The Leeds University Careers Fair of 1999 was a pretty depressing place.
It was for me anyway.
For a start, you left with the distinct impression that the vast majority of British companies were either large or very large.
The reality, that 99.9% are NOT large, was not even hinted at.
Secondly, the truth that dared not speak its name; Namely that pretty much every other student I spoke to at the time was interested in doing their own thing. If not immediately, then at some point.
I raised this with the Student Union, because I wanted to start hosting some events for entrepreneurial students. They sent me to the Business School. Armed with some local knowledge, I mentioned that I’d be keen to get something going, and had already drummed up the enthusiasm of a couple of local firms, who might be interested in being guest speakers.
I remember the response like it was yesterday;
“If you’re some sort of corporate spy, coming in here, then I don’t think we can help you. Can I suggest you look at enrolling on one of our business courses?”
So, it would be fair to say that the Leeds University entrepreneurial scene was not exactly thriving back then.
Up in Edinburgh (where I recruited some of the founding members for my first company), things were looking much brighter.
A fresh-faced lad called Tom Savage was in the driving seat of the Edinburgh Entrepreneurs Society and gave me a warm welcome. Several years later, we launched Tenner together, and remain old friends.
A few years later, at the other end of the British Isles, Bob Goodson and friends were busy launching Oxford Entrepreneurs. Amazing to think that a society which literally did not exist ten years ago, now claims to be one of the University’s most popular. Bob and I would later cross paths in his more recent incarnation as successful San Francisco entrepreneur, as I organised my first WebMission.
The seeds of tomorrow’s success stories are being planted, today, in University enterpreneurship societies around the country. They attract a weird and wonderful array of characters and we overlook their significance at our peril.
That’s why it’s good to see the British Goverment throwing its weight behind organisations like NACUE (the UK’s largest network of enterprise societies) today. The team are keen and the students I’ve got to know through their events (often at the weekend) are amongst the brightest I’ve ever met.
NACUE has a fantastic opportunity to network enterprising students across the UK and beyond, ensuring that our young entrepreneurs are given a helping hand, not a patronsing pat on the head. I encourage anyone considering getting involved in their programme of events to give them some of your time.
Careers fairs should be upfliting, inspirational places.
No student should leave without realising that 99.9% of companies are not large.
And every visitor should know that at least one of the many options facing them is to do their own thing.