How to encourage potential entrepreneurs to ‘go for it’, part 1

I’m often reading articles about whether someone can be taught to become an entrepreneur or whether the entrepreneurial attitude is innate. Opinions are often polarised, but I believe that both are correct; not everyone will have the attributes of an entrepreneur (I’ll cover what those might be in a later post), but with the right support, many people can be encouraged to start a successful business. The organisation that I work for, The Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE), exists to encourage students to become more entrepreneurial. Our New Ideas Competition is just one of the many activities that we run throughout the year.

The New Ideas Competition is fun, and its simple to enter. The early rounds take place in the Universities, and are run by our fantastic network of Student Interns and Enterprise Managers. Students are encouraged to submit a very short description of an idea, often simply on the back of a postcard. These ideas can be based on something they have been studying, but they can also be inspired by a hobby, or by noticing a gap in the market for something they think would be useful. The great thing about this competition is that it is so easy to enter; you don’t need a detailed business plan, just a simple idea.

Last Saturday, we held a Start-up Day, attended by nearly 90 students who had entered our competition and had reached the final stages. This event gave the students the opportunity to learn more about what it takes to develop an idea into a successful business. They heard inspirational talks from young entrepreneurs who had started their businesses whilst they were still undergraduates. They were challenged in teams to workshop what is needed to make a great business plan. They heard from some excellent speakers on how to fund your idea, the importance of being able to sell, and how to develop realistic financials. The final hurdle we put them through was to make a 20 second pitch to a panel of friendly dragons, for the chance of winning a cash prize. Most were undoubtably nervous, but they did a fantastic job of describing their idea under challenging circumstances. This is what one of our speakers (& friendly dragon) Alasdair McGill of Freelance World had to say about the event, in his Freelance World blog.

So do activities such as SIE’s Start-up Day make any difference to the number of students starting businesses, or are we simply tapping into an existing, self selecting cohort? It’s true that at SIE we are fortunate in attracting some of Scotland’s brightest students to participate in our activities. There also is no doubt in my mind that what we are doing in terms of entrepreneurial education provides these inspirational young people with the skills they need to make their business ideas a success.

I’ll leave the last word to the winner of our Start-up Day pitching contest, Rachel Hanretty, who blogged about her experience here. Rachel, I look forward to being able to say that I was one of the first to taste the world famous Mademoiselle Macaron brand!

Published by Fiona

Fiona was once a hands-on scientist and still has a curious mind. She combines strategic thinking with an entrepreneurial attitude and the ability to make great connections. She also takes photos.

9 thoughts on “How to encourage potential entrepreneurs to ‘go for it’, part 1

  1. As a patent attorney, I see Scottish creativity and entrepreneurial spirit every day. Having worked with SIE, I can gladly report on how professional, passionate and effective they are. Fiona, I only hope that the excellent work you do has a long lasting effect and is not eroded by a pessimism that I also perceive in Scottish culture. Also, one utterly false myth that I would like to see exploded is that 50% of businesses fail in their first couple of years.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Glen. There are a lot of good things happening in Scotland, and I agree that we all need to maintain a positive outlook. I’m not sure that Scottish people always have a pessimistic outlook,however, just look at the optimism of the Tartan Army! Perhaps we need to capture some of that optimism in our business outlook too. We need to start believing in ourselves, in order for others to believe in us too (an attitude most US start-ups seem to have).

  2. Hello Fiona, I was an intern with SIE a few years back and I loved the experience. I never seemed to fit the image of a ‘typical entrepreneur’ but I enjoyed the enterprise side of every activity – the just-give-it-a-go culture, learning about business and venture start-up and hearing from successful entrepreneurs about their, sometimes rocky, rise to success.
    I’m now responsible for launching a new marketing company providing services to new and evolving social enterprises in Scotland. Someone else has put their trust and confidence in me to make that happen and now I’m very happy to take on the challenge. I think if your open to new ideas, and trying new things, the confidence for start-up can come in time. The SIE is a great place to do that – by entering a competition, attending a conference or by joining the business club. Whether people are born to the mould or gradually take the form of an entrepreneur the SIE is an inspiring thing to be a part of. I certainly look back with very fond memories and don’t think I’d be where I am now without those experiences.

  3. An interesting insight. Great to learn that bodies are out there giving active encouragement to undergraduates on development of these additional skills. I look forward to reading the promised views on what qualities make a good entrepreneur in due course. Certainly there are the high profile risk takers who succeed (and who fail) often spectacularly. However, there are also the host of very able and tenacious operators who take less risks, but provide a backbone of successful enterprises at the centre of our economy.

  4. It was so hard for me to take that plunge and just go for it. I entered the New Ideas Competition last year and after getting through to the Start-Up Day I didn’t re-submit…I think I was too scared of not really knowing how to take my idea from just an idea to an actual business. I spoke to a member of SIE a few months later and they said “Why not go for it, you have a really viable idea?” so I made it my mission to do it! Encouraging people that they can do it and they do have the time is the key…maybe a little spoon feeding or a push in the right direction. The SIE Bootcamp, I imagine, does just that. If you have an idea you really should just go for it as I did last year – that original idea I was told was viable is now a product that will be distributed in Asda nationwide. Use the resources in front of you – SIE, NACUE, Shell LiveWIRE, PSYBT, Business Gateway – you then have no excuses!!!

    1. Thanks Jodie! Its great to hear that our encouragement has had such a positive effect and well done for getting your product into Asda! I think that sometimes all people need is to be told that they have a good idea. Hear that often enough, from enough people, and even the most modest person might start to believe in herself too 🙂 Of course, that person still has a to do lot of work too, as you know, but believing you can do it is a great start.

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