Everyone’s talking entrepreneurship these days. Entrepreneurship used to be the realm of Richard Branson and Alan Sugar and something ‘someone else did.’ But things have changed and nowadays young people see entrepreneurship as career pathway, thanks somewhat to a certain Mark Zuckerberg and co.
Further to that, entrepreneurship, or more precisely, enterprise, is no longer about starting a business but more about a mind and skill-set that is demanded by the modern world of work. Intrapreneurship, the art of developing innovation internally within an organisation, is now a widely coined phrase and employers demand the kind of soft skills; problem solving, communication and independence that entrepreneurs have in spades. Enterprise is no longer the territory of ‘new business.’
Hence, enterprise is the focus of the development of our students. Whether they go on to careers in organisations or create ones of their own, we pride ourselves here at London South Bank University (LSBU) on the employability of our students and we see enterprise as a key part of that employability ‘package’. Outside of the student experience, enterprise here at LSBU also takes place beyond the walls of the University.
Like many other UK institutions, the problem was that enterprise activity was fragmented – many different departments were doing it, in inconsistent ways and some better than others!
We pioneer and promote enterprise across the South London community through developing and supporting local businesses, encouraging life-long learning, (in addition to the thousands of local undergraduates that come through LSBU each year), and the development of world-leading impactful research that changes the lives of many of our local (and international) stakeholders. We’re proud of our enterprise ‘eco-system’ and were delighted when we won the Times Higher Entrepreneurial University of the Year last year in recognition of our efforts.
However, we have been and continue to be, on a journey to achieve and maintain this reputation for enterprise. LSBU, like many other UK institutions, has long built and developed a good range of research and enterprise activity, it has enjoyed good links with industry and the local community for over 125 years. However, also like many other UK institutions, the problem was that enterprise activity was fragmented – many different departments were doing it, in inconsistent ways and some better than others! This challenged the ability for the university to benefit from any economies of scale or possible efficiencies when it came to delivering enterprise activity in a coordinated and cohesive way.
For example, there was little to no cross-selling. Businesses would come into one department and leave, without being offered the chance to work with another. There was also no consistency of experience, and uncertainty from businesses where to get ‘in’ to LSBU. In addition, students lacked a central focus point for their enterprise needs. Whilst business school students may have always found it easier to get entrepreneurship advice due to the nature of their degree, where were the Art students going if they wanted to stage an exhibition?
So the University created a role, a directorate, for research, enterprise and innovation – a role which considered research and enterprise centrally across the university, effectively combining the university’s strengths under one roof.
Students lacked a central focus point for their enterprise needs. Whilst business school students may have always found it easier to get entrepreneurship advice due to the nature of their degree, where were the Art students going if they wanted to stage an exhibition?
And under one roof it soon became. LSBU developed a bespoke location with the development of the award-winning Clarence Centre for Enterprise and Innovation which has become a central, convening hub for research, enterprise and innovation activity across the University. It provides a gateway for businesses to engage with LSBU and enables the University to offer better services and a more integrated approach. In 2015/16, tenants in the Clarence Centre, both student and community start-ups turned over £173 million in revenue. Incidentally, that’s how much the most expensive footballer in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo is supposedly worth.
Crucially the Clarence Centre has also boosted community engagement with the University. Having the physical space is a tangible representation of the University in the community – the work done in there resonates in whole of the surrounding local area – not just ‘inside’ LSBU. For example the legal advice clinic is a community facing initiative where all members of the community can access free legal advice from LSBU’s law students, who themselves gain real-life experience.
The Clarence Centre is also a platform not just to welcome the community in, but to also go out to the community. The Centre leads on partnerships with Lewisham Council and Newham College to support enterprise activity in the community. We have recently started projects to deliver consultancy to support high-growth SMEs and, separately, boost enterprise in low areas of enterprise activity.
So, we see enterprise at LSBU as a wheel with many spokes. Our academics do cutting-edge research and consultancy to ensure businesses gain the competitive advantage to succeed. Our students are equipping themselves with the skills they need to secure rewarding and fulfilling careers and our community grows and flourishes as it benefits from a strong local economy, a supply of talented work-ready graduates and the variety of other civic values a university embedded in its community should bring.
We may have won an award for our enterprise eco-system, but it’s really everyone involved in the LSBU community who’s a winner.