Developing an entrepreneurial mind-set in young people

Professor Elizabeth Gammie, head of Aberdeen Business School, discusses raising aspirations.

It is widely accepted that skilled and passionate entrepreneurs are fundamental to innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosytems and economic development. But should we be doing more to help our young people become the next generation of entrepreneurs who will lead and develop our economic prosperity?

Latest figures reveal Scotland’s business birth rate is 50 per 10,000 adults whilst the rest of the UK has 78 new registrations per 10,000 adults. This is despite Scotland being blessed with enterprise agencies which have relatively deep pockets to help with grants, funding and support that can be the lifeblood for early stage technology companies and sophisticated angel networks.

So what steps need to be taken to improve this and where does this responsibility lie?

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor recently reported that young people aspire to be entrepreneurs more than any other age group but are unlikely to act on their intentions. Why is this and what can be done to help them realise their aspirations?

According to Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Centre for Entrepreneurship at MIT, widely regarded as the best in the world for turning student ideas into blockbuster businesses, entrepreneurship is a skill and a mind-set that can be developed and nurtured.

Thus, more effort needs to be focused on developing this entrepreneurial mind-set and this is where universities, with unparalleled access to bright individuals, along with resources and infrastructure, have a role to play.

However, the Centre for Entrepreneurs, in a report on the role of universities in supporting high-growth graduate start-ups, has been very critical of the support given by universities to graduates in entrepreneurship. The report found that only a third of recent graduates were of the view that their university prepared them well for entrepreneurship and only around 1% of graduates start their own business within three years of leaving university.

Developing this entrepreneurial mind-set in our graduates is an increasing focus at Aberdeen Business School and all our business students now take a module titled Business Ideas and Opportunities as part of their degree.

Working in teams, the students have to develop a business idea and subsequently pitch the idea at a trade fair which replicates business exhibitions such as Offshore Europe.

This year, students presented their ideas to members of the local business community including Sir Ian Wood. The trade fair included almost 50 pitches and involved around 250 students. The level of professionalism and creativity demonstrated by students was astounding.

Elizabeth Gammie

The students are now being encouraged and supported by academic staff at Aberdeen Business School to further develop their ideas into reality and spend some of their third year in the RGU incubator unit supported by the Aberdeen Business School Entrepreneur in Residence. Recent success stories have been the establishment of The Bicycle Security Company Limited which recently secured £10,000 funding from O2 Think Big, and a golfing tourism company, Saltire Golf Vacations, which is currently working on tourism partnerships in the Fife area.

With a recognition that business schools must continue to reinvent and refine their teaching and course 
formats in order to remain relevant, further changes to the curriculum in the fourth year of our business programmes provide students with the opportunity to study a module on the management and practice of innovation.

It could be argued that innovation is the only truly sustainable source of competitive advantage for firms, and it is therefore critical that graduates entering the world of work are equipped with the necessary skills and attributes to design and implement innovations for the benefit of organisations, the economy and society.

The benefit of developing this entrepreneurial mind-set in our graduates is not restricted to encouraging and growing the number of graduate start-ups.

Graduate employers are increasingly seeking graduates who are creative problem solvers, who demonstrate initiative and enterprise and who are critical and analytical thinkers.

Embedding entrepreneurship in the business school curriculum enhances the skill sets of all our graduates, irrespective of their career aspirations and there are now plans to roll out this innovative business ideas and opportunities programme to other schools, so that the students can further benefit from working in multidisciplinary teams.

Our future lies in the hands of our bright young graduates and it is our responsibility to develop in our graduates the skills needed for future success so that they can change tomorrow.

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