It saddened me to read the recent editorial, ‘Idea Idle’, as I feel entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged and not belittled.The Delboy model of enterprise is an unfair stereotype. Entrepreneurship is a rewarding though challenging career. The entrepreneurs I know are fixing real world problems, not ‘scamming pensioners and dodging taxes.’ Moreover, entrepreneurship has been shown to be an incredibly powerful way to institute social change and not a ‘blissful western, capitalist belief that good can be achieved by seeking a profit.’ Our two most recent speakers, John Bird and Sir Tom Hunter, show two very different and incredibly successful models of change. John Bird created the revolutionary social enterprise, The Big Issue, which has enabled and supported homeless people in getting themselves out of poverty. Sir Tom Hunter, on the other hand, made his fortune through retail, and plans to invest £1 billion in venture philanthropy. By using the rigorous methods of venture capitalists to ensure progress, Sir Tom hopes to improve education and aid third world development.Entrepreneurs care more about making a difference than making a profit. Yes, money is a huge motivation to work, both in large corporations where shareholders demand returns, and in start-ups where lack of money spells death of the project. But the difference for entrepreneurs is that the project is all important: the entrepreneurs I’ve met are driven by the desire to see their idea or vision actualised, whilst profit is seen more as a way of keeping tally of success.
So why do we run Idea Idol? I believe that it is really important that students at Oxford ask themselves, ‘Could I be an entrepreneur?’ Far too many graduates are lured by the money and lifestyle associated with comfortable graduate jobs such as banking and consultancy. The pay is good, but a banker is not going to fix the problems they themselves see as facing society or consumers, whereas entrepreneurs go out and do something about it. Oxford Entrepreneurs (OE) exists to support and encourage emerging entrepreneurs from Oxford. Our successes include five fully-funded start-ups, from Bright Green, who work in ethical recruiting, to Groupspaces, who help clubs and societies manage their members. The steps in setting up an enterprise are relatively straight-forward, but such steps can be incredibly difficult to take. OE tries to make the process a little easier, helping its members build up the momentum they need to run their ventures after graduation, and that was our motivation to run Idea Idol.Yes, there is a male dominance in entrepreneurship and this was reflected in the competition: over 75% of entrants were male. Encouraging women to become entrepreneurs, and the need to level out the numbers, is something of which I am very aware. It is not for want of role models.One need only look to one judge, Reshma Sohni, (Seedcamp) and one of last year’s winner, Jessica Mather-Hillon (Matoke Matoke) for inspiration. We are looking at ways to improve this situation, but are always open to proposals. If you have one yourself, please send it to email@example.com.A final point. One of the winning ‘idle’ ideas you lambast as ‘milking the NHS for profit’, Altitude Medical, estimate they can save over 2,500 lives a year and tens of millions of pounds of NHS spending. In my opinion that makes them true Idea Idols.
Alasdair Bell is the President of Oxford Entrepreneurs.