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      Providing Student Entrepreneurs with the Resources to Thrive

      At the University of Oxford, we know from our incoming student surveys that approximately 20% of our students are interested in entrepreneurship, but many more than that participate in entrepreneurial activities such as idea exploration, hackathons, pitching competitions, and skills building workshops.

      17 Feb 2022 Leah Thompson, Knowledge Exchange and Impact, Enterprising Oxford

      Oxford does not have an institutional entrepreneurship unit, but instead, support is organised and delivered by a multitude of providers across the University, including faculties, departments, Oxford University Innovation, the Careers Service, the Saïd Business School, and student societies. 

      The huge array of events and activities tailored to emerging entrepreneurs is an encouraging step-change in the way that we support and educate outside of the lecture theatre, but in some senses, it is a significant challenge. A normal Michaelmas term (October-December) can see 40-60 entrepreneurship events per month available, which can be confusing to those students that are seeking consistent, focussed mentorship to get their ideas off the ground. This is in addition to all the other activities, and the normal course work as well. Finding these activities, and then finding time to attend or participate, can potentially be as much a barrier as a benefit to new entrepreneurs starting their journey.  

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      The challenge across the Arc needs to be addressed in a similar way – how do we not only nurture this entrepreneurial interest and growth in our students, but also retain them as employees and founders in our entrepreneurial ecosystem? To that end, here are several suggestions: 

      • First, we must make the ecosystem attractive to be in. Innovation districts and live-work-play models offer a variety of opportunities for not only students to develop skills and ideas, but also for larger companies to engage with a more diverse workforce. Housing, transport, and social activities are just as important as breadth of companies, and these are issues that we hear from our student entrepreneurs as they consider where their careers will take them after university.  
      • Second, we must take diversity and inclusion seriously – if we do not create better opportunities for under-represented groups to participate more fully in entrepreneurial activities, we will not be able to reach our full potential as an ecosystem.  It is not and cannot be viewed as a ”one size fits all” system – by encouraging and supporting those not currently engaged, we can increase our impact and output exponentially. 
      • Third, we need to encourage successful entrepreneurs that call the Arc home to engage with entrepreneurs inside the ecosystem and seeking assistance at the embryonic stages of their journey, to act as role models and support (“entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs”). This should involve the provision of temporary space, events, mentorship, which will give some flavour to fledgling entrepreneurs about the commercial opportunities and challenges as they grow and develop. 
      • Fourth, we must connect the ecosystem – provide clear pathways and options for those who may be interested in working for startups, as well as those who want to be founders and CEOs. This could include job opportunities and networking events, and ways to matchmake emerging talent with innovative companies through sponsorship and proactive networking. 
      • Finally, we must all consciously seek “planned serendipity” to allow for chance connections and meetings to occur within a set of spaces and activities. 

      By creating an environment where the smallest opportunities can make the greatest commercial headway, we can ensure a vibrant and scientifically dynamic Arc which brings out the best from the earliest stages in enterprise.  

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