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become an entrepreneur

How to become an entrepreneur when you graduate

Increasing numbers of students are setting up their own businesses after leaving university. Find tips on how to develop your entrepreneurial skills and learn how this will help you whatever path you choose.

How do you tell if entrepreneurship might be right for you, and how do you go about it? Even if you’re wary of setting up your own venture straight away, it’s worth asking yourself the question, because so many companies look for entrepreneurial skills and flair when recruiting.

Want to be your own boss? Start at uni

There are plenty of resources and organisations out there that will help you if you’re interested in starting your own business, starting with your university enterprise or entrepreneurship society. Entrepreneurship, like any other skill, is honed by experience. Your university entrepreneurship society is a safe, supportive environment in which you can try out a start-up scheme and see whether you develop a taste for it. You could even get involved in starting up a company before you leave university.

Many universities have incubator units or hatcheries that provide support and resources for start-up and pre-start-up businesses. There are also initiatives that draw together different partners to foster innovation in particular areas, such as Brighton Fuse, which supports connections between higher education and digital technology and media businesses in the area.

In order to be a successful entrepreneur, you need initiative, sound commercial sense, creativity, motivation and drive, and leadership – all qualities that are highly sought after in the graduate jobs market. You might even be able to become an ‘intrapreneur’ – someone who operates like an entrepreneur, but within a large organisation. Intrapreneurs are typically given a specific idea or project to develop by their employers.

Many entrepreneurs put in a stint of working in industry as employees before getting started on their own. If you decide you would rather gain some experience of an established business before starting a new one, you could consider applying for a placement through Step, an organisation that offers students and graduates high quality paid placements of varying lengths.

What kind of person do you need to be to make a successful entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs need to be capable of both having original ideas and seeing them through. They have the stamina and determination to kick-start a project, stick with it, and get it finished. They are also:

  • Stubborn and resilient enough to cope with setbacks and handle stress 
  • Willing to take calculated risks
  • Problem solvers who can spot the opportunity in a challenge

But if you are prone to getting overwhelmed by stress, like to work within a clear framework with pre-defined criteria for success, and need evaluation and praise from other people to motivate you, being an entrepreneur may not be for you. You should also think twice about entrepreneurship as a career option if:

  • You struggle to come up with original ideas
  • You’re keen to avoid any kind of financial uncertainty
  • The prospect of pitching ideas and marketing your product fills you with horror
  • You hate the idea of your work-related ambitions and aspirations spilling over into your spare time
  • You just want a quiet, regular and predictable life

Resources for entrepreneurs in the making

  • The National Consortium of University Entrepreneurs (NACUE) brings together university entrepreneurship societies. It runs an annual business pitching competition and supports societies in running milkround-style events that bring together small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and students.
  • The New Entrepreneurs Foundation recruits 30 young people a year and supports them through a twelve-month programme that includes a paid work placement in an innovative company, mentoring, and learning through workshops provided by business schools and corporate sponsors such as Deloitte, McKinsey and Tesco.
  • Start-up Britain is a government-backed campaign, launched in 2011, that provides useful resources for student entrepreneurs and others starting and running their own businesses.
  • Shell LiveWire offers free online business advice and start-up grants for young entrepreneurs. Register for free guides to writing a business plan and how to carry out market research. You’ll also be able to see ‘elevator pitch’ videos from businesses that have been shortlisted for awards.
  • GOV.UK, the government website, offers advice on writing a business plan and seeing your idea through to the market.
  • The National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (formerly known as the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship) runs various programmes and activities to help students and graduates start their businesses. It is also involved in the Make it Happen mentoring programme for student and graduate entrepreneurs.
  • Tech-minded entrepreneurs will be interested to find out more about Silicon Milkroundabout, the UK jobs fair that brings together start-ups and developers, product managers, and designers, and Y Combinator, a US-based organisation that supports tech start-ups.
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