With the university term well and truly under way, many students will still be considering what clubs they might join.
Rowing, debating, journalism and philosophy are among the most obvious pursuits. Of course, these activities are worthwhile in that they promote qualities such as persistence and creativity – valuable ingredients both personally and professionally.
However, there is another field – that of entrepreneurship – that has been gathering momentum in recent years.
Indeed, entrepreneurship is an activity that cannot only enhance students’ success academically, but strengthen confidence and instill qualities and skills conducive to success upon graduation.
As a Cambridge Trust Scholar, I credit much of my personal success to the lessons learned – both positive and harsh – in building a company. Others seem to share this perspective: Sir Richard Branson recently remarked, for instance, that “Starting young is good, you can either learn through failing, like I did, or you can learn by being successful.”
Entrepreneurship, which applies to those who build for-profit start-ups and charities alike, can be a stressful pursuit, but the rewards can enrich a traditional university experience.
Student entrepreneurs gain hands-on experience with their education, grow their personal networks and have no choice but to become more diligent with their study time.
In a relatively short period of time, organisations such as Cambridge University Entrepreneurs, Oxford University Entrepreneurs and the UCL Entrepreneurs Society – among many others – have provided significant value to students’ personal lives while also strengthening regional and national economies. For example, in its 15 years as an organisation, the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs has helped generate companies with approximately £100 million of investment.
Another organisation, the Innovation Forum, serves as a bridge between multiple UK institutions, bringing together the bright movers and shakers from Oxbridge, King’s College London, UCL, Edinburgh and more – providing rare regional and global connections for those offering great ideas.
Students and young professionals have never had more opportunity to acquire meaningful industry experience whilst pursuing their degrees.
It was only one year ago that I made the decision to pursue student entrepreneurship, building a company called Gen Y Inc., which has provided a living for both myself and others, and is now growing steadily.
When starting as an undergraduate student, I never considered myself an entrepreneur; however, several mentors and entrepreneurs showed that following this life path can be rewarding not only financially, but also in terms of developing life skills such as negotiations, project management, time management, resilience and imagination.
Entrepreneurship has inspired me to learn about fields outside of my primary interests – politics and development – spending time in lectures on topics such as hi-tech, synthetic biology and artificial intelligence.
In a world that is increasingly interdisciplinary, solutions to seemingly intractable problems will be solved by bringing together business, government and charities. Students with the ability to think across disciplines and sectors prepare themselves for long-term success.
Traditionally, becoming an entrepreneur has been viewed as a risky endeavour. But with public figures including Sir Richard Branson and Andrew Devenport of The Prince’s Youth Business International serving as public role models, there has never been a better time to chart one’s own course.
Student entrepreneurship societies and research centres like the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship provide resources for young people looking to develop their ideas and take them to market. And there are countless success stories where young people have helped build successful companies.
University is a formative and tremendously exciting time. We meet countless people, are exposed to new ways of thinking and, in the process, come to better understand ourselves.
Entrepreneurship, now one of the UK’s great advantages, adds an entirely new dimension to university studies. Freshers and continuing students alike have never been more able to see their ideas become reality and generate meaningful change in the process.
Emerson Csorba is a Cambridge Trust Scholar, World Economic Forum Global Shaper and MPhil candidate in politics, development and democratic education