Delivering Enterprise and Startup Support at USW

Startup Stiwdio - Stiwdio Sefydlu - has been established at the former Students’ Union at USW's Cardiff Campus. Neil Gibson, June 2019

By Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, Assistant Pro-Vice Chancellor (Enterprise), University of South Wales

As we emerge from the Covid pandemic, there is a growing appreciation that entrepreneurs and their start-up businesses will not be a driving force in boosting economic output and employment, but will also undertake a major role in ensuring the move to a greener and more sustainable economy.

With a greater interest by university graduates in starting their own businesses, the higher education sector in the UK is playing an increasing role in boosting the number of new firms, with Universities UK estimating that nearly 23,000 new graduate enterprises will be established by 2026.

At the University of South Wales (USW), we see the development of enterprising students and entrepreneurial graduates as an integral part of what we do and, over the past four years, we have enhanced our enterprise and entrepreneurship support and established the area as a strategic priority. 

In particular, with the USW 2030 Vision focusing upon changing lives and the world for the better through maximising positive impact for students, partners and communities, the development of a strong culture of enterprise and entrepreneurship is now an integral part of this strategy and will focus on building enterprise into every course, the development of new entrepreneurship modules, and doubling the number of graduate start-ups over the next decade.

However, in developing the right level of support, USW has looked at how it can directly help its graduates to begin their entrepreneurial journey, with one of the more successful projects being the opening of the Startup Stiwdio in 2019. 

As Wales’ first dedicated graduate incubator space, the aim was to provide a place where freelancers and graduate enterprises could be based and receive bespoke entrepreneurship business training, as well as access to free professional advice from legal and accountancy experts. 

Like many other universities, USW examined what it could do when the first Covid lockdown arrived, especially in relation to helping the anticipated increase in demand for enterprise and entrepreneurship support. 

Despite various challenges, it moved its enterprise service online, which proved a catalyst for increased collaboration and innovation across the university, with the number of USW students and graduates exploring and developing their business ideas continuing to rise.

It also developed targeted support which reflected the needs of graduates in specific specialisms. For example, with USW having one of the largest creative industries faculties in the UK, with students studying the entire range of specialisms, a large proportion of those graduates will become freelancers working across the arts and creative industries. 

To support this group, a two-day fast-track training programme for freelancers was delivered. This was intentionally short and focused only on information required to be self-employed, and did not discuss issues such as customer needs, defining a USP, and competitive advantage.  

For those who wanted to take the step into launching their own start-up firm, USW delivered its first Entrepreneurship Summer School over an eight-week period which covered all aspects of starting a new business. 

With 33 graduates and 21 Global MBA students on an enterprise pathway attending, the programme had a much wider cross-section of graduates from all courses, with participants dedicating themselves full-time to their new business idea and focused on help with securing finance, developing new products or services, and creating a sustainable operational model. 

USW also provided financial support to its graduate entrepreneurs, which ranged from small grants for freelancers via the ‘Big Ideas Den’, to the newly-established Springboard Fund, which has larger sums of funding aimed towards those new start-up firms with a clear and coherent growth strategy.

This new approach has led to impressive results, with more than 3,200 students inspired to consider freelancing or starting a business in 2020, and nearly 500 students empowered to explore and test their entrepreneurial capacity through targeted projects and workshops.

This enterprise support, provided by the University, resulted in a record number of graduate businesses being established.

The challenge is, however, only just beginning, especially given the expected increase in graduates looking for jobs over the next few years as a result of the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This means that there will be an even greater imperative for universities to support those graduates who want to work for themselves and to provide the resources and help they need to launch their businesses. 

USW is determined to play its part in addressing this challenge, and is already looking to further enhance the way it will deliver enterprise support over the next few years.

For example, all 10 academic schools within the university will have a dedicated entrepreneurship champion whose role is to be the first point of contact for those students and graduates who want to start a business. They will also help to build enterprise into courses, support new programmes in entrepreneurship, and build a community of entrepreneurs in each school. 

This will hopefully result in greater numbers of students deciding to launch their own businesses and to meet this demand.

Therefore, USW will continue to support its students and graduates to not only enhance their enterprise skills, but to also help them to take that first step into working for themselves and, more importantly, to contribute wealth and employment into the local communities that we are proud to serve.

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