World Academic Summit: what can universities do to foster entrepreneurship?

Julie Devonshire calls on universities to help students to bridge the gap between entrepreneurial aspiration and action

August 29, 2017
Young male entrepreneur using laptop, lightbulb, Eureka
Source: iStock

On average, 55 to 60 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds would like to start their own business, and according to a recent report people educated to degree level or above are twice as likely to become high value entrepreneurs. So, what can universities do to help inspire their students onto real-world success, and what opportunities should students make the most of? 

Global networks 

With international networks and societies, universities are a great place to meet new people, spark fresh ideas and creativity. Being open to new ideas, teamwork and gaining knowledge from those around you are all vital skills to running a successful venture. Organisations such as Enactus are a great example. They believe in investing in students who take entrepreneurial action to create a better world, and with more than 72,000 students from 36 countries involved it’s a global network that is unique to universities. This year, students from King’s will be the UK’s entry in the Enactus World Cup 2017, with their socially conscious business idea helping to transform lives in Tanzania. 

A unique environment 

The unique expertise and research environment of universities is incredibly useful for starting a business. For instance, King’s is part of the world-leading Defence Academy of the United Kingdom and we use their expertise to train our entrepreneurs in leadership and resilience.  

Students should be made aware of the resources that may be on offer at their institutions, looking out for accelerator schemes that offer to support their brightest ideas and a safe space to trial and test ideas. Resilience comes from trial and error, not being afraid to fail but to accept and learn. Universities don’t have the risk associated with starting a business in other environments and can break down the barriers many founder faces. 

'Real-world' exposure 

Traditionally, university learning is predicated on three steps: research; observation; and theory. Less emphasis is placed on a fourth step: testing. Entrepreneurial ideas ‘work’ when they are designed, tested and refined through working closely with, and learning from, their users. Giving students exposure to real-world businesses is vital to their future careers. 

Universities can support people in all careers to be innovative, not just those who want to start a business. We can create agile corporate employees, entrepreneurial public-sector staff and innovative medics. Entrepreneurship is vital in all sectors if we want to meet the challenges of modern-day society, and universities should offer the skills and support to do that.

We focus on learning by doing, through initiatives such as our London Venture Crawl, which connects students to leading London businesses and innovation hubs. We’re lucky to be in central London, and support our students in making the most of the brilliant diversity the city can offer.  

We call on universities to support all students; celebrate diversity; have tailored support; and use local, national and international contacts and collaborations. In doing so, we can start bridging the gap between entrepreneurial aspiration and action, ensuring that universities prepare students and graduates for success in the knowledge economy.

Julie Devonshire, director of King’s Entrepreneurship Institute, will be speaking on Entrepreneurship: How universities can fuel the knowledge economy at this year’s Times Higher Education World Academic Summit, hosted by King’s College London from 3-5 September 2017. Follow the conversation at #THEWAS.

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