University challenge

By: Mark Williams

Date: 7 December 2012

University challenge/students groupResearch published by StartUp Britain, carried out during its recent tour of Britain's universities and further education colleges, suggests 63% of students "are now looking to start a business". More freedom (29%) and wanting to "be their own boss" (29%) are the key reasons.

The research, based on feedback from 400 students aged 15-24, also suggests that a fifth of respondents believe starting their own business will be a route to higher earnings, but only 4% believe self-employment is their best way to avoid certain unemployment. A quarter of respondents hope to start a business in the technology sector.

Tellingly, more than 70% of respondents cited the laptop as "the most essential piece of equipment for starting up", followed by a mobile phone, but the preference for working remotely or from home really is popular, as only 0.3% believe that "having an office was important".

The survey was conducted as part of the 2012 StartUp Britain bus tour, which "aimed to inspire and support young people who are interested in starting their own business". The tour stopped off at 40-plus colleges and universities in Britain ("from Plymouth to Cardiff to Edinburgh and everywhere in between").

Should we find any of these figures surprising? Not at all. As a recent piece on Start Up Donut pointed out, graduates are now four-times more likely to be unemployed shortly after leaving university than they would have been six years ago. At the end of 2011, 18.9% of those who graduated in the previous two years were unemployed. Not good, but not as bad as the beginning of 2010 when the figure peaked at 20.7% (source: The Guardian).

Arguably, the very idea of being a successful entrepreneur is more appealing and more achievable than ever to young graduates. They're inspired by the success of other young people who've started and grown enormously successful ventures, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a host of other extremely rich young entrepreneurs. Business reality TV programmes such as The Apprentice have also played a part, of course. Business is certainly not as naff or nerdy as it might once have been on campus.

Thanks to technology, businesses can now be started very easily and quickly, at little cost and with relatively little effort required to run them (if you come up with the right idea, of course). This site features numerous case studies and profiles of many fantastic businesses started by young people, often by uni mates who go on to become successful business partners.

A few weeks ago we published another very interesting blog entitled "What is being done at British universities to inspire budding entrepreneurs?" that, based on a Viking commissioned survey of 1,000 students, suggested that 70% of students found "the prospect of starting a business appealing, given the difficulty of the job market".

The piece also shed light on some interesting support programmes, namely BaseCamp at Bristol University, The Hatchery at Sheffield Hallam University and HeadStart at Nottingham Trent University. There are many other such programmes in other seats of learning in the UK – and long may they continue.

Since launch, the Donut sites have also been a highly popular source of information for students and lecturers on university campuses and in schools and colleges, too. The challenge for government, universities, colleges, StartUp Britain and our very own website is to make sure that graduates get the information and support they need to help them start and grow their own successful businesses.

Mark Williams is editor of the Start Up Donut

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