Collaborative Entrepreneurship: Reflections on the NACUE Student Enterprise Conference 2015

Final photo, SEC 2015

Final photo, SEC 2015

The NACUE Student Enterprise Conference 2015, held at Liverpool John Moores University, demonstrated that a new culture of entrepreneurship is firmly taking hold amongst a new generation of students.  This emergent entrepreneurship is different in nature from the classic Silicon Valley start ups of the late 1990s, which was too often driven by greed and accessible only to techno elites. It is also different from the naive social campaigning that characterized earlier student enterprise activity back in the 2000s.

No, what we’re seeing here is different. This new, contemporary form of student entrepreneurship displays a tech savvy, diverse, empowered generation who are comfortable integrating business minded entrepreneurship with social purpose. The student entrepreneurs I spoke to are more likely to find ways to collaborate that compete. They start with a firm philosophical foundation; think through intrinsic design; and utilize new forms of crowd funding, community-based co-working  and social media tools.  This is a quite different journey than the classic start up.

As web technologies, big data, internet of things, machine learning and automation sweep away whole categories of employment, student entrepreneurship is creating new forms of work, and new learning.

Here is my wrap of thoughts and observations over the two days, from the perspective of the attendees:

Day 1: Thought #1 Entrepreneurs are revolutionary
Emily, co-founder of New Collective  advises millennial founders on how to connect with business and build sustainable start ups. Her philosophy of “Disruptive Innovative” says it all. Collaboration is no longer merely an influencing strategy, but is a basic ethic of the new form of entrepreneurship.

Alan,  is a revolutionary (and also a nice friendly guy!). After graduation, he was fortunate to find £1. He decided to find out how much money he could make in one year. He made more than £20k profit. After talking with Alan, you can only look at work, and being out of work, in a totally different way. This leads me to think that there is no such thing as unemployment, only inactivity (brought on by alienation and hopelessness).

Day 1: Thought #2 Dualism of business and social impact
Annie, founder of, shared her plans to create a new online crowd funded market place for makers, to create new forms of access to consumers. Given the rising interest in maker communities and consumers preference for direct contact with authentic products, this makes smart business sense. But it is clear she is also motivated by a strong sense of social purpose to support emergent entrepreneurs get their products to market.

Day 1: Thought #3 Democratization of Entrepreneurship
It was great to meet Richard, of Transmit Start Ups, based in Gateshead, and lending to small, early phase start ups throughout the UK, opening up the whole process of entrepreneurship to people who might not even have thought of themselves as entrepreneurs.

Day 1: Thought #4 Convergence between Entrepreneurs and Makers
Adrian is a co-founder of DoES Liverpool and co-author of Designing the Internet of things (Wiley). It is fascinating to see the rise of new co-working communities, with designers, creators and makers sharing resources, equipment and studio space. These new forms of work enable previously freelance independents to enjoy the benefits of scale and technology while remaining autonomous.

Day 2: Thought #1 Follow your passion
Team First grew out of Manchester and Cambridge University rowing. The founders turned their passion for sport into their business, providing a discount card scheme to clubs and sports societies. It is an example of how today, any passion you have, anything you’re really good at, or any community you are part of, can become the basis of a business.

Day 2: Thought #2 Empowerment, not just education
Mohammed is a well traveled global entrepreneur, now working to support entrepreneurship at the University of Hertfordshire, is part of transformation taking place within our University system. It is no longer enough for Universities and colleges to educate students. That is a given. Now and into the future, Universities must empower and equip students, and enable them to maximize their employability during their period of study. This is why entrepreneurial education will become a key differentiator, and as important as the academic rankings.

Virtually every conversation I had lead me to believe that something quite special is happening, and whatever bad news there is out there in the global economy, this is one generation of students who will be more resourceful, connected, agile and empowered to deal with whatever comes their way.

In Liverpool at least, new entrepreneurs are finding ways to collaborate in order to make a difference in this world.