This week, I had dinner with a group of students and their teacher. Between them they run, and in some cases are about to take over, their college entrepreneurship society.
As a group they were incredibly bright, ambitious, fun and enthusiastic. As we chatted, I heard about some of the guests they had welcomed to the group. Like many colleges and universities, the entrepreneurship society seems to be buzzing. The core of their activity is about inviting an often well-known individual to give a talk about their story, and the lessons learned. So far, so good, however I shared a few ideas which I think could help the group, and groups like them, to become even more successful.
1) Keep inviting founders to share their stories, and in addition, invite people (often non-business people) to come to talk to them about big “problems worth solving”. That’s the essence of the most exciting entrepreneurship . Why not ask a surgeon to come and talk about the health of the nation? Or someone to speak about pollution, or literacy, or loneliness in older people?
2) Talks can be inspiring, especially when they contain lessons learned, and practical tips. In addition, invite your guests to teach the group to “do” something. Often entrepreneurs leave having simply told their story. In fact, there are a number of things at which they excel, and could pass on. It could be cold-calling. It might be how to write an email that anyone will respond to, how to speak in public, how to read a P&L forecast. Try to think how every guest could leave having taught you a skill which you can use for life.
3) Ask every guest for the three business books they would recommend. Last night’s group were up to speed on Peter Thiel, Eric Ries and Ben Horowitz, as I would have expected. They hadn’t read Dale Carnegie, or Malcolm Gladwell. This simple question could lead, I think, to some fascinating conversations.
Across the UK, entrepreneurship societies seem to be in rude health. Organisations like Founders 4 Schools, Generate London and Speakers For Schools are helping to connect inspiring individuals with young people. Often, the core of this is a brilliant talk, and I understand the appeal of keeping things to this simple formula.
That said, I’d encourage college and university societies to think about how they really get the most from their guests. To consider their knowledge, their skills, their networks, their ability to listen and respond to questions, and their creativity. Most of all, I hope that we, as business people, will be even more creative with how we invest our time. We have an opportunity to inspire and inform, encourage and reassure. Beyond that, to teach. So that when the students have forgotten our names and lost our business cards, the skills we passed on will continue to help them to thrive.