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Enactus team – Kat and the University’s Enactus Society who took part in hackathons with local charities in 2020
Surrey is one of four universities taking part in SETsquared’s IKEEP (Intrapreneurial Knowledge Exchange Enterprise Pathway) initiative. It turns students and graduates into business advisors to local organisations with the aim of enhancing their skills as future employees with a passion for their employer’s mission. This is the key to being an intrapreneur – wanting to innovate within your organisation and harness your skills to advance it.
This concept struck a chord with Student Enterprise Manager Kat. “I think I’m the classic intrapreneur – I treat my job like it was my own business,” she said. “I want it to be successful, and put my heart and soul into making it as good as it possibly can be.”
It is something that has been recognised by her colleagues who have seen the impact she has made since joining the Student Enterprise Team in 2019.
One of her first tasks was to run the University’s annual Building an Entrepreneur event in March 2020. It involves bringing together students, staff, businesses and charities, and is a key event for showcasing student entrepreneurs and bringing in future funding and mentors.
“It was a brilliant event,” said Kat. “I’m so glad we managed to have it, because obviously everything stopped after that. It would have been really disruptive to have been locked down in the middle of planning it because it would have meant we couldn’t run in the same celebratory way. We finished our physical events of 2020 on a high.”
But Kat didn’t stop there.
When lockdown happened, she moved student enterprise activities online and secured an extra £25,000 in funding from Santander. She also launched a series of innovative new ways to engage and encourage entrepreneurs.
First, Kat built on a pilot programme that had been run earlier in the year to create digital intern opportunities for students. Many who were graduating in 2020 suddenly had no jobs to go to or their summer placements had fallen through.
“We were able to offer them paid internship opportunities in our own graduates’ businesses and a couple of local charities who were also struggling because of COVID,” explained Kat.
“I also started an online brunch club for entrepreneurs so they could get together online once a month for peer support. It felt like that was something they were missing as they weren’t able to come in and use the incubator on campus anymore.”
The brunch club began in the summer of 2020. It has been such a success that it has continued into this year and Kat sees it as something that will happen well beyond COVID.
She added: “I can offer mentorship or support, but these guys are experiencing the highs and lows of building a business right now, so they’re really invaluable resource to each other. Once we’re allowed to come back in-person, we will make it a real physical event with an actual brunch spread!”
Another connection that Kat forged during 2020 was between the University of Surrey’s Enactus Society and local charities. She has a background in charity work and events and used her contacts to bring together students with an interest in social enterprise with local good causes.
“We created a new series of hackathons, bringing a charity’s problems to the table and getting people from different backgrounds to try and solve them,” explained Kat. “This helped to publicise the society, recruit more members and engage them in doing something productive at a time when their usual projects weren’t moving very fast due to COVID.”
Kat facilitated the Enactus Society in hackathons with Surrey charities like: Challengers, which provides inclusive play and leisure opportunities for disabled children and young people; Oakleaf Enterprise, which is a mental health charity in Guildford; and GRACE, a charity raising awareness and funding for research into the cause, progression and treatment of gynaecological cancers.
These charities and others are now part of the University’s ‘ecosystem’ and will continue to benefit from the entrepreneurial skills of its students.
In true intrapreneurial style, Kat is modest about her achievements in what was an unprecedented year.
“I’m just genuinely lucky to have this job,” she said. “Every day I get to speak to fun people doing great things and coming up with new ideas.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind year. I’m a people person and I am missing seeing the students in person, but equally I’m really inspired by them. When lockdown happened, they took to it like a duck to water. I never heard complaints. They’ve just grabbed every opportunity that we have given them.
“Our programme has been busier than ever since COVID hit. We still see one or two new students every week, as well as all our existing entrepreneurs. So, there are students still looking for something more to do, even though times are challenging.
“To be recognised with the SETsquared award is lovely,” she added. “But it’s only because I get to have this great job that I can do any of this. I’m working in a tiny team, with a brilliant line manager who just supports everything and empowers me.”
So, what’s next for Kat and the student entrepreneurs at the University of Surrey?
There are a glut of initiatives already underway in 2021, including an option for graduates to replace a traditional year-long placement with creating their own business. This year a small number of applicants will receive £15,000 in funding as well as support from the Student Enterprise Team to get their business idea off the ground.
“That’s exciting because it’s never been done before and we’ve got COVID to thank for that,” explained Kat. “In 2020, the University decided to be quite progressive about what they consider to be a placement year. Last summer all placements had become a bit tricky. Then one student put their hand up and asked, ‘can I do my placement on my own business?’. The University said yes and he’s up and running.
“He will now be followed by a cohort of other student entrepreneurs because we’ve seen his success.”
Added to this is the creation of an app publisher account to help students get to grips with the costly and complicated process of registering their business apps on the App and Play stores. The Student Enterprise Team has also become a gateway provider for the Government’s Kickstart Scheme to create six-month work placements for 16 to 24-year-olds.
These placements will be with businesses set up by the University’s entrepreneurs.
“This will help local young people to find jobs in what I think are really exciting businesses,” said Kat. “Imagine scrolling through the opportunities as a 20-year-old and then you see one where you can work with an entrepreneur, in the nitty gritty of how to run a high tech high growth business. I think that could be really inspiring for young people who are potentially at risk of long-term unemployment.”
“Times are challenging,” added Kat. “I never really believed lockdown would last this long. But it was never going to stop play for me. It was just as matter of carrying on and doing things it in a different way.”
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