Its only heresy if you’re a fundamentalist
The definitional discussion continues between myself and Dr Bryan Mills - who definitely doesn’t want another cupcake…
Do refer back to all 3 previous blog posts to follow this!
I’m not entirely convinced we’re heading irrevocably in the direction of enterprise over entrepreneurship as the default definition. I’m also not of the view that your views are any form of heresy. The heresy only creeps in when you become so dogmatically attached to a particular creed that the unorthodox becomes a threat - we’re not there yet!
I’m still not wholly sure what the “it” is that you’re calling enterprise - but this is a problem for all of us - especially whilst we all persist in changing the language of what we do for each and every audience to curry favour. I personally like the QAA guidelines' distinction between 'enterprise education' and 'entrepreneurship education'.
I agree with your points about “a more effective return” - that efficiency and impactfulness is core to all of our work - we’re building capacity (knowledge, skills, mindset, confidence) to enact ideas - profitably, scalably, successfully, and ideally sustainably. I’d argue that the shift of enterprise away from earlier associations with capitalist endeavour is no bad thing - but it depends on how dogmatic you want to be about what enterprise, entrepreneurship, and success involve. It’s not “another way”, it’s just putting the horse of enterprise before the cart of entrepreneurship, with the latter being a subset of the former (and probably a more exclusive, hard-won club to join).
Many of us have seized on the more inclusive and approachable definitions of enterprise because we’re proselytizers who want to invite more people to join. Those who feel that the enterprise/entrepreneurship club is a more exclusive and rarefied crowd would probably be wanting to raise the bar of entry through those same definitions.
Shoehorning more and more things into the enterprise category does dilute the value, I entirely agree. However I don’t think employability is the answer. Personally I’ve often (maybe wrongly) associated employability with batch-processing students for the big graduate schemes - and enterprise has been a useful riposte to this that includes more options and is more about the individual’s aspirations. Does supporting students for freelancing or portfolio careers count as enterprise or employability? Does skills development work around leadership, teamwork, or creative problem-solving count as enterprise or employability?
There is I guess a sliding scale of activities we deliver that runs from preparing students for entrepreneurship at one end to preparing students for graduate schemes at the other, enterprise and employability are somewhere in the middle of that scale and we all have different ideas about which activities fall into which categories.
As a riposte to your risk example of learning to surf - many classes actually start on the beach! People learn to move from kneeling to standing on dry land before they go near the water! I think there is a real place for safe-space enterprise education as a precursor to risk-management.
For me, enterprise is an inclusive definition and ought to remain so. Let the entrepreneurship education sort the wheat from the chaff. But lets also think about where we would draw a line between enterprise and employability…
Social Enterprise Cluster Digital Developer
Research & Enterprise Development (RED) at the University of Bristol is recruiting a part-time graduate role for the 2014-2015 academic year providing an unparalleled opportunity to work at the cutting edge of social enterprise developing our online support for social entrepreneurship. We are looking for an engaged, organised, and articulate graduate with experience of designing websites and online portals.
The post is funded through the Unltd SEE Change programme for one year. The Unltd SEE Change programme is a HEFCE-funded programme to support social enterprise and social entrepreneurs emerging from the Higher Education sector
The aim of the Scalable Social Entrepreneurship cluster is to support researchers at the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England to better engage with social enterprise – either through expert consultancy for existing social enterprises or through the creation of new social enterprises arising from university research.
The role in brief:
Social Enterprise Cluster Digital Developer
- Supporting the work of the new Scalable Social Entrepreneurship Cluster in Bristol and Bath led by the University of Bristol, the University of the West of England, and Social Enterprise Works:
- Developing and maintaining the online portal and networking platforms for the Bristol and Bath Social Enterprise Network (BBSEN)
- Developing and maintaining the SEE Change online learning platform developed by Unltd to support emerging and scaling social entrepreneurs in Bristol and Bath
- Researching local social entrepreneurs and socially-enterprising research communities who can be engaged through the Cluster and BBSEN
- Continued development of the Scalable Social Entrepreneurship Cluster model with a view to finding more partners and funders to ensure lasting impact
- Organisational support for an emerging series of social enterprise networking events to showcase the work of the cluster
Structure of the post:
The post is:
- Managed day-to-day by RED’s Third Sector Entrepreneur-in-Residence (Julie Ellison) as a contracted consultant.
- Employed on a 4 days a week basis for 47 weeks between September 2014 and July 2015.
- Paid an annual consultancy rate of £14-17,000 for the year based on skills and experience (equivalent to a year-long FTE of ~£19-23,000).
- Provided with a desk-space and a laptop for the duration of the contract.
- The post-holder will spend approximately 2 days a week based in Social Enterprise Works in central Bristol and a day a week at each of the University partners. It is anticipated that time will also be spent actively working with or in local social enterprises.
The post represents a fantastic development opportunity for a would-be social entrepreneur or a future third-sector business leader:
- Genuine hands-on experience of running projects in a business environment
- Develop contacts and networks of existing social entrepreneurs, business professionals, and funding bodies
- Personal and Professional Development through training opportunities and daily interactions with social enterprise professionals
- Technical skills development for websites, social media, and online learning tools
- Exposure to hundreds of business ideas, examples of success and failure, and opportunities to improve your odds of entrepreneurial success in the future
What are we looking for?
- A recent graduate (since 2012) based close to Bristol and Bath
- Enthusiastic, self-motivated individuals
- Technical skills in web design, social media marketing, networking platform and online learning development. Coding skills an advantage but design skills and technical competence with content management systems and third-party tools is essential
- Personal experience (successful or otherwise) of participating in an entrepreneurial business
- An awareness of existing enterprise support for social entrepreneurs
- A willingness to facilitate the success of other social entrepreneurs and their business ideas
- Excellent communication and project-management skills
The Application process:
- Applications should include both a CV and Covering Letter and should be emailed direct to Julie.Ellison@bris.ac.uk by 12 midnight on Sunday 10th August
- Candidates will be shortlisted for interviews to be held on the 18th August
- Any further questions about the role should be directed to Dave.Jarman@bris.ac.uk or Mhairi.Threlfall@uwe.ac.uk
Have we got enterprise education fundamentally wrong?
Earlier this week I blogged about the latest 'inspiring enterprise' blog from RBS - making the case for embedding enterprise education in extra-curricular activities. My good friends at EEUK at one stage tweeted my blog alongside another member blog from Dr Bryan Mills.
The two blogs made for interesting bedfellows - there were some similarities (we both aired concern for the definition and dilution of ‘enterprise’) but we also struck different tones on the value of what might be called developmental activities that sometimes are (or should) be badged as enterprise. I argued to include more in our definition of enterprise education, Bryan flagged up some genuine concerns in the other direction.
I was genuinely fascinated by Bryan’s blog (less so by my own) and have decided to fashion a response… I’m not sure how far Bryan’s tongue was in his cheek writing this so for simplicity’s sake I’m going to take it at face value and hope I don’t offend!
Bryan’s contention that there is something ‘fundamentally wrong’ with enterprise education rather depends on what you define enterprise education as being or achieving. If the point is to create lean and mean capitalists with a singular pursuit of wealth and GDP then yes he’s probably right. But I don’t think that’s the point, and even some of the biggest capitalist champions are having their doubts too.
Personally I see enterprise education (in the HE context anyway) as creating ‘Opportunity Ready’ graduates - be those opportunities to create fast-growth start-ups, to pursue successful careers in the private or public sector, to create social innovation, or simply to live fulfilling lives of their own determination. I just don’t find GDP that motivating, or even that useful as measure of success.
There is also something here about what we expect to achieve through a student’s time in university, surely some of those red-in-tooth-and-claw lessons are not the purview of a degree anyway? Is that what a university is for - more meat for the hedge funds?
It all reminds me of the familiar debate around who gets to be called an ‘entrepreneur’? Personally I’m somewhere between the “You have to have started at least 5 companies and raised a £1000000” and “I’m an entrepreneur because I’ve got an app on the app store”. What’s important is that we share the scale of opinion with students who aspire to entrepreneurship and let them work it out for themselves.
Whilst I agree with Bryan that the definition of enterprise can be dilute to the point of being ethereal and that being all things to all people is dangerous, I would contend that much of what enterprise educators do is not so much sanitised as simply “generic”. It’s generic because we’re trying to reach as many students as we can and that many of the activities Bryan is disillusioned about are useful as entry-level activities when you’re trying to reach audiences that find the capitalist stuff hard to stomach.
Bryan’s first contention is that without real risk the learning is lessened; that without failure and hazard we’re not setting students up for reality. I agree, in part… A ‘safe space for failure’ is not the same as not allowing people to fail at all. Managing the learning environment to allow people to lose face, to lose some small amounts of cash, to have wasted time, is part of good enterprise education, but it can’t be too steep a learning curve or many students will actually just leave… By all means develop an ‘entrepreneurial finishing school’ with really serious risks and traps for those who have passed through more developmental precursors - but this ‘sink or swim’ style could scar some genuine entrepreneurs who need to find their feet over time.
The classrooms of HE will always struggle to deliver really tough learning because of the commercial pressures of student recruitment and pastoral care, but actually the extra-curricular space can do this better.
The second contention around sympathy purchases I again agree with - but again its about finding safe starting points for students exploring business for the first time. A good enterprise educator and a good programme will be quick to start stretching student entrepreneurs beyond the sympathy product businesses. Those experiences might be building confidence and skills in a formative manner for tougher and more realistic challenges to follow. It’s only a worry if its all you do.
Likewise the third contention around unrealistic pricing is fine if its an early and formative experience and well debriefed afterwards. When I work with student entrepreneurs I often bring in a ‘time is money’ exercise and start getting them to price their labour and include costs for the free space they might be receiving. But throwing it all in right at the start is disheartening and actually many successful entrepreneurs get started by being thoroughly delusional about their costs - but they adapt quickly when challenged. A little naivety at the start can provide the necessary momentum to get going.
I too have concerns about enterprise education being a “nice, eclectic, set of things” - but sometimes they’re a means to an end. They are the top of a sales funnel, not the whole of the process. If you were told in lecture one that the commercial world would swallow you whole and spit out the bones unless you fought like hell to succeed then I suspect we’d lose a lot of people who can benefit from what we do as enterprise educators.
It all comes back to what you think the point is… for me its opportunity-ready graduates with the skills and confidence to make an impact, sustainably, over their whole careers. It’s not just for a tiny minority who will practice capitalism like blood sport.
Lord Young’s Enterprise for All
Lord Young’s Enterprise Education Review has been published today. Over the last nine months I’ve been involved in that Review, as part of the HE advisory panel. Whilst Lord Young has suggested these are “our ideas not his” I feel considerably less ownership of the resulting document than I had hoped to.
I agree and support many of the principles of this document but I have reservations about the implementation. Many of the problems we identified as an HE group appear here, but the nuanced solutions we sought to complex problems of metrics, ecosystems, connectivity, and institutional differentiation have not appeared. This may simply be naivety on my own part.
It is however genuinely satisfying to see government recognising the significance of enterprise education and the increasing value of fostering an enterprising attitude through the education process. Lord Young is a very passionate and authentic supporter of what we do and his expertise and enthusiasm should be credited. We have also witnessed an increasingly more nuanced understanding from government that enterprise is about more than just start-up entrepreneurship.
There are also some good case studies - so well worth reading!
The challenges for government in the HE sector are considerable and are chiefly about herding up existing good practice and trying to recommend something coherent that feels novel. This is difficult because the enterprise practices that have emerged over the last decade and more are rather diverse, which is what happens when enterprising people are left to their own devices. In many ways this review has been easier in the school and FE sectors and has struggled in a hugely autonomous HE sector. The danger is that where government can get us to agree is often at the lowest common denominator of principle and practice, and as such much of the sector has already moved on to greater (but more individualistic) things…
The two key elements of the review are the Future Employment and Earnings Record (FEER) and the Enterprise Passport.
The FEER is a new metric for the university league tables that prospective students use to select degree programmes. By using HMRC employment data for graduates in the 10 years following graduation, BIS is proposing to offer differentiating detail between the earning power and pattern of different programmes of study (and by implication between studying at different universities too).
Whilst choosing a degree and university is increasingly seen as a financial investment, and whilst universities do currently engage in some obfuscation about the value of their offer to prospective students I worry about the implications and implementation of this metrics.
Many of us have long sought a better measure of student employment data than the Destinations of Leavers of HE (DLHE) which takes place just six months out. By using HMRC data over a decade the picture of what graduates really go on to do could become much clearer. It should also give us a more accurate picture of graduate start-up rates. I can applaud this. However, I work at an institution that has a lot of ‘advantaged’ students with good personal networks and resources to fall back on; most of these students will do well regardless of what the university can add to them. Our grads will likely earn well regardless of their degree. Other institutions’ grads may not earn as well despite their degree potentially transforming their earning potential… IF the value-add offered by an institution and course is captured I will again applaud. However, if we start to see crude measures of future earnings being used as a way to measure universities and programmes then I fear for the sector.
I personally find the idea that prospective students will rate their degree choices by future earnings pretty abhorrent and that we will have lost something special about the degree experience. Universities are not just about employability and providing ready-made employees.
Lord Young acknowledges this concern and was quick to suggest this was not his intention. However, he felt it would take time to work out how to use it best. Like his Start Up Loans scheme, I worry that the first iteration will lack sector sensitivity and rub an awful lot of people up the wrong way before it matures into something I can begin to support as an educator.
The proposed Enterprise Passport is a digital record of approved enterprise activities in which a student has participated at some stage in their education from primary school onwards. The ambition here is that this becomes an addition to the CV and a mark of skills competency for employers. The formalisation will help educational institutions take this seriously and future employers can use it as a selection aid.
I wholly support the principle of recording enterprise achievements and trying to develop a pipeline through the educational system right through to employment. My reservation is about what makes the list of activities that are endorsed? This is not yet clear. We don’t yet know who is deciding and on what criteria an activity is enterprising. We strongly recommended the review take up the definitions of enterprise and entrepreneurship education framed by the QAA’s ‘Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education: Guidance for UK HE providers’ - but this seems to have been a missed opportunity. At present all the definition of those terms seems to come from Lord Young himself despite the expertise available to him. The Passport may well create a ‘verification’ model for some forms of enterprise education that so far is based on no real research into what works.
There are four specific recommendations for HEIs:
Firstly the availability of an elective enterprise module available to all students. Great! I do wholly support this although it is the lowest common denominator activity and these ‘bolt-on’ open units are often poor relations to enterprise programmes that are embedded into degree disciplines. Students and staff seem to respond better when enterprise is contextualised as part of their discipline. Likewise elective units attract the self-selecting entrepreneurs and we should be taking more hostages and converting them. Nonetheless a positive step.
Secondly an active and supported enterprise society in every university. Great! I wholly support this too. I would also stress that enterprise societies by themselves are not a complete solution, they are another basic fix for largely self-selecting students and only part of a genuine ecosystem. I am pleased to see that NACUE’s objectives and metrics are being reviewed to ensure sustainability of the societies that emerge. I would like to see more acknowledgement of the role of educators in delivering this kind of activity alongside societies.
Thirdly, Business Schools that hold Small Business Charter status are encouraged to develop start-up programmes for commercial and social enterprises. Lord Young does acknowledge that not every university has a business school, let alone a chartered one, and this is a weakness in an otherwise well-principled idea. Start-up programmes are increasingly emerging in universities but they often have no relationship with a business school. If the Small Business Charter evolves beyond its business school initial bias then I am supportive. The need to link the elements of the enterprise eco-system (business schools, enterprise societies, incubator spaces, students’ unions, and social enterprise) is key, the devil will be in who leads this at each institution…
There is a continued push towards universities becoming conduits towards Start Up Loans; despite the sector largely feeling that recommending loans is something we find unethical and unwieldy as educational institutions whose students have already incurred enough loan debt. I would still want to see more focus on alternative sources of start up funding.
Finally the Duke of York will be patron to a new ‘E-Star’ award that acknowledges universities delivering strong enterprise outcomes for their students. This will be a new category for universities added to the National Business Awards each November and starting in 2015. It will acknowledge good practice from universities in supporting enterprise through the work of their societies, their graduate start-up numbers, their support provision - but strangely seemingly not their curricular provision despite that being celebrated in the review’s attached case studies. This seems positive, although again the devil will be in the detail. Exactly what the criteria will be and who the judges are remains to be seen.
Overall there is a lot of potential here - and probably that is potential to do good. My worry is the implementation of many of these initiatives; if they are done quickly and crudely then the damage will be substantial. If the nuances and diversity of the sector is recognised then actually it could be transformational in terms of the significance and coherency of enterprise education in UK HE.
I should stress that this is only a review, a set of recommendations, that government need not even endorse…
Have Universities got it all wrong?
Our students seem to really rate our annual enterprise ‘bootcamp’ - Spark - check out their feedback!
Our annual Spark programme is just about the best thing we do. It’s short, sweet, and gets amazing feedback. However it’s cost-effective only on the basis of the ripple effect it creates both in student engagement and staff morale, but it has become a lynchpin in the annual strategy nonetheless.
In 2012 and 2013 100% of feedback gave the course 4/5 or 5/5 for being ‘enjoyable’, ‘interesting’ and ‘useful’. The 5/5 rating has hovered around 90% for about 5 years. The feedback also highly rated the course for ‘motivation’, ‘inspiration’ and ‘skills development’.
In 2013 the students that attended Spark gained over 30% greater confidence in how to build a business around their own ideas. This has been a gradually rising statistic since 2008. Interestingly students initial levels of aspiration and confidence have dropped every year but they all end up at the same final level each time! We think this is because Spark is increasingly just one thing we do and some of the more entrepreneurial students now get their support by other means and Spark is more of an ‘entry-level’ activity.
Enterprise boot-camps and crash courses are hardly innovative these days, almost everyone seems to run one, but ours is around a decade old and I’m currently engaged in planning the 7th event of my tenure! It’s been held in seven different venues and has varied from a 3.5-day long weekend model to an almost 5-day week long model, but the basic structures and elements are pretty much unchanged.
Ours always starts with the Confucius Quote: “Do a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” and always ends with a Dragons’ Den finale with a cash prize and a reminder of that Confucius quote! We stress that good businesses are built on a passion and not on get-rich-quick motives. You’ll need a geeky level of passion to get through the tough times that no amount of money could bait you through.
We always the start the programme with a day or two of general enterprise introduction, with team-work exercises, values exercises, and a lot of brainstorming. Then we get all the participants to give very quick pitches and form up into teams for the remainder of the programme. The latter half of the programme is expert start-up guidance and interactive sessions developing ideas ready for the Dragons.
We have young entrepreneurs share their stories every evening, and we invite local professionals and entrepreneurial alumni to come back as Dragons and judge the entries on the final night. We used to just have pitches in the finale but we’ve moved to an exhibition model with the Dragons wandering the stalls and grilling the would-be entrepreneurs. This is more engaging for the entrepreneurs and more demanding on the teams to field all the questions!
We include some live challenges, some physical activity, and some challenges to go and ‘make stuff’ and ‘talk to a real customer’.
The ideas are usually a pretty mixed bag as most emerge in a very short time; but we do stress that Spark is just a practice run for the real thing. We get social and commercial ideas in roughly equal measure and we also get a pretty decent gender balance on the programme too.
The cost-benefit analysis will nonetheless always say we spend a lot of staff time and money on just 40 students for just 5 days. However, those students have had a fantastic record of joining enterprise societies and Enactus groups, of running those groups, and of being fantastic ambassadors and champions for what we do.
They have a ripple effect in a wider student population. It’s also a great way to involve our alumni and local business professionals and alumni who continue to give back and support our work. They love the intensive atmosphere and the energised students. It’s good for our own staff because it is so energising and helps us build genuinely engaged relationships with the students that encourage them to continue to work with us on their ideas throughout the year.
Its our passion, and it keeps our flames burning each year. It also genuinely seems to spark fires in others.
HEI enterprise education is a problem for Government
Since December I’ve been part of the HE ‘expert’ group for Lord Young’s Enterprise Education Review due later this year. Prior to that, I had a year representing the HE Enterprise Education sector to BIS on behalf of EEUK. My experiences of dealing with government have left me a little disheartened and frustrated of late.
When I first started visiting the halls of power I was simply pleased to be there! First visits to government buildings are quite exciting initially, but fundamentally there are lightless and tired meeting rooms the world over and the governments’ are no different.
What became apparent to me quite quickly was that actually most agents of government are, like the rest of us, trying very hard to look more competent than they are. It doesn’t help that they move civil servants around just as they start to know a portfolio, which has happened to me twice with BIS now. Just as good people really got their teeth into the issues and began to perceive what was fluff and what was critical to success they got moved!
One of the problems of this perpetual motion is that everyone is looking for quick wins – to have an impact before they’re moved on (and possibly up or down based on their recent wins). Similar is true for both ministers and mandarins, quick results are king.
There are two major problems with this; firstly that quick wins tend to be lowest-common-denominator and largely valueless or even retrograde to anyone who has solved the issue locally long before. Secondly, the first answer to any question is rarely the most creative, it’ll be a re-hash of something tried and tested and obvious. Somehow we’ve got a system which prioritises the least innovative and least sustainable solutions to the problems we have in delivering sustainable innovation!
Higher Education seems to be a particular problem for government as regards innovation; largely because we’re not only autonomous from government in a way that schools and colleges are not, but because we run very autonomous operations ourselves. Government genuinely struggles to understand HE staff when we say “we can’t just make things happen” in our institutions… which is why the ‘one-size-fits-all’ models that external agencies pitch to government both a) get funded because they look easier than what the sector itself says and b) ultimately fail to deliver embedded and sustainable change, because they fail to put down institutional roots or garner institutional buy-in. HEIs are complex bureaucracies, engineered to deliver a liberal learning environment for the most part, but that makes them difficult to herd around.
In my most recent visits to government we’ve talked a lot about how to embed enterprise and entrepreneurship education still deeper in institutions. I believe we have to some degree plateaued, business schools and enterprise societies will only get you so far, genuine cross-curricular embedding and institutional buy-in is still far from universal. To get to that next level of change we need to pull bigger levers to move senior managers to strategically commit – i.e. money and metrics. However, no-one seems to have the appetite for this in the halls of power – or not until after the 2015 election anyway…
The world is increasingly asking HEIs to dismantle their silos of research and their narrow degree programmes, but the narrow focus of academic work is resisting this passively and actively, unless the bigger levers of institutional behaviours start getting pulled we’ll be plateaued here for a while yet…