I teach a tech start-up module for Masters students here at the University of Bristol. For most of the ~150 finalist engineers who take the module its their first taste of start-up and we shamelessly focus on the ‘business’ aspect rather than the ‘tech’ as the rest of their degree handles that.
Most of our graduate engineers typically seek out graduate employment in big companies both in the engineering and financial sectors. As such some of them sometimes challenge the value of a unit on start-up… this is my response:
Making use of Entrepreneurship in ‘conventional’ employment
One or two feedback comments in the last lecture suggested that those of you not planning on starting up an entrepreneurial venture might not have gained much from a programme so ostentatiously focused on start-ups… so we thought we’d quickly counter that with a few insights into the world of work and some top tips on how to articulate the value of this programme.
This module’s focus on start-ups is very much a means to an end – we use the process of starting up an idea as a vehicle to carry some significant learning:
- Small companies are a great microcosm to understand much bigger companies. Just because your future multinational employer has thousands of staff and diverse business functions doesn’t mean that it’s not operating to a business model that can be captured on a canvas. Understanding how all those leviathan functions work together, attract customers, make money, sustain profits, and hold off the competition is a really valuable insight. We would assert that this module gives you a good insight into the core fundamentals of successful business models at any scale – which should make you a more attractive graduate engineer.
- Knowing how to generate, develop, pivot, test, and articulate an idea in a commercial context is quite simply a skill you’ll probably draw upon every day of your working life. We hope we’ve given you some tools, and some quite cutting-edge tools in the context of some big companies, that will help you realise ideas for yourselves and your employers.
- The world of work has never been more precarious and fast-moving; the ratio of start-ups and SMEs to massive corporate firms has rarely been higher and the rate of disruptive innovation emerging in even established markets means few big companies can rest on their laurels. You will probably change job more times than any previous generation, your employers will probably ask you to work more flexibly than any previous generation; these skills of commercial awareness and idea-development will help you find employment, stay employed, and evaluate which companies to join next. You may never be an entrepreneur, but being entrepreneurial has never been so valuable to being employed gainfully.
So how to use our module:
- ‘Developing a business plan for a technology start-up’ would be a great claim to assert on your CV or application form – packed up in that statement are assumptions about commercial awareness, creativity, technology development, and more.
- Previous graduates have frequently told us that once they mention in interview that they developed a business plan for a start-up that example has been the focus of attention for the rest of the interview precisely because it is so richly relevant to what most employers are seeking – collaborative, commercially-aware, technology-savvy, articulate graduates.
- Think about 2-3 neat examples of skills or knowledge you can use this module to demonstrate; it might be group-work, market or competitor research, product development, iterating a business model, pitching a business plan, or writing a risk management strategy.
- Hopefully it might also have opened your eyes to the supposed 70% of the job market that doesn’t advertise… if 99.97% of all UK companies are SMEs then they’re not likely to all come to a Careers Fair or advertise via the Careers Service – but there are thousands of emerging tech companies seeking bright technical graduates for exciting roles… you just have to look for them a bit harder.
Speaking as a former Head of Careers at another UK university I can assure you that the theory learned and practical content experienced on this module will be one of the most employable elements of your whole time at university.