Student Entrepreneurship - How Can We Compete?

28/10/2013 13:53 GMT | Updated 26/12/2013 10:12 GMT

Competing in the global race, rather than the 'race to the bottom', requires ingenuity and original thinking. Oxford has long been a place where innovation is written into its very existence, becoming a mindset - but in a new age where college-dorm startups become billion-dollar websites, Oxford seems to be lagging behind. This isn't an isolated problem either - too many top university students these days are tempted by the easy pickings of working for big corporations, led astray at some point by the constant barrage of free dinners, drinks and endless presentations designed to poach the best of the best.

Student entrepreneurship has seen a boom in its profile, with fledgling Googles and young Zuckerbergs hailed as the solution for a world still reeling from a global financial crisis. Startups founded in the college rooms of Ivy Leagues are already the stuff of campus legend. A study published over the summer found that one in four of this year's graduates are 'seriously considering' entrepreneurship as an alternate path to the generic Canary Wharf banking job, or consultancy, often branded by the company reps themselves as 'Investment Banking Lite'.

But when the latest series of The Apprentice showcased Jordan Poulton, who used to head the Oxford Entrepreneurs, the television screens of Oxford students were met with blank stares. "Do they mean the Guild" they said. "Why have I never heard of the Oxford Entrepreneurs?" The Oxford Entrepreneurs is an incredible society which lets many a budding entrepreneur gain access to their wealth of resources and a host of similar people with vision and imagination. But in the midst of the intense eight-week terms and two essays a week, the normal Oxford student unsure about their trajectory after university might lose out.

Entrepreneurship is exciting. The idea that something can grow from the simplest of ideas drawn out on the back of a piece of paper - or as poignantly shown in 'The Social Network', written out on the window in marker pen - to an international business success, is exhilarating. The way of life that being an entrepreneur entails - late nights planning out strategies and launches, hard hours of work on something you know could be a hit - lends itself perfectly to the sort of attitude many students show during their degree and indeed the course of their entire lives.

There are, of course, initiatives further afield that students should take note of. For instance, the Kairos Society is an inspirational venture started by Ankur Jain in 2008 to tackle global issues using young thinkers. It gathers a hand-picked cohort of entrepreneurs from the top universities across the world, and get them thinking - thinking about how to solve crises in education, sustainability and healthcare. Using their incredible mentorship programme, the talent of these budding entrepreneurs is nurtured and harnessed for doing good - it all sounds very promising.

The Kairos Society here in the UK is becoming more and more active, beginning with their Kairos UK Conference. Their 200 attendees will hear from inspirational leaders such as Lord Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer, and Matt Clifford, Founder and CEO of Entrepreneur First which helps train young entrepreneurs straight out of university. This is exactly what top university students need - to see entrepreneurship as a viable alternative, and more importantly, see it as serving a vital role in society and in helping solve global issues.

Not just your average conference, the Kairos Society UK Conference will be a much more hands-on experience than what people might expect. Young entrepreneurs will be able to pitch their business ideas in front of a panel of judges. This type of interactive, engaging event is the type of thing I would have expected the students of top universities should be getting involved with - meeting other student entrepreneurs, sharing visions for the future and exciting ideas. Surely that's part of what the university experience is all about. Though we are well past the high-school cliché of 'enterprise days' where business means making a product out of paper, straws and some glue before trying to market it, there needs to be a tangible push for innovation and enterprise in our top universities. The services industry is a mainstay of our economy, but it is also encroaching on the supply of talented graduates who might otherwise go on to do something completely unique. Making entrepreneurship sexy again, and ensuring it remains an appealing and challenging proposition, is something that Oxford and other top universities now need to be focusing on.

The Kairos UK Conference will take place on the 9th of November 2013, and tickets are available here: