Unleashing the Entrepreneurial Spirit: Why Universities Must Pave the Way

It’s not news that today’s world of work is evolving rapidly, being shaped by disruptive forces like artificial intelligence. The ability to think like an entrepreneur is critical to success in such an environment – and it can’t be altered or diminished by AI, which will replace 85 million jobs by next year.

To survive in this ever-changing ecosystem, hard skills shouldn’t be the sole priority for those entering the workforce; instead, the emphasis should be equally on soft skills applicable in any situation. An entrepreneurial mindset can drive innovation, create jobs, and contribute to the growth of our economy, which is why it’s so important to instil that attitude in students and set them up for business and work success. 

With so many jobs projected to be replaced by AI, an entrepreneurial mentality can aid professional transitions, giving them critical thinking abilities and the adaptability to reskill, which are essential for navigating uncertainty and seizing new opportunities. With so much uncertainty on the horizon, entrepreneurial education must start as early as possible in academic careers.

Let’s dispel a common misconception: business studies and entrepreneurship education are two different things. Business studies can be quite granular, teaching students about business plans, setting up at Companies House or completing tax returns. Entrepreneurship education is a way of thinking that encourages creativity, problem-solving skills, reflection and calculated risk-taking thinking. Being an entrepreneur means a life full of unfamiliar challenges - to succeed, aspiring entrepreneurs need to learn resilience and how to navigate the unfamiliar. Granular advice doesn’t work in that circumstance. Teaching students entrepreneurial principles encourages critical thinking and how to develop resilience in the face of uncertainty and challenges.

While these might seem like relevant skills for future founders, they’re essential for those in any career. In a job market moving at breakneck speed (the WEF estimates a churn of 23% of jobs over five years), the ability to adapt and innovate is the most important characteristic for staying competitive and thriving. While AI and data skills will be in demand by 2027, so too will analytical and creative thinking. These ‘soft skills’ that can’t be replaced by AI will continue to increase in demand from employers and employees alike.

To meet this demand, the future workforce will need to learn these skills – and with nearly half the UK population now attending higher education and university spinouts becoming a key part of the UK’s high-growth business ecosystem, universities play a pivotal role in upskilling. Currently, most spinouts are spearheaded by STEM students, particularly Computer Science, who find that their degrees are directly relevant to a particular sector. They typically are given more practical experience during university. This should not preclude arts or humanities students from learning key entrepreneurial skills - this kind of education produces resilient graduates who can tackle complex problems no matter the industry. Including entrepreneurial education into the curriculum shouldn’t be a secondary thought - in short, it’s the most practical kind of education we can give our students.

Exposing students to real-world entrepreneurial experiences can help bridge the gap between theory and practice – a chasm that graduates struggle to overcome when initially applying for jobs. Practical skills and a deeper understanding of the entrepreneurial ecosystem can be developed by participating in pitch competitions and mentorship programmes, even if students don’t want to start their own businesses. Teaching the skills to foster creativity, critical thinking, teamwork, and continuous improvement and learning can be put to the test in any profession, not solely that of an entrepreneur.

At OneTech, we recognise that there’s serious inequality in the tech and startup ecosystem, and a major reason for that is the lack of awareness of the journey and the key decisions needed to open up future opportunities in tech, something that is afforded by an entrepreneurial education. To meet this need, we created a scalable solution to immerse students in an entrepreneurial environment. The Startup Game is a digital mobile app and board game which can be played with groups of varying sizes and simulates the journey of building a business. Think about it like Monopoly without the arguments and with more practical advice for being an entrepreneur! We’ve taken the game to events, including London Tech Week, but our first partnership was with the University of Derby, where we held an entrepreneur boot camp for students and alumni. We want this to catalyse partnerships with other red-brick universities in the near future, to establish similar initiatives, and teach these skills to a wider group of students.

The startup game onetech

Our collaboration with universities also includes a training programme for university staff to use the game in a classroom setting. We provide hands-on resources, ensuring staff can easily integrate entrepreneurial education into their curriculum. By combining our industry expertise with the academic resources of universities, we aim to cultivate a vibrant ecosystem that nurtures the next generation of innovators and job creators.

With the constant evolution of our workforce, the demand for robust, transferable skills has never been greater. Entrepreneurial thinking skills match the criteria perfectly, and by introducing students to entrepreneurial education before entering the workforce, we can unlock their boundless potential. Targeting students before they hit the job market equips them with the skills, knowledge and mindset to succeed, drive innovation and shape the future. Now is the time to recognise the immense value of entrepreneurship and make it the cornerstone of our education system to pave the way for a more prosperous and sustainable future for all.