Entrepreneurship students urged to look beyond their degrees

More than 3,000 Australian university students have enrolled in entrepreneurship classes this year, new research shows, but experts say entrepreneurs cannot succeed without experience.


According to research undertaken by The Australian Financial Review, 2000 undergraduates and 1000 postgraduates have enrolled in subjects focused on building businesses from scratch.


But Amir Nissen, founder of student-led group Student Entrepreneurs, at Melbourne University, says aspiring entrepreneurs shouldn’t place too much emphasis on book smarts.


“The benefit of a university degree in entrepreneurship comes from the implicit recognition of entrepreneurship as a viable career or life choice for young people – as normal as becoming an account or lawyer,” Nissen says.


“University offers a connection to cutting-edge ideas and a cluster of highly intelligent people working in diverse fields that you don’t find in other industries.”


“Its value comes from the potential hotbed for co-founders and new discoveries.”


“[But] for the entrepreneur to be, there is only one course of action – getting out there and doing it, failing and doing it again.”


Mark Parncutt, co-founder of student start-up Nudge, believes commerce degrees mostly prepare students for life in the corporate world.


“[This] is very different to starting a business, [which] can only be learned by experience,” Parncutt told StartupSmart.


“When I ran the Entrepreneurs Week at Melbourne Uni in 2009, I was talking to the lecturer of these entrepreneurship subjects about Nudge and my plans for the future.”


“His advice was that many would-be entrepreneurs get a job and work in the corporate world for 10 years or so to get experience before they start a business.”


By and large, Nissen says the start-up community “does appear to be on the up”, partly because the low barriers to entry brought about by the internet have made start-ups a more viable option.


“It has also made forming groups easier, which perhaps explains the current proliferation of them,” Nissen says.


“In Sydney, there’s an entrepreneurship event every day of the working week, and Melbourne is not far off.


“In terms of help by the universities, this varies on which uni and who you know there.


“Often, universities have some level of grant funding available to student initiatives, but these tend to focus mostly on the social start-ups and other non-profit initiatives.”


Despite this, Nissen believes Australian universities can be an ideal environment in which to start a business.


“The diversity of ideas and cluster of talented peers, as well as accessible academics for advice and networks, can be a boon to start-ups,” he says.


“However, I feel universities follow an anti-gestalt theory, where the parts that make up a university are more valuable than their sum.”


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