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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power