WID Podcast: Start your entrepreneurial journey

Being enterprising and entrepreneurial is not just about starting or running a business, but about developing the skills and competencies to develop confident, resilient, and creative students and graduates.

As part of the Warwick Innovation District, Warwick Enterprise and Creative Futures provide a catalogue of educational experiences to develop students’ enterprise skills, mindset, and the growth of innovative ideas.

Warwick Enterprise and Creative Futures provide a pathway of opportunities which identify, nurture, and enable future innovators and entrepreneurs at Warwick, from early stages through to graduation and beyond.

Under the themes of Inspiration, Education, and Incubation, students have the freedom to experiment and develop critical thinking skills, projected to succeed in the world’s most progressive industries. Each of our programmes support these three core themes.

We talked to Chris Wilkinson, Student Innovation Officer at Warwick, about the importance of having someone to support you at the beginning of your business journey.

To find out more about the different programmes of support available, click here: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/enterprise/

Listen to our Podcast interview below…

Read the Podcast interview here…

Hello, I’m Jason Hier from Warwick Innovation District – we help drive innovation and support the development of new businesses. My special guest today is Chris Wilkinson, Student Innovation Officer at Warwick Enterprise. Thanks for your time Chris, I suppose we ought to just start by focusing on Warwick Enterprise itself, what’s it about and who’s it for?

Chris: Yeah of course and thanks for having me here, so Warwick Enterprise is a part of the Warwick Innovation District, that really focuses on the student experience within Innovation and Enterprise. So we offer a suite of programs and services that help students wherever they are on their entrepreneurial journey, in building the skills, in building the capacity and giving them opportunities to develop their own ventures, be those Social Enterprises, be those new business or a start-up – we’re there throughout that student’s journey, to bring people in and make them into entrepreneurs essentially.

Jason: You see the entrepreneur at the beginning of their journey, they are a student, can you recognise, that drive or dedication. What is it that you’re looking for in students as they’re starting their journey?

Chris: It’s a really great question and I think there’s not any particular one thing that we do look for and I think we kind of have this idea of entrepreneurs being these people who have great ideas and they’re bringing them out, and sometimes it’s not the case I think for some people who are very attuned to a particular problem and will go, why is this like this, shouldn’t it be like this? Already you’ve got the makings of an entrepreneur there, with someone who is identifying problems or identifying wants and is then thinking about potential solutions to them.

So it doesn’t even need to be this grand dramatic “I’m driven and ambitious,” sometimes it’s just people you go – well I think there’s a problem and I think I can be the one to solve it. That is where you start your entrepreneur journey, just kind of going, hey wouldn’t it be cool if we did something like this and I think the idea of Warwick Enterprise is to first get students to realise, that is how you make an entrepreneur and everyone starts their entrepreneur journey in a different way, but we’re there to kind of guide them through that journey, because I think it’s one that is very undefined and very unclear, of how you go about it and we want to be there to help.

Jason: Well let’s focus then on how you help others, because I’ve been in University of Warwick for about three years now, in the Innovation Group and I sort of tend to see two styles of entrepreneur. There’s the entrepreneur that you’ve talked about, which is trying to fix something in their world, but then there’s the other side, I don’t care what I do, I just want to be successful and there’s a different drive in those sort of people. Yeah, there’s a confidence there, that I never had when I was young, so let’s just focus then on how Warwick Enterprise actually help. What sort of programs are available and what do you actually offer?

Chris: Yeah, so I think the best way to kind of think about this is looking at the student lifetime and thinking, okay if you come to the University of Warwick and either, I’m one of those two people, or even a third category of just I have never considered entrepreneurship or enterprise, as a kind of a career path. We have a lot of foundational content and that is kind of where I start a lot of stuff.

So we have the Pathway Program, which is essentially a six-week, I want to call it boot camp, rather than course, where we go through some of the fundamentals of being an entrepreneur and being enterprising. I think these skills are rewarding, beyond going into your own venture or start-up. So we teach people things like how to generate ideas, how to validate their concepts and then how to go out and do very cost-effective market research. How to tell a story about their product, how to pitch themselves. Those are the skills that we offer right at the foundation, I think those are for everyone.

Then as the student moves through there enterprise journey we have sessions that we run in conjunction with staff across the university, whether that be pitching competitions, whether that be hackathons or marathons that we run and we work with all departments, which means that we’re very spread out but I think what we really want to do is kind of go, okay what does enterprise and entrepreneurship look like within your discipline, so the skills that you’re acquiring within your course, let’s say with economics for example, how can I use those to become a more enterprising person, and that’s what that’s for and I think by that point. If the student has a product that they want to work on, or they have an idea that they want to work on and they’re ready to go into the big wide world, if you like.

We have our Graduate Accelerator Program and we also have our Creative Futures Incubator, essentially they are helping students go from – I have this concept, I want to make it into a much bigger thing, but that support carries on after graduation day, as well. So I think depending on where you are within that student life cycle and where you are, not just in kind of timing, but also in ability, there is something there for you and something that is rewarding and I really hope enjoyable, to be honest.

Jason: We talked just before we started the recording, we touched on the importance of having someone there on your journey, mentorship and that sort of thing, is that part of the package?

Chris: Yes it is, we offer one-to-ones with all students and they can be as frequent or as infrequent as you want. You know, the beauty of the one to one, again you can have a one-to-one at any point in your journey and I think, as you say, if you’re that kind of person who like, I want to be an entrepreneur, but I’m not really sure where to start, as you said at the beginning, and we can help you with that with a one to one. But also if it’s like, I’ve got this idea, I’m not really sure where to take it, that’s what a one-to-one’s helpful for as well, but even if you’re just like, who do I speak to about this, or how do I learn more about building a prototype for example, we can point you in the right direction.

So I think it’s someone that you’ve always got there, as a reliable source of information. I think it’s a critical friend as well. We’re not going to tell you that your idea is bad and this is wrong, but I think I like to do it in, a bit of a Socratic dialogue and kind of lead people to their conclusions and then go, okay this is how we’re gonna work together. So, we do offer those services and I think I strongly encourage students, wherever they are in that stage, or even if they’re just looking to learn more about what they do and after hearing this – book in a one-to-one and you’ll meet one of our lovely team, you might even meet me, which I can’t promise whether that’s going to be a good or bad thing, but yeah you can, it’s a really great service and I think it’s something that I wish I had so readily at hand when I was at university. So yeah it’s a really great thing that they do.

Jason: We were talking before we recorded about the importance of experiencing new things and the journey that takes you on, you know, the failure is a part of the growth development and then finally the importance of collaborating and lateral thinking.

Chris: So, yeah definitely, trying and failing I think it’s one of those really formative experiences and I don’t think you need to go as extreme as I did, of going to live in five or six different countries and do all these different jobs. It was incredibly rewarding but it was a bit of a baptism of fire to be totally honest. It’s incredibly valuable to kind of say I’m gonna try this, I’m gonna see what happens if it doesn’t work out, what’s the learning experience that I can take from that and I think it makes you a really well-rounded person to have done those things. I think being authentic with yourself as well, about those kind of failures is a really important thing.

I guess for me another example, I know we spoke about this beforehand, is I do Stand-Up in places that I don’t recommend anyone going to see, because I don’t recommend anyone coming to see my Stand-Up – I can plan and I can plan and I can plan and write content but until I actually stand up on stage with a microphone in hand and start talking to an audience I have no idea whether that’s going to be funny or not. Unfortunately in most cases it’s not funny as well, which is why it’s such a difficult hobby, but I think that kind of advice translates over to the student experience and I don’t want to kind of sit here and grandstand and say, oh you should go and do all of these things, because I know how busy being a student is. I’ve very recently just been a student and I think the amount of expectations that are placed on students today is significantly higher than what it was when I was at University.

So I don’t want to be like, oh this is what you need to do to be successful, but I think give yourself a permission to go and try new things and I think even if it’s something that you thought, oh I’ve not really considered that, just give it a go and if you don’t like it and if it’s not for you, you might see that as a failure but I guess I see that more as ‘information’ and it’s actually something that’s really telling and it helps you kind of move and also it again informs you as a person, if you’ve done something and it didn’t work out, being able to say why it didn’t work out and what you’re going to do about it, is a massive kind of growth opportunity.

I think the lateral thinking side of things, I know we’ve had a couple of conversations about this in the past and I think this stems from, I think those market expectations that kind of exist around us and what really makes people stand out. I think this is kind of the cusp of where you become an entrepreneur, is having that ability to laterally think, so essentially taking what you know out of one domain and applying it to another domain in an entirely novel way.

I think, everyone talks about Chat GPT and I didn’t want to bring it up, because I didn’t want to be that guy who’s like, oh we’re talking about Chat GPT on a podcast, because I feel like every podcast does – but what Chat GPT is very good at doing singular tasks, exceptionally well. What it will struggle to do, for a while is, that kind of knowledge exchange of, okay, how do I take what I’ve learned in History and apply it to the novel context of Design, you know. Those are the kind of, that gap that you’ve got to jump, to get there is something that makes you. That kind of natural problem solver and a creative problem solver that comes in two parts, because as you build those interests and as you try different things you’re being exposed to different ways of thinking, so all of a sudden you can then bridge the gap between different things.

So it’s the thing that will help separate you, but you know I don’t want to say this is where you have to be, but I think encourage yourself to try lots of different things and you will find that rewards pay out very very quickly, even if you enjoy them or even if they don’t work out, the rewards that you reap from going and trying new things – like booking a one-to-one with Warwick Enterprise, for example, it’s that leap that I guess I’m trying to get people to take, and I think it’s benefiting me massively and I can’t recommend it enough for people to just take the plunge, try that hobby, try that experience, book that one to one. That was an awful way to finish it!

Jason: You just answered my next two questions, so I feel redundant now. Well Chris thank you very much for your time today and yeah all the links to Warwick Enterprise will be accompanied on this post. Cheers very much Chris.

Chris: Yeah thank you very much Jason, thank you.

To find out more about the different programmes of support available, click here: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/enterprise/