Campus dragons: The entrepreneurial spirit is soaring across universities in the UK

Entrepreneurship is all the rage on British campuses. Forget protest, hedonism or apathy, today's undergraduates, are passionate about setting up their own businesses.

Theirs, it seems, is the generation of the entrepreneur. Whether they are launching an online takeaway service or a system for advertising on eco-friendly fast-food packaging, many students are keen to do their own commercial thing rather than work for a corporate giant. Others want to develop skills that will make them attractive to graduate recruiters. Either way, this trend has come at exactly the right moment, when Britain is entering recession and needs all the entrepreneurs it can get.

At Warwick University, the entrepreneurs society has more than 200 members.Last month it staged the final of its Be Your Own Boss contest – their answer to the television programme Dragons' Den. The judges for the competition included representatives from some of the major names on the milk round of graduate recruitment.

"There have always been entrepreneurs coming through," says Matthew Hale, head of environmental sustainability at Merrill Lynch, and a Warwick judge. "But there are more people giving it a go, and there's more advice out there. And those TV programmes have definitely been a catalyst."

Other universities are in on the act too. Idea Idol, the brainchild of the entrepreneurs society at Oxford University, has attracted a number of high-profile judges like Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden, business gurus and TV Dragons. The London School of Economics has a thriving business plan competition, known as Pitch It. And last year's Business Ideas Challenge at Plymouth University had a hefty prize kitty of £42,000 up for grabs.

Warwick's competition, previously known as BizCom, this year attracted investment from Merrill Lynch, which put up the £1,000 first prize, and Accenture, the consultants, who provided the £250 second prize. "What was interesting was there was such a large audience of mostly students, some of whom were quite partisan, so there was a really good atmosphere in there," says Hale. "These competitions make students realise that they can be taken seriously by outsiders and that what they do in the short term can have a real long-term relevance. And having a company such as Merrill Lynch involved – and prize money – makes it seem more real."

Entrants had to submit a 250-word business plan and the 55 entries were whittled down to four, after which the finalists had towrite up a business proposal. The final challenge was to pitch to the panel of judges, and answer their questions, in front of an audience of more than 100 students.

Steve Barnes, a director of e-resistable, the online takeaway service that took home the £1,000 prize at Warwick, says the competition has been a vital experience. "Even as a confidence boost and to see where we are with the business it was invaluable," he says. "It was the first time we'd pitched to an investor who was going to cast a serious critical eye over the business, and the judges really didn't mince their words; they really went for it sometimes."

All four judges gave the e-resistable team the nod and it's hard not to see why. Launched in May 2007, the website allows customers to order takeaways over the internet, and already has 130 restaurants on its books. The three 20-year-old directors – all BSc management students from Warwick Business School – chose to forego important banking internships last summer to build the business.

They say now that, if they double the number of restaurants signed up to their service, they will be able to pay themselves graduate salaries and have enough money remaining to run and grow the business. "They put together a strong business plan that was a thoughtful, to-the-point document – which is something that investors are looking for," says Warwick judge Hale. The judges were also impressed that the company was trading profitably, and the business model was "scalable" – it has the potential to grow.

Warwick Entrepreneurs began in March last year and runs workshops such as how to protect your business ideas; how to market your business, and how to be an effective networker, "which is key either with a graduate recruiter or starting your own business", says Kostas Mavroulakis, president of Warwick Entrepreneurs.

Warwick University itself is a hive of business activity, with a thriving business school, a science park for business start-ups, and a business park next door. Each finalist said they received some sort of instruction in starting a business as part of their course. Even the engineering students do a module on starting their own company.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Qualified Nursery Practitioner - Sevenoaks

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Room Leader - Nursery

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Assessor / Trainer

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Ashdown Group: Payroll Manager - London - £200 p/d.

£190 - £200 per day: Ashdown Group: Payroll & Finance Manager - Covent Garden,...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas