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Entrepreneurship as a career choice from graduation onwards…?

by Rob on January 14, 2014

It is fascinating to reflect on what feels like an explosion of entrepreneurialism as a viable career path over the past 5 years or so. When we launched the Escape the City blog in 2009, working in a startup (unless you count Google) wasn’t really on most graduates’ radars, the Facebook movie was probably still a pilot, and most City people were still figuring out – post-credit crunch – where to build a career if not in law, accounting, banking and consulting.

Back in 2011 Dee Stirling asked me to help her find a Programme Manager for a new initiative called the New Entrepreneurs Foundation. The objective?  To build a programme for young, ambitious entrepreneurs, equipping them with the hands on skills, experience and networks to start and grow sustainable businesses. A friend of mine called Zara Pearson got the Programme Manager job through the listing on Escape the City and hit the ground running to get the NEF ready for their first intake in 2012…

“I always knew I wanted to do something different. After leaving uni, I worked in China for 3 years. Returning to London I had no idea what I wanted to do. My friends all seemed to be settled into careers. The Esc weekly newsletter was a reviving tonic. Its inspirational quotes and stories kept my spirits up and it was through the site that I found my job. I am now the programme director for the New Entrepreneurs Foundation. I consider myself hugely lucky to have a job which I find intrinsically interesting with a company which seeks to do good. I’ve been here for 2 years now and it’s going strong.”

Esc has helped fill the first two NEF intakes (2014 intake is open – details here and below).  Of the first 2 intakes (2012 and 2013) 1/3 chose to accept FT jobs in their host companies, 1/3 have gone on to other startups (like Uber) and 1/3 are running their own venture. Over 20 ventures have been launched – Nikita Thakrar is part of the founding cohort of the Startup Generation Global Fellowship and is also working on Create A Nation to mobilise female entrepreneurs globally.

I’m so energised by these stories. Other highlights include Mike Bandar and James Vardy who are turning around businesses such as Toyboy Warehouse, Dan Gillespie & Sam Lott who are raising investment for their venture, Birdie List. Ry Morgan and PleaseCycle who have just graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10 thousand small businesses programme. Josephine Goube who just launched migreat and David Galbraith just received funding from StartUp Loans for SWIG (hipflasks).

It feels like things have changed really quickly for entrepreneurialism as a career path. The New Entrepreneurs Foundation is one example of more structured routes into entrepreneurship that don’t involve sitting at your kitchen table trying to figure it all out by yourself. Entrepreneur First is a similar model but for tech graduates. Organisations like The Sandpit and Forward Labs hire people into positions where the job title is literally “Entrepreneur” and they build teams and startups around them.

Beyond that, a host of companies have sprung up to teach the entrepreneurial skills that are so sorely lacking in most mainstream education paths. Many are very tech-focused (they’ll teach you how to build things online): Decoded, Steer, Makers Academy. Others teach a more general startup skillset: General Assembly, Startup Institute, and of course our very own Startup MBA and The Escape School. Funding is also more accessible via services like Crowdcube, Seedrs and Startup Loans.

If I were graduating today and was attracted by the entrepreneurial path I would probably try and get a job in someone else’s startup for a few years before building my own. No startups don’t pay as well as corporate jobs (for the most part) but they are more fun, less formal, you can get more responsibility sooner, there is less hierarchy and more scope for advancing rapidly. This option was not really on most peoples’ radars back in 2007. I’d also start learning via some of the options above.

Getting a job in a startup is the least risky way to start a career in “entrepreneurship”. That subject is big enough for a separate blog post but the important thing here is joining a team with the right people to learn from rather than getting hung up on your job title, what the business does, or the salary. A whole recruitment industry has sprung up around this new-ish career path. Escape the City is clearly a part of it. Enternships, Workinstartups, Angel List Jobs, and dozens of others.

It is still incredibly difficult to start a successful, profitable, sustainable business venture. There is (sadly) no magic recipe for that. However, reviewing all the different programmes, companies and education sources above shows quite how much of an ecosystem there is around the concept of entrepreneurship as a viable career path. No your parents might not understand, yes most of your corporate mates won’t “get it”… but it’s definitely there for the chasing if you’re motivated enough – more so today than ever.

Note from Rob: I hope this was a useful post. The New Entrepreneurs Foundation selects 30 young, aspiring entrepreneurs each year and provides them with a unique 12-month paid work placement and learning and development programme. The 2014-15 intake is currently open for applications on Escape the City.

Good luck!

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  • ajoest

    Parents would be wise in saying “Don’t look for a job, look for customers”

    • Escape the City

      Amen to that – good point.
      Thanks!

  • http://www.nigeladams.com/ Nigel Adams

    I think your readers would like to know that @UniOfBuckingham you don’t have to wait to graduate to start your own business. You can start and run your own business as an integral part of your BSc Business Enterprise honours degree. @Buckingham_BBE was the first and is still one of only three Venture Creation Programmes at universities anywhere in the world. You can find out more here: http://bit.ly/bbe_home and http://bit.ly/bbe_fb_page

    • Escape the City

      Thanks Nigel.

  • kathleenlargo

    I like how you pointed out that joining a startup is considered as an entrepreneurial career path. Some graduates are still afraid of taking into entrepreneurship because they think it’s all about starting a business on their own right after uni. Startups are a good training ground for when one finally does start his/her own business. I think one of the biggest challenges in attracting graduates to this career path is eliminating uncertainty. It’s difficult and somehow impossible, but at the very least graduates should develop the mindset that it’s okay to be uncertain for the few years after graduating.

    • Escape the City

      Agreed – being comfortable with uncertainty (and even seeking it out) is particularly important for an entrepreneurial career path. To be honest the supposedly “certain” and safe corporate world has been shown to be anything but that in the past 5 years – so a lot of it comes down to perception.

      Reminds me of this quote by Steve Pavlina:

      “Does putting yourself in a position where someone else can turn off all your income just by saying two words (“You’re fired”) sound like a safe and secure situation to you?”

      http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/07/10-reasons-you-should-never-get-a-job/

  • Escape the City

    Another aspect of the entrepreneurial ecosystem (in London – sorry that this post is pretty London centric) is the range of incubators, accelerators, shared work-spaces and meetups which make starting a business or exploring the startup scene so much easier.

    A quick list off the top of my head:

    - Wayra – http://wayra.org/en
    - TechStars – http://www.techstars.com/program/locations/london/
    - Bathtub 2 Boardroom – http://www.bathtub2boardroom.com/
    - 3 Beards – http://3-beards.com/
    - London Startup Guide is a great place to start – http://startupguide.fastmail.fm/
    - Bangers and Mash for angel fundraising directory – http://bamlondon.blogspot.co.uk/
    - The Fetch is always pretty entrepreneurial in terms of content – http://thefetch.com/

    Please do add your own links in this thread.

    Cheers,

    Rob

  • Escape the City

    From Matthew Stafford on Twitter @mstafford

    And if grads are after investment there is @StudentUpstarts

    http://www.studentupstarts.com/

    “Up to £15k equity investment for students/graduates to create and build tech businesses”

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