'Support your entrepreneurs', sector told

Student and academic entrepreneurs need more support in universities because the UK is lagging behind other nations, a conference heard.

September 11, 2011

The Reform thinktank organised the Higher education and enterprise conference at the Royal Institution in London, on 8 September.

Nigel Culkin, director of the Centre for Innovation and Enterprise at the University of Hertfordshire, said that in UK universities “we’ve got a lot of metrics around spin-offs, knowledge transfer, commercial income” and “a very Western notion that IP [intellectual property] is everything”. However, there was a lack of support for university entrepreneurs, “individually, but far more importantly in teams”, he added.

Matt Smith, policy director of the National Consortium of University Entrepreneurs, said that while 24 per cent of students across Europe were involved in entrepreneurship activity, only 16 per cent were in the UK.

He said there was a need to raise awareness generally about entrepreneurship among both students and lecturers, and to provide “experiential learning” through business games and engaging with local businesses before attempting a start-up. He added that there “were a lot of misconceptions about start-up financing among students”.

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said in the opening address that "blue skies" research in universities often leads to business activity much later, citing the discovery of DNA at the University of Cambridge.

He added that higher education produced “smart consumers”, and a concentration of these formed “a crucial part of the innovation cycle”. He also said that with one in seven students studying business, the quality of teaching of business in UK universities was an “under-researched issue”.

António Horta-Osório, chief executive of Lloyds banking group described universities as the “major source of the next generation” of entrepreneurs, and announced an award scheme by the bank for student and graduate entrepreneurs.

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