Holly Knower is the CEO of the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NACUE), which aims to ensure that as many students as possible have the right skill set to be able to set up their own businesses and to become more enterprising. We recently spoke with Holly about the state of entrepreneurship in the United Kingdom and what college and university students are doing to prepare themselves for entrepreneurial careers.
What types of assistance, instruction, and resources does NACUE offer to students who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?
NACUE is an advocate for providing a practical and hands-on education, and enterprise societies are pivotal in this, as they honor and champion the success of young people who are acting as catalysts and ambassadors for peer-to-peer engagement. Enterprise societies are formed of dedicated, passionate, and proactive young people with a genuine desire for entrepreneurship. Our community is encouraged to utilize their time at college or universities in trialing their startup ideas in a safe environment. As part of that, we’re delighted to be able to support their entrepreneurial journeys throughout our interactive events cycle during the academic year.
We work collaboratively with Tata in providing students and graduates with the opportunity to win startup funding as part of our Varsity Pitch Competition. We’re also proud to be able to connect like-minded individuals at our Student Enterprise Conference and provide recognition through our annual Leaders Summit.
How well are universities in the UK preparing students who are wanting to become entrepreneurs? What could these institutions be doing better?
Universities within the UK are going to great lengths in encouraging enterprise and entrepreneurship within their institutions. Over the years, we have seen an increase in the number of embedded incubators at universities and dedicated extracurricular activities to support students interested in entrepreneurship as a viable career option. But collaboratively, we could offer much more support and guidance to young entrepreneurs.
Given that university students are conditioned to avoid failure in their studies and courses at all costs, how do you go about changing entrepreneurship students’ image of failure into a less nihilistic viewpoint which emphasizes learning from mistakes and trying again?
The negative connotation of “failure” should be perceived differently since it is ultimately a learning platform, particularly in relation to entrepreneurship. Failure should be portrayed in a positive light; we need to recognize the efforts that entrepreneurs go through on their journeys. If they are perceived to have “failed,” this will have provided them with an array of expertise and knowledge that they wouldn’t have experienced with “success.” Young people should then be actively encouraged to “try again” and learn from their previous errors in developing a successful startup!
What can students do outside of their university coursework in order to prepare themselves for the world of entrepreneurship?
Students need to have an “entrepreneurial mindset” within the workplace, regardless of the sector they are interested in. Taking advantage of any activities which their institutions are offering will provide them with additional skills to take into the workplace and ultimately make them more employable. Entrepreneurs in particular need to have a strong network around them that consists of both knowledge experts as well as support mechanisms. They should also be actively exploring opportunities, attending external events to widen their team, and meeting mentors and investors.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurial students make when pitching their ideas to potential partners or investors?
They clearly need to be able to articulate their business idea within a short space of time (60 seconds) while covering the topical points. A common dilemma we regularly hear from students is that they are afraid to discuss their ideas because of the risk that someone might replicate them. That’s why they need to learn to describe their idea without giving it all away. It’s risky, but achievable.
What do you foresee for the future of new businesses and entrepreneurship in the UK?
We believe that we will continue to see an increase in the number of students taking the launch in starting their own business. The next few years are going to be interesting ones with Brexit, but also full of new opportunities for entrepreneurs willing to explore them.