to continue to bring their ideas to us, to challenge us, and to get the absolute most out of their experience with us. As previously stated, long gone are the ‘passive’ learners, instead they are bright, enthusiastic and they know where they want to be. Our job increasingly, is to help facilitate that journey and support them academically as well as non-academically.

By Kate Pascoe, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader, Business Entrepreneurship, University of Northampton.