Universities Mobilise To Support Business and Entrepreneurs

16 04 2009

HEFCE and DIUS have said what money will be allocated to which HEIs from the Economic Challenge Investment Fund.

Standing Together provides contacts and practical examples.

Standing Together provides contacts and practical examples.

A total of 77 universities and colleges will offer between them £59,240,920 of match funding to help businesses and communities. The total amount of funding being made available by HEFCE to successful bidders is £27,572,834, with the remainder provided in the form of matching contributions from institutions and local partners.

The Economic Challenge Investment Fund opened for bids in January for its £27 million in match funding. It is designed to help institutions delivering short-term support between April 2009 and September 2010. The funding has enabled many institutions already actively engaged in entrepreneurship education, knowledge transfer and business support to boost their activities.

It’s just one part of an increasingly coordinated response by higher education institutions to the economic crisis, and enterprise and entrepreneurship are key features of many initiatives awarded funding and support.

Every university is now being challenged to be a ‘business facing university’ as Government and business look to the higher education to demonstrate how they can support the economy and their local communities.

“Demand for higher education usually grows during an economic downturn” says a useful new guide Standing Together – Universities helping business through the downturn. The guide gives names and contact details at 157 institutions and links to examples of schemes already supporting business and enterprise across the country.

Standing Together has been published by Universities UK, GuildHE and HEFCE, with support from DIUS, to provide examples of how HEIs are contributing to the effort to get British business back on track.

The recipient of the most Economic Challenge Fund money is the University of Cumbria, which will receive £1 million for its activities. Cumbria is one Northwest university with vibrant enterprise activity.

The University has in post an NCGE-NWDA Northwest Enterprise Champion, Jo Chaffer, who led a successful intensive three-day entrepreneurship course that launched a FlyingStart General Business Programme at the end of March for over 30 graduate entrepreneurs.

Other universities awarded nearly £1 million include Aston University in Birmingham, identified yesterday by the Work Foundation as the UK city hardest hit by unemployment. Its Pro Vice Chancellor for Business Partnerships and Knowledge Transfer, Dr Phil Extance, said: “We’re delighted to win this latest bid, which will enable us to increase the scope of two of our successful activities and to allow universities to help businesses tackle the difficult issues they face.

“Creating a further 104 Innovation Vouchers is excellent news as the previous round of vouchers, awarded under the INDEX project, was nearly three times oversubscribed. It indicates that there is a real demand for support for innovation even in the current difficult economic climate”

Next in the Economic Challenge list is the University of Derby, collaborating with four further education colleges – West Nottinghamshire College, Derby College, North Notts College and Chesterfield College. One key strand of Derby’s proposal is the University’s own Enterprise Scheme, which will be extended to currently excluded groups such as redundant professionals and graduates, or those at risk of unemployment.

There will be 20 incubator access grants and 12 enterprise bursaries offered to encourage new businesses to start up.

Derby’s Commercial Director Andrew Hartley, who helped shape the bid, said: “This support programme incorporates the strengths of individual partners and fills gaps in provision that have been identified with support from external agencies such as Job Centre Plus and Business Link. “The objective of this collaboration is to ensure that support is available at the point of need. Independent research commissioned by the University of Derby found that a lot of people individuals would like to access services at their local institution.

“This programme will therefore aim to offer co-ordinated services through both the University of Derby and a linked network of the emda-funded Higher Education Centres within further education colleges and local authority managed business/innovation centres across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.”

Derby is just one example of a university which actively supports graduate entrepreneurship. In March it hosted an NCGE FlyingStart Rally and Creative Careers Fair where GQ Editor Dylan Jones revealed how he graduated from Saint Martins School of Art during the recession of the early 1980s. He revealed it was a time of opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Speaking to over 120 potential small business owners, he said: “The economic downturn in the 1980s was one of the most creative periods,” he said. “People were starting record labels, magazines and nightclubs. There was a huge vacuum for cultural enterprises to fill. Therefore a creative groundswell took place.”

DIUS, HEFCE, Universities UK and the CBI, RDAs, the Business Link network, and many other regional and national bodies are investing great effort in working together with universities to help businesses and individuals. It’s time to showcase the great work taking place at HEIs and support opportunities for entrepreneurship.


Entrepreneurship, HE and the Recession

20 02 2009

entrepreneur_recessionThe debate rumbles on. Does the present economic downturn hold opportunity for entrepreneurs, or is the situation too bleak to yield success? Can entrepreneurs lead economies out of recession on a wave of innovation and start-ups?

Governments and business have high expectations. The higher education sector must also contribute to bolstering entrepreneurship and economic recovery.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has already responded, launching its Economic Challenge Investment Fund (ECIF) to enable higher education to respond rapidly to the needs of employers and individuals during the economic downturn.

Ten larger collaborative proposals will be supported by up to £1 million each in HEFCE contributions. A further 40 smaller proposals, normally up to £500,000 each from HEFCE, will be approved after the 27th February deadline as part of this £50 million scheme.

Announcing the ECIF on 27th January, Professor David Eastwood said: “The new initiative is designed to meet urgent and short-term economic challenges facing individuals (whether in work or unemployed), new graduates and businesses. We are looking particularly to help small and medium enterprises.

“Higher education has never been closer to business. The strong links developed over the past few years put universities and colleges in an excellent position to make a flexible response to current economic challenges at a time when it is vital that we continue to invest in enterprise and skills.”

A vice-chancellor’s perspective

Just before Christmas, several vice-chancellors were called to a meeting with Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills John Denham MP to discuss how higher education can contribute to bringing the UK out of recession.

One who contributed to that meeting was Professor Tim Wilson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, a university that places its relationships with industry at the heart of what it does. Professor Wilson advocated ‘Innovation Vouchers’, such as those already piloted in the West Midlands, where businesses can “spend” a sum – say £1,000 – at a university to get support and advice on specific issues.

“What a fantastic way not only to get universities to support small businesses, but also to get small business expertise into universities,” Professor Wilson said in an interview with Lucy Hodges in The Independent on 29th January.

He also supports ‘Training Vouchers’ for people who are made redundant to improve their skills through short university courses; and he promotes the idea of universities welcoming more ‘spin-in’ companies which need to be helped in the early stages of start-up and development. “This is one of the biggest opportunities the university sector has ever had to make a real impact on economic regeneration,” he said.

Towards a ‘new entrepreneurship’

In principle, ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ should determine what new opportunities are available and seek out the resources needed to exploit these. Easier said than done. A leading thinker on entrepreneurship, Professor David Rae, Director of the Centre for Management & Business Research in the Lincoln Business School, suggests that universities are well placed to contribute to the development of a ‘new entrepreneurship’, “led by education, in which social responsibility, environmental sustainability and the practice of ethical and moral frameworks become integral”.

In his inaugural lecture at the University of Lincoln on 28th January 2009, Professor Rae examined whether ‘entrepreneurship’ is ‘too risky to let loose in a stormy climate’. He revealed that he graduated at the cusp of a recession in 1981 and founded his first business a decade later during the recession in 1991, but acknowledged that the challenge seems greater now.

“The ability of graduates to find jobs and start their careers, and of entrepreneurs to run their businesses successfully during a recession, is of great concern,” he said. “I hope this lecture will start a debate which is urgently needed on what better ways we can create which enable us to do these important things and what the contribution of the University can be to achieve this in the next few challenging years.”

Professor Rae, who is ISBE‘s Vice-President for Education, offered three “suggestions to advance the development of entrepreneurship in the new era. One is the value of mutual and collective enterprise[…]. The second is the need to use latent resources to regenerate economic activity. The third is the role of learning in creating the new entrepreneurship.” In examining the role of learning, Professor Rae stated: “I believe that Higher Education has a responsibility to work with business people and wider communities to create and apply knowledge which leads to new solutions, and at this time that is more critical than ever.”

He added that: “Students need to be enterprising to create life and career opportunities by being resourceful and imaginative in applying their skills and talents to a range of opportunities.”

Rae concluded that: “The University can provide an intellectual and creative arena where different models of enterprise, economic activity and value creation can emerge and be taken forward into the community by our students. We cannot do this alone and we welcome people from business, communities and public sector agencies to work with us.”

With the ECIF fund and a prioritised and more proactive approach to business, many universities are seeking to respond to the challenges of the new global economic environment, an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace, and changes to research funding. The work of organisations such as the NCGE will prove a valuable catalyst for improving collaborative links between HEIs, business and government.

Challenging Graduate Career Opportunities

28 01 2009

Graduates are facing a very tough jobs market. The ‘Class of 2009’ has already had to contend with gloomy predictions of a serious shortfall in the number of graduate jobs available when they finish their degrees this year. But it’s not all gloom and doom if you’re creative and entrepreneurial.

Some of the more entrepreneurial graduates in sectors where competition for jobs is fiercest are already taking defensive action to create their own start-ups. The NCGE’s Flying Start Programme for the Creative Industries, held in Bournemouth earlier this month, received over 100 applications for 33 places from as far north as Yorkshire.

Graduates chasing vacancies at the UK’s largest recruiters will find fewer opportunities on average. High Fliers Research, whose 14th January report – The Graduate Market in 2009 – surveyed 100 firms, found that recruitment targets have been cut by 17% for this year since the latest graduate recruitment round began in September 2008.

Last year graduate recruitment fell by 6.7% rather than rising by the 11.8% predicted by the recruiters themselves. Banking and finance were particularly badly hit. Skilled staff taken on by leading firms will drop by 7,000 to around 33,000 this year.

Mike Hill, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HESCU) and Graduate Prospects, said recently: “Graduates should not panic. There are lots of jobs out there, but they will be harder to get because more people will be going for them.

“There are more jobs for graduates now than there were 10 years ago,” he added. It is also important, Mike recommends, for HR managers to take a long-term view when faced with current financial pressures. “When we emerge from this recession we will need all the talent we can muster.”

Some areas are bucking the trend, according to the High Fliers research report. There are now 51% more entry-level positions for graduates in the public sector and 17% more roles in the Armed Forces. Accountancy remains a strong prospect, preparing to offer 20.9% of all graduate jobs in 2009.

A BBC Briefing for concerned graduates listed seven top tips from HESCU and Graduate Prospects include:

  • Take advice
  • Broaden your horizons to related professions
  • Consider paid or unpaid work experience
  • Do not be too proud to use contacts to get a first break
  • Do not be too proud to take a job you think may be beneath you
  • Be imaginative


  • Consider setting up your own business.

Seasoned entrepreneur Sir David Tang has criticised global pessimism in the face of recession. In a recent opinion piece he recommended we shed negativity and think about finding solutions. He called on governments to force banks to lend to small businesses.

The Government is taking action on a number of fronts. In addition to its recent support package for small businesses, a new campaign – Science: So What? (So Everything) – launched today at 10 Downing Street underlines the continuing need for science, technology, engineering and maths subject areas among many graduate employers. Technology and innovation are seen as key drivers for economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Professor Dame Wendy Hall is spearheading another campaign by the Royal Academy of Engineering to attract more engineers from diverse backgrounds. She said: “The financial turmoil and the recession actually give us a huge opportunity to entice people who have studied engineering and science away from the City and back into innovating for the future, which is where they are badly needed.”

For those graduates among the 400,000 due to graduate this year who remain unemployed for more than six months, it has been reported that DIUS Minister John Denham is proposing paid three-month internships with leading firms and is inviting more of all sizes, and from the public and voluntary sectors, to take part. But details are still being worked out.

In the Government’s New Opportunities White Paper, it was also announced last week that a more streamlined package of support for those unemployed for six months or more pursuing self-employment is to be introduced.

University ‘Challenge’ Pupils Compete In London Regional Final

28 11 2008

Hundreds joined Flying Start events for Global Entrepreneurship Week 2008. The NCGE – in partnership with Make Your Mark and university hosts – held seven Flying Start Rallies, four Flying Start-Make Your Mark Challenge events for schools, and the first international online speed networking event for student entrepreneurship club representatives.

Pupils from Langdon School in East Ham who attended one of the Flying Start-Make Your Mark Challenge events hosted by a university did so well they made it into the London Regional Final for the 14-16 age group. They will compete today against 19 other school teams from London. Good luck to them!

     Lord Bilimoria with pupils from Langdon School. A team from there will compete today in the London Regional Final of the Make Your Mark Challenge.

Lord Bilimoria with pupils from Langdon School. A team from there will compete today in the London Regional Final of the Make Your Mark Challenge.

The NCGE’s National Champion for Graduate Entrepreneurship, Cobra Beer founder Lord Bilimoria, got their week off to a flying start at London Metropolitan University. He gave an inspirational talk and question-and-answer session for 50 students from Uxbridge College and Langdon School, as well as London Met students, staff from the Business School hosting the Challenge, and volunteers from successful businesses.

The school and college students, aged from 14-19, had been set the Challenge first thing in the morning along with 55,000 other pupils across the UK. What made this Challenge different was that they experts from the Business School on hand to encourage their ideas.

Dr Lorna Collins, the NCGE’s Director of Flying Start, and Harry Rich, Chief Executive of Make Your Mark, were on hand to mark the launch of this first event bringing schoolchildren into universities for the national Challenge.

London Metropolitan Vice-Chancellor Brian Roper and Bob Morgan, Head of London Metropolitan’s Business School, introduced this year’s Challenge, to create an entrepreneurial idea based on seven Olympic and Paralympic values:

• Respect – What or who do you respect, and why?
• Excellence – What inspires you to excellence?
• Friendship – What does friendship look and feel like?
• Courage – What makes someone courageous?
• Determination – What requires determination? What brings it out of you?
• Equality – Do you know equality? Have you experienced inequality?
• Inspiration – What inspires you? Can you think how to inspire others?

Since London Met is the capital’s leading university for sports and is closely involved in preparing for the 2012 London Olympics, the Vice-Chancellor offered an additional prize for the Challenge to support the development of the best Olympics focused business idea.

After a show of creative energy in their initial brainstorming session, the students got to meet one of the country’s leading entrepreneurs. Lord Bilimoria asked first how many in the room wanted to start a business. At least half put their hands up. “The most important thing you need to start a business,” he said, “is to really want to start it.”

Next he addressed worries about the economy. “An interviewer this morning asked me: ‘How can you encourage people to start businesses when we’re in a recession?’ I said ‘I started my business at the start of the last recession!’ The first consignment of Cobra Beer arrived at Southampton from Bangalore in June 1990.” He stressed how much the country needs new businesses and talented entrepreneurs.

Finally he asked how many of the students intended to go to university. Three-quarters of the audience raised their hands. “I resisted the temptation to start a business straightaway,” he said. “I wanted to get my education first. That knowledge has served me well.”

The view that university is irrelevant to entrepreneurs is changing, according to Lord Bilimoria. “The purpose of the NCGE, for which I am the National Champion, is to encourage all students from any university background to start a business.” He’s proud to have persuaded famous entrepreneurs who said education isn’t necessary to change their minds.

The students asked lots of great questions and left after lunch buzzing, ready to get on with the Challenge in their teams.

Three other universities – Bournemouth, Greenwich and Leeds Metropolitan – invited schoolchildren to visit them for a ‘university’ Challenge. This is something Flying Start and Make Your Mark hope to extend even further next year.

Altogether over 700 people registered for Flying Start during Global Entrepreneurship Week. Over 300 University of Derby students were involved in Entrepreneurship Week activities organised in partnership with the University of Derby’s Careers Service.

Christine Dare, Gemma Palmer and the Derby team worked tirelessly alongside the Flying Start team to organise the events, and experts Dave Morgan from UKIPO, Neil Butler from Companies House, Tim Benson from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and Luke Aikman from Bristol Developers were there to deliver a series of stimulating workshops.

Many new members have now joined the redesigned and enhanced flyingstartonline.com web support system for student and graduate entrepreneurs. They will be kept informed about the latest opportunities – such as the Flying Start Software Entrepreneurship Programme backed by Microsoft in mid December (application deadline Monday 1 December at 5pm) – so that they can make their business ideas a reality.

Simon Phelps with his FLOODSTOP barrier.

Simon Phelps with his FLOODSTOP barrier.

On Thursday morning, Flying Start Global Entrepreneur Simon Phelps was invited to 10 Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister. Simon was one of ten business owners asked to provide an insight into how the economic downturn is affecting trading conditions.

In 2007, Simon became one of the first of this country’s most promising graduate entrepreneurs to be funded by the NCGE to travel to the United States and experience how enterprise and entrepreneurship is encouraged there.

The six months he spent there, hosted by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, were influential in helping him develop his business. “The time with my US mentors during my internship has been invaluable, they have provided me with amazing insight and advice which really helped me make headway with the progress of Fluvial Innovations Ltd,” he said.

Simon’s multifunctional FLOODSTOP barrier is now being tested and used very effectively by local authorities, in the Environment Agency’s southern region, and a flood-prone domestic property.

Women and the Enterprise Strategy

27 03 2008

The announcement of  a £12.5 million fund to be spent on redressing the gender imbalance among entrepreneurs as part of the Government’s Enterprise Strategy has not been universally welcomed.  The effectiveness of this provision has been questioned by the British Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAWE) and several business commentators (see Please, sir, may we have some more? and When a helping hand doesn’t help). 

 Interestingly, two events in the past fortnight (organised well in advance of the announcement of the Enterprise Strategy) have given female entrepreners the opportunity to showcase their ideas and inspire other women to follow in their footsteps:  the British Female Inventor and Innovator Network (BFIIN) announced its 2008 Award Winners at the BFIIN  annual Conference, and the British Library organised the Mothers of Invention event which featured five entrepreneurial women telling their stories.

Another cohort of would-be entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to receive support when the second Flying Start Programme for Women commences with a residential workshop in Sheffield in July.  The format will be similar to the first Programme run in January 2008.

Women and enterprise

21 02 2008

A round-up of a number of recent news stories featuring women and enterprise in the week of the PROWESS Conference:

NCGE recently published the analysis of applicants to the 2008 Women’s Flying Start programme.  The data on why women want to start their own businesses,  gathered from the applicants to the NCGE’s most successful programme, reveals the motivations and backgrounds of would-be entrepreneurs.

The British Female Inventor and Innovator of the Year Award (BFIIN) is an annual award that aims to recognise and promote the success stories of women in the UK that have come through the challenges of turning an idea into reality. Previous Award winners discuss their motivations and inspiration in a Guardian article “Meet the mothers of invention“.  The 2008 Awards ceremony will be held in Wales during March 10-11. 

The Prowess Awards 2008 are now open for nominations. These unique awards honour individuals from across the business community who are changing the face of UK enterprise by championing female entrepreneurship.  New categories this year include the Social Entrepreneur category supported by the Office of the Third Sector and the Ethnic Minority Business Woman Award supported by the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Expertise (WECOE) and Advantage West Midlands. Nominations are invited from across the UK and the closing date is Friday 11 April.

The Social Enterprise Coalition has named a leading female social entrepreneur, Claire Dove as Coalition Chair. Ms Dove is CEO of Blackburn House Group, a training-led organisation which runs a number of social enterprises which provide career opportunities for women in non-traditional sectors such as construction and IT.

Overwhelming demand for start-up support from women graduates

23 11 2007

NCGE Flying Start has received an overwhelming number of applications for the Flying Start Programme for Women, believed to be the first national programme designed specifically for women. The Programme is designed for recent graduates or final year students planning to start a business within the next 12 months, and will help them take a product or service and make it a business reality.  

Almost 1,200 applications were received from current final year students and graduates from 118 universities. For the successful applicants, the Programme will begin with a 3 day residential programme in York in January 2008. In the light of this response, Flying Start will work with government, higher education and women’s groups to press for recognition of this latent demand from would-be female entrepreneurs.