Career choices – four answers for student entrepreneurs’ career conundrum
Time flies. Another semester has sprinted by and students across the land are one step closer to joining the big wide world of work. The fabled graduation ceremony approaches at an unrelenting speed and with it comes the inevitable question, ‘so what will you be doing next?’
There are plenty of options out there for the student entrepreneur. You could take the immediate leap into the unknown and found your first company. Alternatively, you could find a promising startup and build experience in an entrepreneurial environment before launching your own idea. Then there are large multinationals that are hunting for top talent, offering years of exclusive opportunities and resources that will help you mature before you set up your own venture.
With graduation comes a crucial crossroads in every young entrepreneur’s life. Which route is the one that you need to choose?
Over 75 leading companies and organisations exhibited at the University of Southampton’s Engineering and Technology Careers Fair this week, so we put this burning question to startups to seek advice from the middle of their own entrepreneurial journeys. Check out Future Worlds’ exclusive video, above, to hear some of their answers.
The eagle eyed startup enthusiast would have spotted more than one Future Worlds Mentor scouting at Tuesday’s fair. Among their ranks was former teenage millionaire Josh Valman, Managing Director of the RPD International manufacturing firm.
“We’re looking for entrepreneurial people,” he explained, taking a break from chatting to prospective graduates at his stand in Garden Court. “We want people that have the drive to understand what the world needs. For entrepreneurs currently studying at Southampton who are looking for what’s next, I’d say that experience is very important. You can get that by going straight out to market and experimenting or it can also be found inside smaller, more entrepreneurial companies.”
In Josh’s own journey, which he shared in a compelling recent talk, he didn’t even gain a university degree before founding his first company. He’s welcoming aspiring entrepreneurs into RPD International as a springboard to emulate his own success. “We have people working with us that we know are with us for the short term,” he said. “They want to go out and do their own thing in future, but they’ve come here to learn how the big companies work, understand what they will need to do and spot what they will have to look out for. Even though we know they’ll be leaving after a short period of time, they bring a lot of value to us.”
Software Developer Tim Carter works with Future Worlds Mentor Simon Kampa at technology startup Senseye. He was exhibiting at the careers fair to find people with the right “spark” to thrive in a startup environment.
“If somebody has never been outside of academia then it might be useful experience to work with somebody and to enjoy mentorship to learn valuable lessons before starting your own company,” he said. “Unfortunately not all startups succeed – there’s actually quite a high rate of failure – so you’ve got a better chance of success if you can learn first to not make mistakes later.”
Anita Allott, Marketing Director of nquiringminds, explained that graduates with a “can-do attitude” will succeed in a startup setup.
The high technology business, which is based at the University of Southampton Science Park, was scouting in the fair’s Innovation Zone for gifted students that could bring bright ideas in the development of future smart cities. “My advice would be to believe in your idea, nurture your idea, take advice and don’t be frightened to go round the block and keep trying,” she added.
Across from nquiringminds in the heart of a bustling Hartley Suite was Stewart Desson and his psychometrics startup Lumina Learning. Stewart has developed a business idea over the past decade that mixes business psychology and computer science. “The company started with me having a good idea and everyone telling me not to do it because I’d lose lots of money,” he said. “I did it anyway and since taking it to market in 2010 we’ve been growing organically at 50% per annum ever since.”
Stewart’s psychometrics are able to measure the characteristics of entrepreneurs. “We know that entrepreneurs are different to someone in the average population,” he explained. “They have certain traits that can be identified and we are interested in recruiting people like this. Entrepreneurs have high levels of creativity and are more likely to want to take a risk. We are looking for people that have an entrepreneurial streak but can also be a team player.”
His guidance for graduate entrepreneurs is to carefully look at the culture of the team they are entering. “The key thing whatever you do – whether it’s alone, with a small company or a large business – is you need to find the right culture,” he advised. “Some cultures are too rigid. They may produce brilliant results but if you can’t express your creativity then it will kill you.
“You need to find an organisation that encourages what I call an ‘adhocracy’ rather than a bureaucracy. It encourages people to connect, innovate and do things differently and entrepreneurs truly value that. Remember, you’re assessing the company. Do you want to work for them? Ask them about their culture. Ask if anyone else entrepreneurial has worked for them and how they got on. Find out whether they squeeze the living daylights out of you or empower you.”
There are several options available to entrepreneurs as they consider how to start their career and any of them could viably lead to a successful future startup or spinout. The advice from recruiters at this year’s careers fair is to make sure whichever route you choose has a positive environment that you will flourish in. Who knows, maybe you will be at the 2027 Engineering and Technology Careers Fair, headhunting talent for your own rising business.
Do you have a startup idea that you want to develop? Get in touch with the Future Worlds team using the contact form on the right of this page and find out what support we can offer.