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Defying the downturn: Why more graduates than ever are becoming entrepreneurs

  • 6 September 2017
  • By Victoria Greene

This guest blog comes from Victoria Greene, Marketing Consultant and Freelance Writer. Victoria works with ecommerce businesses and entrepreneurs to create effective content and marketing strategies. She is currently mentoring entrepreneurial students in Chicago.

The first steps on the road to post-graduate employment can be a challenge, and finding work that makes use of a degree is often even tougher. The market is incredibly competitive, especially for highly-skilled positions, and while graduate employment rates have risen throughout the past decade, they have only barely returned to the levels seen before the 2008 recession. It is important that universities have adequate resources to help students and graduates successfully navigate the current jobs market.

Amidst the countless graduates taking the first steps towards launching their careers, more and more have moved away from seeking employment in favour of establishing small businesses of their own. This new wave of entrepreneurial ambition has likely been triggered by a combination of factors, from the economic downturn, to the growth of ecommerce and ‘digital nomadism’.

Couple this with constant advances in mobile technology, and the development of coworking facilities around the world, it is easy to see why so many graduates have chosen to take control of their futures, and become entrepreneurs in their own rights. It is all a balance of salary vs. satisfaction as students begin to demand a better work/life balance, as well as fulfilling jobs away from the corporate world.

So how can universities ensure that they are meeting graduate demand for the entrepreneurial career path? What tools and resources are graduate entrepreneurs going to need as a priority? Here are some ways in which universities can help support and nurture entrepreneurial talent amongst their students and graduates.

Counting the costs of entrepreneurship

In addition to the struggle to break into the job market, many graduates are burdened by student debts far in excess of those incurred by previous generations. Meanwhile, inflation threatens to push student loan interest rates to an all-time high of 6.1 percent.

It is predicted that many graduates will never be able to pay off their loans, and while this does not impact their credit rating, it is still a source of concern for many individuals.

Before the advent of ecommerce, there were few alternatives for those who were unable to find satisfactory employment. The cost of hiring premises alone could be far more than the average graduate could afford to gamble on their business idea. Today, however, internet startups have become a popular way for budding entrepreneurs to test the waters, without compromising their potential for growth.

Universities need to cultivate an open dialogue with students about student fees and loans, and ensure that students have a realistic picture of how debt might, or might not, impact their future careers. Even though online entrepreneurship has low start up costs, there are recurring costs that students should take into account, as well as a potentially volatile digital marketplace to contend with.

Students and graduates should also be given advice on how to apply for start up funding, and even submit crowdfunding applications. New ways of raising business capital are gaining ground, and universities need to be part of that process in order to support their students. The world of venture capital can be complex, and fresh graduates need to have a solid understanding of financial terms.

Presenting business opportunities online

The explosion in popularity and variety of online media has opened numerous doors for those seeking to establish themselves as digital entrepreneurs. The monetisation of blogs and streaming services has enabled many people to generate income simply by sharing their knowledge and experience.

Meanwhile, the growth of internet sales and marketing has created a niche for creatives to promote and sell their products online, without ever needing to invest in a brick-and-mortar business. Moreover, recent years have seen a surge in popularity of ‘dropshipping’ enterprises.

The advantage of dropshipping is that individuals can sell products via their website, without needing to handle any aspect of shipping or supply. Their role is simply to successfully market the business, drive sales, and communicate with suppliers. Similarly, the other side of dropshipping is that producers of a product can focus on production quality and inventory management, without needing to concern themselves with web development or advertising.

When discussing online business opportunities, universities need to be careful to arm themselves with realistic stats and figures on earnings. It can be easy for students and graduates to get carried away with online opportunities based on inflated case studies.

At the same time, young entrepreneurs like Steven Bartlett who founded Social Chain prove that it’s essential to move fast in the world of online business, something that universities need to be better at recognising.

A multinational mobile workforce

In an increasingly mobile world, remote working has become far more sustainable for many businesses. This is in a large part due to advancements in communications technology, and the availability of applications that facilitate remote working and long-distance collaboration.

This has given rise to a generation of digital nomads, who take full advantage of the ability to work from anywhere with an internet connection. As many of these nomads earn a living via ecommerce or working online, they are not bound to any specific location.

This in turn solves the formerly common question of whether to start work immediately, or take a gap year. Today, it is entirely feasible to travel the world while maintaining a successful online business.

Students should be alerted to the benefits and opportunities of remote work, but at the same time, it is important to acknowledge the potentially isolating nature of lone working. Travelling the world and working on your laptop may seem like a dream come true, but students will need plenty of support when it comes to visas and international safety. It is a good idea for universities to pool resources on living and working abroad so that students have access to vetted, quality information.

Communicating the importance of space

As the popularity of digital nomadism has soared, so too has the availability of affordable spaces within which travelling entrepreneurs can conduct their business. These locations are also great places to connect with others and form valuable professional relationships. Many modern universities like Exeter University have created community spaces and ‘work hives’ that mimic the design of a modern coworking spaces.

Having a support network is critical for anyone taking their first steps as a business owner, and numerous online communities have developed as a result. These serve as platforms for communication between entrepreneurs at all levels, often hosting helpful resources and online tools for running a successful business. Explaining the benefits of the entrepreneur community and providing students with continuity is a great way to encourage students and graduates to pool resources in both digital and physical spaces.

For anyone seeking to start a business, the practicalities of workspace and productivity may come as a surprise. Exploring different working environments during lessons and modules should help students start to build a picture of how space impacts their work.

Freedom to do as one pleases

With so many readily available resources and tools to facilitate building an online store or marketing your business, the entrepreneur’s primary focus can be creating a business that they are truly passionate about.

For some, this means the freedom to do something they love, or the agency to maintain ethical business practices. For others, it is the opportunity to bring about change, defy convention, and make a difference to the lives of others.

In essence, it is a desire for freedom that lies at the heart of the attraction of an entrepreneurial lifestyle: freedom to create, freedom to explore, and freedom to test one’s ambitions to their limits.

In order to provide a more balanced view, universities need to stress the potential drawbacks of entrepreneurship: long working hours, stress and lack of financial security. Working in young teams can also bring its own added stresses and pressures, and students need to be prepared to build up their own resilience and tolerance to stress.

A brighter future

The path of the entrepreneur is not for everyone, yet for those who choose to establish their own business, there are more facilities available than ever before. The future of business is, in many ways, evolving faster than ever, moulded by the diligence and creativity of this new wave of innovators. Universities are part of this change, and need to embrace entrepreneurial spirit in their alumni in order to foster stronger ties with the emerging business community.

It is impossible to predict what the coming years may hold for the graduates of today. Nevertheless, it is reassuring to know that their future shall be built upon the triumphs of their peers, and the knowledge that the road to success may run in whatever direction they choose. The new workplace that is being created today is one of global competition, as well as ever-increasing opportunity and democracy.

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