Fostering a culture of entrepreneurism

Young entrepreneur

As Times Higher Education Entrepreneurial University of the Year 2014, we see parallels between our endeavours in this area and the business world.

This article shares some ideas that we hope are of interest and value, and explores changing perceptions of entrepreneurism as the Lord Sugars of the world replace the Del Boys of Only Fools and Horses fame. Positive popular views can only help to encourage the next generation of enterprising minds, provided they are also well grounded.

Start with simple initiatives

The concept of entrepreneurism or entrepreneurialism is so big and broad that it can be hard to know where to begin.

We recommend starting with simple initiatives. In fact, we find that basic ideas can often be more effective than grand schemes, especially if they piggyback on the use of everyday technology, levelling the playing field and broadening their reach across an organisation.

Our Centre for Enterprise Development and Research (CEDAR) runs an annual, highly accessible Little Pitch competition. Students are invited to come up with imaginative, creative business ideas and communicate them in 140 characters or less, in a tweet or text message. The fact is that everyone has a mobile phone or tablet and can get involved at any time and, because it’s simply sending a message, hierarchical barriers tend to come down. It’s far removed from knocking on the boss's door.

Our Little Pitch idea has been picked up by the Virgin Group; you can’t get a more famous entrepreneur in this country than a certain Sir Richard Branson, and a business that embraces entrepreneurial thinking across its people.

Look within

Training people to take a lead in an organisation can be prohibitively expensive. It needn’t be.

If individuals inside the organisation possess the right skill sets to nurture promising talent, it makes good business sense to make use of them. Given that corporate culture varies, such individuals are probably best placed to carry out this task. Mentoring someone takes time and effort, and pulls already busy people away from their day jobs, but the long-term benefits can be profound.

We have seen the positive results of mentoring by the right people first-hand. Our students are fortunate to benefit from the wisdom of our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. These include individuals such as Peter Taylor, CEO of the TTP Group, who has co-founded the leading European technology innovation company.

We have an entrepreneurial spirit, confidence and mind-set that is underpinned by a clear set of values, beliefs and corporate goals. We actively encourage enterprise and entrepreneurial thinking in our students, staff and alumni and give them plenty of opportunities to engage with the agenda, which has enhanced our impact
Professor Lesley Dobree
Deputy Vice Chancellor, Anglia Ruskin University

Look elsewhere

The value of ‘thinking outside the box’ is a business cliché, but it’s a truism too. When trying to move a business on, there are ways to find cost-effective support, including part-funded programmes by the Government if your organisation has a clear strategic goal. 

Sources of help, however, may not be the obvious ones. As biased as we are, there’s a very strong business case to approach a university on your doorstep, rather than picking up the phone to an expensive consultant with a set methodology. From placing an intern that you can try out with no ties, to help creating a product prototype, or conducting a valuable piece of commercial or market research, we know that the organisations that first work with us are surprised by our broad capabilities, and how solutions are tailored for each venture. No two businesses are alike. We’d urge organisations of any size with ambitions to get in touch, so we can explain how we can help.

Look forwards  

Success can be a double-edged sword. A common business pitfall is to concentrate so much on delivering current workloads that an organisation loses sight of tomorrow’s pipeline of business, for example, or what the competition is up to. Planning ahead is especially difficult for smaller businesses where those at the top often hold several positions and time is extremely short. Making time to look forwards is, however, essential. 

We know that, as a university operating in a crowded marketplace in financially tough times, awards are just the beginning. We will continue to embody an entrepreneurial spirit that seizes opportunities, seeks the right partnerships and continues to diversify and grow
Professor Lesley Dobree
Deputy Vice Chancellor, Anglia Ruskin University