Student Entrepreneurs – What They Want and What They Need?
A joint research project between Anglia Ruskin University Enterprise Society and Pivomo reveals some interesting findings about the underlying drives and motivations of student entrepreneurs.
The Enterprise Society can now use these insights to design tailored activities to specific groups of student entrepreneurs, rather than using a one-size-fits all approach.
Joshua Barnard, Outgoing Anglia Ruskin Enterprise Society President, commented:
“I was adamant in running this student society like a business, to ensure its success and continuity. Market research is fundamental to that objective and working with Pivomo has proved critical in understanding the true needs of our audience. The insights gained were most definitely eye opening, and quite different from what we assumed. This research has outlined a more appropriate future path for the Anglia Ruskin Enterprise Society”.
Andrew Atter, Founder and CEO of Pivomo writes:
“What the ARU study shows is that student entrepreneurs undergo a significant degree of personal change as they engage in entrepreneurship and the key developmental priority is at the mindset level, rather than specific tools and techniques. This has important implications for the way Enterprise Societies shape their offering in the future”.
Anglia Ruskin Enterprise Society – Understanding Your Customer
Anglia Ruskin University has a strong record in support student entrepreneurship and was voted Entrepreneurial University of the Year in 2014. Nevertheless, the Anglia Ruskin Enterprise Society was keen to find out more about what their 200+ entrepreneurs really wanted, and what they needed.
This distinction is important, because as we were to find out a creative entrepreneur might enjoy experiential and creative activities, but they also need to know how to generate a sustainable and profitable project. Equally, a tech entrepreneur might want to understand the latest research into blockchain technologies, but they also need exposure to design and creativity.
About half the participants of the study had also taken part in the “Design Make Sell” project, which supported student teams to engage in creative and commercial activities. This may have positively influenced the results of this study as we can see later.
But how to find the right balance between all the competing desires and imperatives?
Pivomo – Understanding Entrepreneurs
This is where Pivomo can help. Based on 5 years of doctoral research at the Institute of Work-based Learning at Middlesex University, Pivomo has developed a psychometric tool, called Dynamiqe. By using Dynamiqe, each student entrepreneur can identify their own key learning needs. The aggregated results can also show broader patterns across a population of entrepreneurs.
This tool helps entrepreneurs understand their own Mindset (M), Social Preference (SP) and their Work Style (WS). These factors will influence the approach the entrepreneur is likely to take when setting up a business, or mobilising a social enterprise.
Different Entrepreneurial Pathways
Dynamiqe is based on the premise that it is our mindset that shapes how we approach our social relationships and our work style. For example, an entrepreneur might say: “I want to be my own boss”; indicating a desire for autonomy. By contrast, preferring to start a company with friends or trusted co-workers might indicate a preference for collaboration. By understanding an entrepreneur’s decisions when they are forced to choose between competing values, we can build up a picture of the type of entrepreneur they want to become.
The Dynamiqe analysis places each of the students into one of four major profiles: Driver, Director, Dealer and Creator. For example,
- High on Autonomy (SP) and Strategic (WS) = Driver
- High on Collaboration (SP) and Emergence (WS) = Creator
- High Collaboration (SP) and Strategic (WS) = Director
- High Autonomy (SP) and Emergence (WS) = Dealer
The quadrants reflect very different approaches to entrepreneurship, as can be seen below:
- Driver – Visionary mobilising followers towards a strategic goal.
- Director – Rationalist building a team to tackle complex strategic goals.
- Dealer – Pragmatist exploring emerging opportunities.
- Creator – Artisan conceiving, designing and making original products and services.
The key to Dynamiqe is in the name. Entrepreneurs are likely to change their profile as they adapt to the different needs of their venture. For example, an artisan entrepreneur will need to evolve from the creative phase into the dealer phase to generate commercial opportunities and find the best route to market. A Dealer on the other hand, may well need to develop into a Director in order to plan and scale up a business. This journey is likely to be non-linear and highly personal to each entrepreneur.
The key question is, does the entrepreneur have the self awareness, agility and the support in place to make this transition effectively?
In this sense, Dynamiqe is less about trying to identify enduring personality traits, and more about building the self awareness the entrepreneur needs in order to respond effectively to emerging opportunities and risks.
Executive Summary – The Results
The Dynamiqe instrument was completed by 28 student entrepreneurs between November 2015 and March 2016.
Current and Target
Overall, in the Current view, there appeared to be a reasonable distribution between the four different profiles. However, as the entrepreneurs thought about their future preferences, there seemed to be a significant skew towards the Creator profile. As mentioned above, the ‘Design Make Sell” project would likely have evoked a preference for the kind of artisan and product-based entrepreneurship we would often associate with the Creator profile.
However, as we drill down, we can see some gender differences:
Women (N12) prefer the Driver profile in both the Current and Target views. This suggests an attraction to big macro goals and a determination to achieve a deeply felt personal vision.
But we can also see a significant increase in the Creator profile from Current to Target views, although from a low base.
Men on the other hand have preference towards the Dealer profile in the Current view, meaning that initially they are more likely to focus on deal-making and generating commercial opportunities. This shifts however, towards the Creator profile in the Target view.
So both genders are reinforcing the shift towards the Creator profile, albeit originating from different directions.
Overall, the highest degree of movement is away from the Dealer profile and towards the Creator profile.
Its important to stress that the sample size is small and it is risky to make generalised assumptions about gender and entrepreneurship. But what does seem clear from these results is that both men and women can choose a range of different entrepreneurial profiles. One size does not fit all.
It’s All In The Mind
If we drill into the specific questions that created these shifts, we can see that the top developmental priorities identified were concentrated in the Mindset category. Dynamiqe is designed to identify those attributes the entrepreneur needs to build, sustain or reduce in order to achieve their target profile.
The results show that most of the participants were working on mindset issues, such as self efficacy, risk, rewards, trust and personal mission and self leadership. This is important as trying to teach a particular set of skills to someone whose mindset is in a different place is like trying to saddle a donkey.
Interpretation and Implications
Ultimately, each of the four profiles generates its own unique development areas. People come into entrepreneurship from different directions, with very different motivations. Given the relative balance overall, it is important to target different types of entrepreneurs with specific offerings.
Drivers for example, are attracted by activities addressing big macroscopic themes, such as technological change, UN Development Goals, political activism and so on.
By contrast, Directors are more naturally attracted to the analytical and organisational learning themes, such as business planning, consumer research and shareholder agreements.
What do they want?
The data suggests that many ARU student entrepreneurs are recognising the need to get hands on with creative ideas and are therefore engaged in the origination of new products and services.
A development pathway supporting the shift from Creator to the Dealer would make good sense to a majority of the sample. The study supports the prioritisation of creative activities to get students engaged, and then shift the emphasis towards the Dealer profile when its relevance has become clearer to them. The “Design Make Sell” programme already does this successfully.
On the other hand, there is also an important minority (25%) of mostly Female entrepreneurs would benefit from encouragement to take on big bold projects, particularly in areas of technology or societal change. This Profile approaches entrepreneurship from a more strategic as opposed to an emergent perspective.
What do they need?
The key is to attract students into the entrepreneurial society by offering diverse and tailored activities based on the four Dynamiqe profiles, rather than a simple linear, curriculum based approach.
Specific events could be pitched to different audiences, at different times.
The key is to then enhance the overall agility of the entrepreneur to move between the different profiles. This might well involve the ability to work with others who have contrasting profiles. This suggests programmes that promote personal change and transformation; and also expose the students to a wide range of contrasting styles.
As a tool, Dynamiqe can help each individual think and reflect about what specifically they need to work on. It helps them place these activities in the context of their broader development journey and compliments the wider group activities.
Joshua Barnard may be found on LinkedIn, click here
To find out more about Dynamiqe, click here.
Pivomo is passionate about helping founders and start ups. To find out more about how Pivomo can support your Enterprise Hub or entrepreneurial community, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d love to talk.