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Is entrepreneurship dead?

Last week I attended a conference on synthetic biology, a relatively new area of research which combines genetics and the life sciences with engineering. It encompasses everything you hear on the news about designer babies to genetically modified organisms and much more. The number of startups in the field, often referred to as a branch of biotechnology, is set to outnumber tech startups and this is something investors and venture capitalists have been preparing for.

Dr John Collins, commercial director of SynbiCITE, a company training biologists with the skills to become entrepreneurs, claimed that the rise of synthetic biology will be ‘the fourth industrial revolution.’ Dr Collins shared anecdotes of regular people approaching him with ideas and passion, and them working on these projects together to gain investment and launch their start ups; as a result, Dr Collins suggested that, in the modern day and age, it has ‘never been easier to start your own business.’

The tech revolution has spurred the ambition of many aspiring entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is not dead, on the contrary, it’s on a rapid rise…

There were many talks and seminars at this conference, but the main theme that kept cropping up was entrepreneurial spirit. Experts in the field were suggesting that young people today have a drive and ambition unseen in previous generations; a quality that was often attributed to the rise of tech and increasing open access to information in the past few decades. The 20th century has seen the glamorisation of independence and start up culture through entertainment and tech personalities such as Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. Intelligent people marketing complex technologies in a digestible way has sparked entrepreneurial spirit in young people; Steve Jobs originally pitched the iPod with a simple, yet memorable, message: ‘1000 songs in your pocket.’ The tech revolution has spurred the ambition of many aspiring entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is not dead, on the contrary, it’s on a rapid rise.

Entrepreneurial spirit seems to have fostered a place for itself here at Warwick too, with there now being five student entrepreneur societies on campus, compared to just one three years ago. Creator of Warwick Foundas Society, Hugo Cheyne, commented that “wanting to be an entrepreneur is a trend growing hugely among younger age groups.” With recent research showing that four in five young people, aged between 16-21 are interested in starting their own business whilst another report showed that millennials are starting businesses at younger ages than in previous generations.

Warwick’s Student Enterprise Fund provides a mere £1,000 grant to successful applicants who reach the proof of concept stage of their business, whilst many require investment much larger…

But Cheyne criticises the university’s lack of support for student entrepreneurs: “instead of nurturing that flame, Warwick (the institution, not the brilliant entrepreneurial societies) crushes it through lack of funding.” Warwick’s Student Enterprise Fund provides a mere £1,000 grant to successful applicants who reach the proof of concept stage of their business, whilst many require investment much larger, around the £10k-20k region according to Cheyne, to launch. This is compared to institutions such as UCL which can grant up to £10,000 to help launch student businesses in their entrepreneur challenge prizes.

The Foundas creator feels the university should do more to foster such spirit, “Warwick has always prided itself on being modern and moving with the times. This is the moment to put more resources into showing the world that we are an entrepreneur-friendly campus.” With Warwick Business School continuing to top UK and world rankings for their MBA programme, it’s a surprise the university doesn’t encourage investment into student start-ups more actively.

Cheyne finally highlighted the advantages of Warwick investing in its student entrepreneurs: “Being an entrepreneur is now the most enticing career path for those students who will later give back to the University and build the Harvard style endowment fund that every university dreams of.”

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