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Know Your Money interviewed us for their Ultimate Guide to Starting a Businesses

Know Your Money

3 July 2020 recently interviewed Dave Jarman and Neil Coles, two of the UK’s leading entrepreneurship educators based at the Centre. recently interviewed Dave Jarman and Neil Coles, two of the UK’s leading entrepreneurship educators based at the Centre for an article entitled, “The ultimate guide to starting a business as a student entrepreneur”. We’ve transcribed the full interview for you here.

Tech startups get most of the publicity, but should students be put off from starting a biz outside of tech?

No. Tech isn’t going to solve all our problems, there are lots of low- and no-tech start-ups out there, and nor should tech-averse students think that entrepreneurship is not also for them. However, it is worth bearing in mind that almost any business with a website or social media presence is far more ‘tech’ than any business from the last century and that there are loads of tools out there to make the digital world easily navigable. No-tech doesn’t tend to excite venture capital investors as much because it’s often less scalable or protectable but not getting venture capital is not the death-knell of a start-up that many assume. Dave Jarman.

Dave’s right, tech is not going to solve all our problems! Tech gets the publicity because of the high growth potential, but we still need social innovators and change makers in our community. We also need the arts and once this pandemic subsides, we will still need social and arts venues! Here at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship we have music, social policy, anthropology and history students all working on innovative projects, some in collaboration with our computer scientists, some not. Neil Coles.

Some students haven’t even got a credit score yet, is it ever too early to be seeking out funding and business loans to inject into your start-up ideas? What risks should future entrepreneurs keep in mind?

It’s never too early, but it’s equally not mandatory to seek out investment or loans either. The priority for any would-be entrepreneur should be validating that their idea is wanted by customers, feasible to deliver at scale, and sustainable as a business. Once you have validated the idea you should consider how much resource you need to get started, not just for vanity’s sake, and only then contemplate the attendant risks of loans and equity investment. Dave Jarman.

Having started a business at university, then eventually moving to the working on and leading start-up support services at three universities in both England and Wales I must point out that colleges and universities usually have internal support mechanisms in place, such as mentoring, guidance, and access to low level grant funding. I would recommend discussing risk with institutional staff who are there to be impartial. If you need to find the right person at your institution, search ‘Student Enterprise’ or talk with Enterprise Educators UK, who will know virtually everyone in our space. Neil Coles.

What might be some of the most common misconceptions about entrepreneurship that are putting students off starting their own business?

I’ll offer two very different misconceptions that I see. One is that some students assume entrepreneurs are some kind of super-talented, super-resourced, exclusive club which they’ll never be a part of, which is rubbish. Most entrepreneurs are just regular people who had a go and became good and well-resourced along the way. The second is that a bright idea, which you must keep secret and work really hard by yourself, is enough - which is also nonsense! Ideas evolve over time and get better through feedback and experimentation, so teams and networks are vital to improving the idea, gathering intelligence, and creating luck through serendipity. Dave Jarman.

I think that language is an issue – the word ‘entrepreneur’ is a barrier – as Dave says it is too ‘exclusive’, too ‘unique’. When our first year students join us at the beginning of our immersive undergraduate degree programme, we ask them to ‘name an innovator, name an entrepreneur’, and sadly the media has got to them first, as most answers are white and male. This is a total misconception. Neil Coles.

A lot of “business ideas for students” out there on the internet seem to be the same - revolving around monetising their social media platform or blog. Is this really the best place to start for students, or are these pieces of advice misguided?

For an idea to be successful it requires four things: Desirability – will other people want it enough to use it and pay for it? Feasibility – does it actually work (well enough)? Viability – is there a business model that makes enough profit to sustain the enterprise? And Credibility – does the founder have the competence and determination to persuade others they can make it happen? So monetising a personal project might work if there is a paying audience, value being created, sustainable revenues, and a founder who wants to do it. However, much of the best advice from successful entrepreneurs would suggest that creating ‘domain expertise’ is the best indicator of success, find a domain of competence at which you are really good because you’ll spot problems that actually need solving, you’ll see ways to solve them, you’ll know how to get resource and expertise, and you’ll be credible to stakeholders. Dave Jarman.

What support can Universities offer to students looking to start their own business?

Loads! Most UK universities have dedicated start-up support services offering advice, mentoring, prizes and grants, networks of experts and more. At the University of Bristol we have Basecamp - a specialist team which provides support to those interested in start-up and entrepreneurship - and the New Enterprise Competition, which usually awards £35,000 of funding to entrepreneurial students, staff and alumni. We also have a world-unique set of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes that support would-be entrepreneurs to develop the expertise, skills, teams, and networks to be successful founders. Dave Jarman.

Universities also connect with accelerators and incubators within their region, here in Bristol we have a wide network of support including the world’s number one University Incubator, SETsquared, but as I said earlier, if you’re wanting to find the right person at your institution, chat to Enterprise Educators UK, it’s a national network of keen supporters of start-ups like Dave and I! Neil Coles.

Further information

Dave Jarman is a Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Postgraduate Programme Director at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 

Neil Coles is the Partnerships Manager at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and an Executive Director of Enterprise Educators UK .

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