What do flight safety information, dog treats and Ghanaian cosmetics have in common? If you said they provide inspiration for the latest crop of entrepreneurial ideas from students at a leading UK university then congratulations.
Inspiration can come from different sources – sometimes life experiences can be the reason people set up in business. Recently Red Potato helped to deliver business Bootcamp services at a leading UK university. The students on the Bootcamp came from a variety of countries, different nationalities and perhaps significantly many were not studying business studies.
The course being studied was less important than the business idea. The most impressive business ideas – think passenger safety, pampered pets and Ghana – were all solving a problem or had recognised a market opportunity. The inquisitive, innovative and in some cases idealistic vision of the students was more important than the course being studied. Crucially the best students were able to talk about that vision in everyday language -not management speak.
Funnily enough despite the students coming from all over the world, few focused on geographical markets. Instead there was a natural assumption that they would build a business which would be able to serve customers from all over the world from “day 1”.
After the initial flurry of excitement, not all the ideas will develop into sustainable long term businesses. Some would-be entrepreneurs will find more (financially) rewarding careers working for someone else and “Business studies” will give them an important career qualification for these roles. Good luck to all the students as they launch on this exciting adventure. We hope that the students will stay in touch and remain inquisitive as they decide to brave the “enormous ups and deep downs” of running their own business. Here at Red Potato we believe the value of practical entrepreneurship education is not always obvious but it can be demonstrated over the long term. That is why we are committed to delivering measurable long term outcomes by working in partnership with further and higher education organisations.
The project has been completed, the final report, finally approved, the diary is clear of project update meetings and the virtual team has gone its separate ways.
But what has changed? How have things improved? Have things got better for local people? These are the questions which we need to be answered for any project involving public resources and aimed at addressing local community need. Sounds obvious but how good is the sector at addressing these questions – from my own experience I think the picture is mixed. There are some genuine efforts to communicate with residents about project outcomes and whether the initial objectives were achieved. There are also some pretty poorly executed attempts at corporate back-slapping based on fairly limited progress.
The reason for this is measuring outcomes means we need to state clearly at the outset of the project “how will people be better off”. Mark Friedman discusses the process of “turning the curve”; describing the outcome to be improved and what is likely to happen if nothing changes. Actions are then measured against this projected baseline. By taking effective and timely actions, improvements are made against the baseline.
The trick is doing the preparation beforehand to agree the metrics by which the project will be judged, including milestones to check progress along the way. And regularly communicate with residents must be central to the project.
If people don’t feel that things have changed then the project can’t be claimed to be a success.