This may sound obvious – the type of business you start reflects what you choose to study at university – but this finding highlights differences in curriculum-based support and development across subjects, and the fact that the underlying structures of some courses make it easier to set up a business from your bedroom, possibly as part of a portfolio career.
The report also examined the type of support offered to student entrepreneurs – whether it is embedded in the curriculum or available as complementary, tailored support through knowledge exchange and enterprise activities and training. The study indicated a higher volume of student enterprise activity in HEIs with lower level, or no, allocation of the HEFCE formula funding stream, HEIF. These were typically sole traders in art and design, often with portfolio careers to support the start-up. In these cases, curriculum-activity was more significant support to the student entrepreneurs.
Risk and reward
This contrasts with HE institutions that may receive higher amounts of HEIF, (HEFCE’s main knowledge exchange funding stream), and concentrate efforts on supporting student start-ups (or student-involved spin outs) which may require a substantial initial investment, but with the potential for high innovation and growth.
The report raises the question of how best students should be supported, with different business models that will create different levels of value, and potential effect on the economy. What needs to change in the curriculum, or in the incentives and support available to budding entrepreneurial students outside of computer science and art and design, to encourage them to develop their business ideas? There is clearly room and value for all of these businesses in a complicated ecosystem, but how best can they all be encouraged?
Supporting students in business start-ups
One of the report’s key conclusions was that many contributors to the study felt they got the support they needed to start their business at university through their curriculum or targeted training in innovation, business management and finance from their knowledge exchange or enterprise office.
Room for improvement
However, student entrepreneurs pinpointed a lack of support available with their business at critical later stages when they have left university. Around two-thirds of student entrepreneurs felt they were facing critical business constraints at the time they were interviewed.
What should a university’s responsibility or role be in supporting student start-ups? Some of those interviewed said they would be willing to return to university to talk about their business, or give remote support to students newly starting up a business. Perhaps universities could implement a cyclical support system – better staying in touch with their alumni to encourage them to mentor new students, whilst receiving tailored support for their business from the university, long after they have finished their studies?
This approach may encourage and support success of new business and in turn, lead to growth.
The report highlights several ways to improve evidence to evaluate long-term impacts, such as how universities keep in touch with their alumni, for both to receive a return.