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Creating Entrepreneurs Now on the Curriculum in London

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Studying the business world - finance, economics and management - has long been on the curriculum of universities in Britain and around the world.

Great if you wanted to be a manager in a large organisation - but a revolution has happened and over the last decade increasingly many undergraduates want something different. We want to start our own businesses - inevitably small at first, but hopefully large one day.

Creating entrepreneurs with practical business skills was certainly not on the curriculum at universities until recently. For instance, even the best MBA, the premier business post-graduate, doesn't cover selling skills. Yet the only way to keep a small business going and growing is to be good at selling (and definitely better than your competitors).

This too is changing and London is at the forefront, with UCL (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/) leading the way.

While academia has historically been reserved, if not hostile, to commercialism and profit, encouraging young entrepreneurs is both important for students (after all, we are the customer!) and for the UK generally. If the country cannot generate more great technology businesses, we will quickly find our standard of living plummet.

And it is remains clear that over 50% of start-ups can fail within the first year, universities are in a strong place to help - after all, we are now in the knowledge economy...and knowledge is one thing that universities have in abundance!

A lack of commercial skills are often a factor in the failure of start-ups businesses. Selling, projecting cashflow, market analysis, pricing and managing people, for instance, are all key skills for entrepreneurs for achieving business success - as are contacts and supportive advisers.

This is where universities need to do more to help the thousands of budding under-graduate and post-graduate entrepreneurs who need that commercial guidance to start and grow their business.

However, my own experience at UCL shows that forward-thinking universities have realised this. For instance, in my own case having the pastoral care from my university made all the difference in me succeeding creating a popular online science news service: PlanetTechnews.com.

Science has always been my passion and I love reading and writing about it. But I felt that there was a huge need for somewhere to provide readable and popular coverage of science issues - which also did the all-important task of separating genuine discoveries from the false claims and pseudoscience that is also prevalent on the internet.

As well as encouraging and mentoring me through the daunting task of taking an idea from inception through to realisation, UCL provided a range on support - ranging from my being able to apply the coding from another project to create the site through to great advice and assistance from the support and academic staff.

Currently PlanetTechNews is a free service that does not generate income. Our next task is for myself and UCL to turn it into a business!

This type of support is not uncommon at UCL for post-graduates, but it is so far relatively uncommon for undergraduates like me. However, I am sure it will become much more widespread.

The online economy and rapid development of social media makes it easier and easier for younger people to create successful businesses. The recent success of Nick D'Aloisio, the 17-year-old programmer who recently gained £20million from selling his app to Yahoo! may not be typical, but it is certainly inspiring.

While some people may make a fortune with great programing and a killer app, for most creating a business is a longer road with many cross-roads but no map. If other universities can learn from the sort of support UCL gives, the generation coming through will not only be the most entrepreneurial ever, but thanks to great support our businesses may well be the most successful too.

By Alex Muller. Alex is an undergraduate studying Computer Science/ Information Management for Business at UCL (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/) and founder of online science news service PlanetTechNews (http://www.planettechnews.com/ )