“Today has been excellent, can we do it every month?” These were the words going round my head as I was finally having that cup of tea, reflecting on the day’s activities and contemplating the next step. Forgive me, I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s go back to the beginning.
In some instances a good story needs to begin a long, long time ago. This tale, however, started just one year ago (to the day nearly)! Having been made a new Fellow of the RSA in March 2015, I saw there was an upcoming Engage event organised at the Management Centre of Bangor University. Being curious to what an RSA Fellow really is, and what they do, I clicked the button to reserve my space, thinking I could sit quietly, observe and take advantage of the refreshments on offer. A short time later came the request “we see that you are a new Fellow, and that you are attending the meet-up at Bangor University – can you talk about what you do?” (It is true that there is no such thing as a free lunch!)
There was a great collection of diverse people at the event, and a wonderful, inclusive and friendly atmosphere to the proceedings. As a Product Design and Education lecturer at Bangor University, I talked about the positive effect the professional placements have on the development of our students. I also discussed the positive impact our students had within the companies they had placements in developing new products which some of the companies adopted and brought to market.
There was however one area I wished we could improve. The final year project of our students needs to identify a real life problem, which has a proven and justifiable space within the market. A number of the final solutions are genuinely innovative and would have a positive impact on the intended final users’ life. All that was needed was more time to fully develop the idea from the final prototype stage to a product which is market ready. This route appeals to a number of students, however the practicalities of taking the project forward is tough, the ‘safety net’ and guidance of University has been taken away, and new pressures are facing them.
The tough ingredient within this recipe is time, support and money. Students often feel the need to get a job. Pressures from parents (and bank statements) is evident to start earning and paying off their University debt. With taking a full time job, the possible dream of developing their idea and getting it to market, quite often fades away.
This area of conversation carried on after my presentation when Noel Hulmston, intrigued with what I had said, wanted more details. Noel also wanted to see if we could do something practical to address the situation, and encourage our students to be more entrepreneurial when they graduate. We decided to meet again within a week to discuss the way forward.
Noel came to our workshop at Bangor University where he met the rest of the lecturers, and over a cup of tea we discussed numerous avenues and possibilities. From this conversation came a statement of intent. We settled on three points:
- How can we inspire our students to venture?
- How can we encourage our students to develop their entrepreneurial mind-set, to take a risk, venture on their own and develop their ideas?
- How can we make the students aware of the support available?
We decided to host an Entrepreneurship Seminar for graduating and recently graduated students of Bangor University. We would invite people who could offer practical advice and tips, we would invite experts within their field, people who have been there and done it, people who could advise on funding and grant applications, and people who would be willing to offer time as mentors.
In parallel with our idea, there are great developments happening in and around Bangor which we decided to bring into the mix.
The recently opened Pontio, a £45 million Arts and Innovation Centre for Bangor University has prototyping facilities and pre-incubation spaces; and the building of the £20 million Menai Science Park (M-SParc) on Anglesey will start within the next few weeks. Ieuan Wyn Jones, M-SParc’s Director agreed to be on the organising committee for the seminar. Both centres show the possibilities to our students and highlight where they could be in a few years’ time.
The Entrepreneurship Seminar took place on Thursday 10 March, with 40 students attending and 23 experts joining to share their knowledge and expertise. Successful business man and RSA Fellow Richard Cuthbertson (DMM Engineering) opened the morning presentations with an inspiring talk which encouraged the students to think about what they wanted to do with their lives, and how they would classify what success meant. Further presentations were given by Lowri Owen of B:Enterprising Bangor University, Andy Goodman of Pontio Innovation, Ieuan Wyn Jones M-SParc, Cerri Gibson of Business Wales, Nia Roberts - an Intellectual Property lawyer and expert from the Welsh Government, Kathy Seddon RSA Fellow, and John Solbe, from the Worshipful Livery Company of Wales.
The second half of the seminar was a speed networking session, where the students had an opportunity to talk to and question the experts. Extra people were added to the mix at the speed networking; there were representatives from Bangor Employability, Lloyds and Santander Banks, RSA Fellows, Big Ideas Wales, Business Wales, ICE Cymru, as well as Arloesi Gwynedd Wledig.
Gareth Jones, founder and CEO of ICE Cymru and RSA Fellow, was asked to bring the seminar to a close by reflecting on the activities of the day. His energy and positivity was contagious. He guided the students to consider what they might now do with the new information and insight that they gathered during the seminar.
Exciting things happen from chance meetings and RSA Engage is a great platform for these. Connecting Noel at RSA Engage started a project which facilitated numerous other links. And as our project grew a life of its own and developed into the entrepreneurial seminar, the hope is that the chance meetings we facilitated throughout the day will lead to numerous other projects that will evolve a life of their own and lead our students on their entrepreneurial adventure.
Is it too early to start organising next year’s seminar?
What other chance meetings can we help to foster?
In a few weeks I’m joining design tutors from across Wales at the RSA’s Student Design Awards: Welsh Summit to explore how we expand the opportunity for students and recent graduates to take part in the 92 year old Student Design Award competition that helps bring socially conscious design briefs to life.
If you want to know more about our event or would like to help us next year do please get in touch.