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October 09, 2012

Entrepreneurship – the alternative career path

EntrepreneurshipWarwick graduate Mahdi Shariff talks about the (career) path less travelled - entrepreneurship...

With a tough job market and tuition fee rises for higher education, the options for a fresh graduate seem to be narrowing; don't assume, however, that your options are confined to An alternative - but frequently overlooked - career path is Entrepreneurship. Whether or not you have ever considered starting your own company, or even if you are dead set on joining the corporate ranks, by developing an entrepreneurial mindset you can determine your own success in whichever path you choose to follow.

What are your options?

Whether you're still studying or freshly graduated, securing entrepreneurial experiences will help develop the key skills and attributes that employers are looking for. These can come from a range of formal and informal experiences, so here are a few suggestions to get you started.

University societies & competitions

Entrepreneurial societies, such as Warwick Entrepreneurs and SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise), are great at nurturing entrepreneurial talent. By getting involved with these projects early in your university career, not only will it get you in the right mindset, but you will be given the opportunity to gain experiences outside of your comfort zone as well as introducing you to potential employers. The Warwick Apprentice competition (run by Warwick Entrepreneurs) is a perfect example of this. With over 100 students involved and teams being 'fired' at each round, it is a fiercely competitive challenge and a high pressure environment. Each team were given a new task each day for a week, ranging from sales and negotiation to investment and marketing, with the final teams pitching to four Managing Directors of Credit Suisse. Not only did they gain a unique networking opportunity, the winners (Yaw Okyere, Lexie Titterington & Mahdi Shariff) shared £1200 prize money and developed themselves personally through their involvement in the competiton. Getting involved with these activities early on in your university career will ensure you have the right kind of experience to help you establish your own business, secure further work experience and may even make the difference between graduate employment and the job centre.

Internships & start-up experience

Entrepreneurial internships and working in startups are great sources of experience for both graduates and undergraduates. Sites such as Enternships and Workinstartups have made the process of finding these startup opportunities even easier, and with positions across a range of functions and industries, you can now strategically plot your career path. Working in a startup not only gives you the chance to demonstrate your initiative and drive, but offers you highly differentiated and relevant experience, and exposure to roles and responsibilites beyond that of a normal entry-level graduate position. Even if you find that the path of the entrepreneur is not for you, your time will have been well spent gaining a valuable network of contacts in your industry, developing new skills and a better understanding of the career you wish to pursue, or at the very least, a set of perfect competency based examples that every graduate dreams of.

An internship in a startup is a great way to gain experience and learn about business. It can also end up as a permanent position, as many startups use internships as a way to find graduate talent - Rajeeb Dey, CEO & Founder,

Entrepreneur First

So graduation day comes and your heart is now set on becoming the next Richard Branson - but where do you go next? Your first port of call should be Entrepreneur First. This is a great government-backed initiative which is the first scheme of its kind to truly offer an estabished route to entrepreneurship for young entrepreneurs straight after graduation. The scheme works by equipping you with the skills, training and environment you need to succeed. They help to build startups that lead to economic growth and job creation by focussing on three things:

  1. Supporting people who have the ambition to build scalable businesses
  2. Only supporting startups that want to innovate
  3. Selecting people who have the skills (either technical or business-related) to make the first two things a reality

This highly sought after scheme also provides mentoring, office space, introductions to investor networks, and a warm welcome to a group of ambitious, dynamic young entrepreneurs. This could just be the place to find your next cofounder, discover an exciting business venture or even befriend the next Steve Jobs.

So why do we think EF is different? EF is designed to help build the type of startups that do lead to economic growth and job creation. So, if you have the ambition and the skill, EF is a great place to get started - Matt Clifford, CEO of Entrepreneur First

Supporting partners of the scheme include McKinsey&Company, Microsoft and Silicon Valley Bank, so even if things don't quite work out as planned, in true entrepreneurial form you can bounce back and use this experience to convince employers that you're creative, enterprising and prepared to take a risk. With applications opening from September, you can find out more at Entrepreneur First or get in touch with two of Warwick's own top grads @IsaacLewis @evidetta who are currently on the scheme.

Watch out for the band wagon

Although entrepreneurship offers a wealth of opportunity, it can be a rocky road, with successs some way in the future. And that's before we mention the hard graft - palatable to some, but not for the faint-hearted. So at this pivotal stage of your career, before you quit the job search and begin working on a start-up, think carefully - have you got the makings of an entrepreneur, or do you value security and certainty? The entrepreneurial lifestyle can be exciting and rewarding, but it's not for the risk averse.

High-growth entrepreneurship should be viewed as a high-skill profession. Initiatives that present founding a business as an accessible alternative to employment, particularly in a difficult economic climate, will tend to produce in aggregate a group of new firms that are not well equipped to scale - Peter Tufano, Dean of Oxford's Said Business School and Founder of the Harvard Innovation Lab Schemes

This is why schemes like Entrepreneur First are highly selective and prestigious - they only support individuals making a conscious decision to pursue entrepreneurship. And it works - some of the first graduates to complete the Entrepreneur First scheme are turning their backs on city jobs to pursue their ambitions instead. Being able to make these decisions requires a high level of confidence and assertion about your future goals and objectives. This is why gaining entrepreneurial experiences early on in your career gives you the grounding and confidence to make a measured and educated decision on which path is right for you.

The ball's in your court.

With your goal in mind, whether working in a corporate or with plans for entrepreneurial world domination - entrepreneurship offers a viable alternative route for those hungry for success. Get those skills out on the court and you might just find employers are more than willing to play ball.

Mahdi Shariff is a Warwick graduate, former winner of the Warwick Apprentice Competition and now works as a Corporate Finance Analyst at Ernst & Young. Read Mahdi's blog for further thoughts on life, work and social media.

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