SETsquared Blog

Is this recession breeding our next generation of Entrepreneurs?

With graduate jobs being a scarce commodity, students are looking for alternative career choices as they complete their education. Two students from the SETsquared Partnership have faced that dilemma and have seen starting a business as a much better alternative.

As James Boon from ElephantBranded said: “Do I want to spend the whole of my final year writing applications chasing the small number of jobs in my field, or do I concentrate my efforts on what I am passionate about? Now is the time I can give this a go. I have no commitments and so for me the risks are much lower than they would be if I were older.”

James, in his 7th year of architecture training at the University of Bath, started ElephantBranded in the UK in February. He has had remarkable success, with demand outstripping supply of his ethically sourced bags made from recycled cement bags and interest from major retailers.

Not only are the bags ethically sourced, which means paying the bag producers in Cambodia a decent wage, but ElephantBranded is also a socially responsible company. For each bag bought, they donate a school bag to a child in Africa or Asia.

James has been one of those young entrepreneurs the government is eager to support with its campaigns such as StartUp Britain. ElephantBranded was one of the first companies to sell their products at Startup Britain’s first Pop Up Shop in Richmond. This idea was perhaps based on the Pop up Shop competition run by the University of Bath, who developed the concept into Uni Popshop at Spitalfields market, London in June.

At Uni Popshop, teams from each of the five universities in the SETsquared Partnership – Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey – spent a day trading at Spitalfields. The winning team was ElephantBranded, who made a staggering £458 profit in just one day.

James said: “These competitions, and opportunities like Uni Popshop and Pop Up Shop, help us to understand our customers better, see their reaction to the concept and develop our sales strategy. The connections we can make through these events are also important: meeting other student entrepreneurs, potential mentors and experienced entrepreneurs from SETsquared and Startup Britain has helped us tremendously.”

Another young entrepreneur Alistair Shepherd, currently doing a mechanical engineering postgraduate course at the University of Southampton, is of the same opinion. On graduation he was not sure what to do – continue in education, get a job or be an entrepreneur. Alistair decided to continue his education and explore the world of entrepreneurship, and he was lucky enough to win a place on the Kauffman Global Scholars program, sponsored by SETsquared.

Alistair said: “I heard about the program which involved six months in the US studying entrepreneurship. The idea of working to make my own dreams come true sounded far more appealing than working to fulfil the dreams of the CEOs of big engineering firms.”

The Kauffman program exposed Alistair to some of the top professors, entrepreneurs and corporates in America. “The program was quite simply life changing. I learned more in this last six months than I have done in the previous six years. I see things much more clearly now and essentially I have been given all the tools I need to succeed – all I need to do now is use them.”

Alistair is already a serial entrepreneur. His first idea was based around technology he generated for his undergraduate program which looks at exploiting wave energy. He is now looking to license this technology to businesses to develop further.

His second idea was combining his love for sailing with the concept of creating a club of like minded graduates. The idea behind this has sparked the business he is now concentrating on, Saberr, which combines psychology and statistics to provide a smarter way to form project teams. The network he created during his stay in the US has allowed him already test the demand for his product with large software corporations, which need well-functioning teams for their businesses to succeed. Several companies have already said such a tool would be invaluable for them.

So is this recession spawning entrepreneurs rather than corporate employees?
There will always be more risk averse graduates who are happy to work their way up the corporate ladder. But with fewer of these jobs around, perhaps we are igniting the entrepreneurial spark in more of their contemporaries.

Certainly the popularity of programs like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den have helped to spotlight the opportunity for setting out on your own. Government programs and the support initiatives for student enterprise offered by SETsquared open up a world of possibilities to these bright young graduates, and support them with the tools to go and do it.

But we do need to start building the concept of ‘entrepreneurship’ into our education system if this is to be sustainable.

As Alistair Shepherd said in one of his blogs while on the Global Scholars program, “Let's stop the incessant pursuit of standardised tests and start encouraging creativity. Growing true grass root entrepreneurs by teaching graduates that there is another way! And yes Grandma, that means I could be the next Bill Gates instead of the next Microsoft tea boy.”