Student enterprise - a key to economic growth - Business Works
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Student enterprise - a key to economic growth

RBS and FIG awards for student enterprise With three universities in the world’s top ten and a long history of innovation, invention and non-conformity, Britain continues to pack a punch on the world stage. Yet when it comes to youth entrepreneurship, the UK’s younger generation is lagging way behind (data show that 'Early-Stage entrepreneurial activity' for 18-24 year olds is 6% in the UK and over 9% in the USA). The Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) and Find Invest Grow (FIG) are working to address this issue with the re-launch of their business competitions aimed at revitalising and nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit of students and recent graduates.

With the economy still struggling and youth unemployment soaring above the one million mark, it’s no surprise many students are expressing intent to set up their own business. But these high levels of latent entrepreneurship are not being translated into similar numbers setting up their own business.

So what can be done to channel the enthusiasm of the UK’s youth?

Cue the launch of the second year of the RBS Enterprising Student Society Accreditation (ESSA) and RBS EnterprisingU competitions with a combined prize pot of over £101,000. RBS ESSA aims to reward and recognise the skills involved in running a student society, while RBS EnterprisingU is open to students and recent graduates, looking for investment to kick-start their innovative business ideas.

The competitions:

  • are aimed at students and recent graduates of the past 5 years. A generation that is facing a challenging employment market with less job opportunities and graduate recruitment;
  • recently found that 60% of students and recent graduates want to start their own business, but only 8% are actually in the process of doing so;
  • aims to bridge this gap and provide the younger generation with, not only the financial support, but also the education, mentoring and advice need to develop successful business plans;
  • found that students and recent graduates have the drive and ambition to found large-scale businesses that will help boost the economy.

From the University of East Anglia’s Beekeeping Society through to Cambridge University’s Boat club, running a successful student society can be hard work - members raise large amounts of capital, organise an extensive calendar of events and, most importantly, attracts new recruits. RBS ESSA rewards these enterprising activities, helping students obtain a competitive edge and boost their CVs.

Last year 317 student societies – some 79,000 members – took advantage of the scheme, 21 of which scooped a share of the £55,000 prize fund. Of the winners, Warwick Finance Societies will use their £18,000 prize money to send members to Mumbai for work experience and set up a student-run investment fund for educational purposes.

"If drunken antics are all that spring to mind at the mention of the UK’s student societies, think again," says James King, MD of FIG. "The potential from the country’s pool of university talent is astounding. Societies are turning over five to six-figure sums while creating a community of future business and society leaders. We hope to repeat the success we saw last year through our increased prize fund and attract more attention to what this demographic has to offer."

EnterprisingU is the UK’s largest university business plan competition, open to any student or recent graduate with the drive and ambition to succeed in business. Entries are made using FIG’s online tool, an easily accessible platform, designed to road test their idea.

SalesGossip - a sale alert web site

SalesGossip - a sale alert web site

Last year, of the 3000 ideas submitted, SalesGossip, launched by a London Business School graduate, took the top spot with its online and mobile service that alerts bargain hunters to the latest high street sales. "I used to head into my favourite shops and be so disappointed when there was sale on that I didn’t know about," said Elizabetta 'Zabetta' Camilleri, one of the founders. "When you’re a student, you’re always looking for ways to save money and this continues into later life! Who doesn’t like a good bargain? It was at this point I decided to set up SalesGossip. I was so annoyed I kept missing out and when I spoke to friends, it was the same story. People were missing out on sales and promotions simply because they didn’t know they were on."

Runner up - Ventive S low-cost energy for homes

Ventive S - a low-cost energy solution for homes

'Ventive S' was the runner up. While a student at the University of East London, Tom Lipinski was carrying out research into low-cost energy solutions for homes and was surprised by the lack of products on the market. He therefore set about creating his own, 'Ventive S', a cheap, efficient ventilation solution for existing homeowners.

So how does it work? Recovering heat from outgoing stale air and transferring it to incoming fresh air, the device works by using wind and the principles of natural buoyancy for a totally passive airflow. Designed for new builds and to 'retrofit' existing homes, Ventive has no moving parts that could break-down and requires no energy to run, surpassing competitors on cost, maintenance and energy use.

Initially, Tom secured funding from the government to start developing his products. After entering the RBS EnterprisingU and winning £10,000 of funding by coming second, it allowed him to further develop Ventive products and improve the website. Additionally, potential investors that attended the awards ceremony were so impressed with the company that they secured two major investors. Both of these have committed funds to enable Ventive to transform from a product and business idea into a fully functioning business, employing sales staff.

Most enterprising student society

Most enterprising student society

Business trips to Mumbai, 80+ events a year and a model being followed by other student societies across the UK: this is Warwick Finance Societies (WFS), the UK’s most enterprising student society.

Made up of the four principal finance societies on campus, the aim of University of Warwick’s largest society is simple: to help their members discover job opportunities for when they graduate and gain the skills necessary for a career in finance and other industries. Through CV clinics, internship fairs and trading games, it’s no wonder other universities’ finance societies are following suit.

This year

With an increased prize fund of £101,000 and a greater number of prize categories for RBS ESSA this year, more students are set to benefit. With, Innocent Smoothies and even Dyson examples of highly-lucrative businesses set up by students and recent graduates, who will be the next market-leading brand to take the UK by storm?

"Running these awards for the second year provides a great opportunity for us to help the UK economy benefit from the business potential of the nation’s universities and recent graduates," stated Peter Ibbetson, Small Business Chairman, Natwest and RBS. "These competitions are crucial because they help young entrepreneurs showcase their business minds and win investment to further develop their start-ups or initiatives. Last year we had a large volume of very impressive entries and look forward to reviewing an equally impressive range of exciting ideas again this year."

The RBS Enterprising Student Societies Accreditation (ESSA) is an accreditation scheme and associated awards that aim to recognise and reward the enterprising activities of student societies. For more information, please visit:

RBS EnterprisingU is a UK university business plan competition open to students and recent graduates (of up to five years). For more information, please visit:

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