This post was contributed by Nick Eisner, an alumnus of Birkbeck’s Postgraduate Certificate in Journalism.
The submission deadline for the Santander Entrepreneurship Award is 7 March, (no excuse, no appeal). Top prize for the best postgraduate business plan is £20,000. The undergraduate top prize is £5,000.
As an introduction and preparation for the competition Birkbeck Enterprise Hub (BEH) hosted its Business Planning Workshop on Saturday 22 February between 10am and 4.30pm: six-plus concentrated hours on preparing a business plan – a map to show potential investors and others, including yourself, the budding entrepreneur, how you will take your idea from an ethereal notion in your head to a working business.
The workshop attracted a wide range of people with many imaginative ideas, including a new way of combining online and off-line shopping, improved communication over the internet, and a high-protein cereal for sports enthusiasts and weight trainers.
Not everyone was intending to submit a plan for this year’s awards, but everyone in the room had a vision and a sense of purpose. The workshop may have taken place on a sunny Saturday, but the buzz of energy and promise that pervaded room MAL415 was very different from a regular sleepy weekend atmosphere.
BEH’s resident entrepreneur Andrew Atter led the workshop and engaged his audience in an overview of the stages in preparing the business plan.
An air of competitive co-operation added further spice to the day. Attendees shared experiences of developing their ideas, while remaining wary of revealing too much.
The form that participants were asked to sign when they entered the room crystallised this balance of support, sharing, competition and discretion: participants had to agree not to abuse any information they gathered from each other during the workshop.
As well as Andrew’s PowerPoint presentation through the day, the session included group work among the participants and a presentation by one gallant volunteer of his business plan – or at least the parts of it that he felt safe in presenting to an audience at this point.
Afterwards he told me he found the experience a great exercise in presentation and a useful source of feedback from the group.
Breaks for coffee and lunch, which included the famous Birkbeck sandwich selection (my favourite is coronation chicken), gave participants the chance to discuss the wider aspects of entrepreneurship.
BEH executive director Ibrahim Maiga was optimistic about Britain’s entrepreneurial promise, which he saw as second only to that of the United States, but he was much less enthusiastic about the UK’s primary and secondary education.
He felt the UK could provide a good platform for research and development, but largely relies on foreigners for the skills to carry out that research, as well as fill the financial roles on which the country still relies so heavily for revenue.
Not only does the UK rely on visitors for these skills, but it’s unenlightened approach to immigration makes it even more difficult to attract the people it needs.
The UK’s stance on immigration may be a response to many of its people feeling threatened by competition for jobs from visitors, but that does not stop the policy from being a self-inflicted wound that the country’s economy can ill afford, especially at a time when that economy needs to diversify away from an overreliance on financial
services that themselves depend heavily on foreign institutions with UK bases.
Surely there is a better way to support people born in the UK: not to set up barriers to importing skills that the country needs, but to sustain an improvement of primary and secondary education so that more of those skills can come from UK citizens.
After lunch it was back to the workshop, which provided a lot for its participants to take in, and quite a gentle introduction to a development process that must grow increasingly competitive and challenging in subsequent stages.
After the official session, with the energy of true budding entrepreneurs, several participants stayed on to discuss ideas and opportunities further.
As well as the insights into business planning and development, perhaps one of the day’s most valuable offerings was the chance for participants to share a can-do sense of imaginative energy and possibility.
There are further details and dates of the Santander Entrepreneurship Award and other Birkbeck Enterprise Hub events on their website.. .