Entrepreneur networking events are a great way to promote self-employment as a credible pathway for students. They are most successful when they give students the chance to interact and seek advice from real entrepreneurs, businesses and support agencies from the local community.
Our inaugural entrepreneur networking event at City of Glasgow College, Entrepreneur Network@CITY, was a great example of connecting students with the wider entrepreneurial community. Here are our tips for other colleges and institutions planning to host an entrepreneur networking event of their own.
Give students the chance to make real-world connections with the entrepreneurial community
From the start it was clear that inviting a wide variety of external entrepreneurs, business experts and support agencies would be a big attraction for our students.
At the heart of the event was a pop-up ‘Enterprise Village’, giving students the chance to meet and ask questions to representatives from business support agencies, including Scottish Women in Business, Bridge 2 Business, Business Gateway and The Prince’s Trust.
We also invited a number of high-profile entrepreneurs from the local community, as well as former students now running their own businesses. They were there to answer questions and share real-life experiences about starting a business.
Many of these contributors also delivered informal seminars to share their knowledge and advice. The most popular of these on the day were those led by business owners who spoke about their own start-up experiences and future plans for development.
‘The event placed vital information and access to a whole support network, right at the heart of where young people are, and who are at the point of thinking about their futures,’ says Jen Lindsay, Enterprise Executive at The Prince's Trust.
Involve students and alumni in event planning and organisation
Entrepreneur Network@CITY was set up in response to student demand, so it made sense to get our students involved in planning and hosting the event.
We asked students studying Event Management at the college to lead on the organisation and delivery. Their roles included meeting and greeting external contributors, booking one-to-one sessions and dealing with general enquiries.
The students were also responsible for posting live updates during the day via social media, and these were displayed on screens throughout the college.
Our alumni network was also a valuable resource during the planning and delivery of the event. Our relationship with our alumni has at its core a mutual understanding that former students are welcome to return to the college to impart knowledge and information. In turn our alumni know that the college will support them whenever possible in their career and business options.
As well as attending the event to share their knowledge and experience with students, our alumni network engaged with local businesses and larger commercial organisations sympathetic to our aims during the planning stages. These partners were specifically targeted to provide our students with direction in their studies, and how to apply that learning in a business environment.
Make it relevant
To increase the relevance of the event for attendees and contributors, we planned for it to coincide with Global Entrepreneurship Week and International Women's Entrepreneurship Day. These gave us valuable hooks for promotion and helped secure involvement of people within the entrepreneurial community.
We initially intended for the theme of the event to focus on encouraging women and girls to consider self-employment in technical and engineering disciplines, as part of our college’s on-going work in tackling gender inequality. To make the event more relevant to a wider audience, we broadened the theme to embrace all students with an interest in becoming self-employed, regardless of sector or professional interest.
Utilise existing partnerships
Tapping into existing external relationships with relevant organisations and industry contacts is an ideal way to gain support for any entrepreneur networking event, whether it’s for promotion or seeking contributors.
Our college has long-standing relationships with industry and commerce, developed over many years, and providing mutual benefit for both the partners and our students. These relationships were a valuable resource to tap into when planning and promoting the event.
Rather than seek out financial sponsorship, we asked external organisations to donate in-kind by providing a staff presence to offer advice, spend one-on-one time with students who wanted extra support, and enhance promotion through their own marketing channels.
Build on the buzz of the event
As a result of the success of the event, we established an Enterprise and Innovation Space in our campus to support the work readiness and business readiness of our students.
It’s a value-adding service that runs in parallel with our standard careers advice and support. Any student, regardless of their vocational specialism, has access to the space and the support network, which includes a visiting entrepreneur and a resident consultant from Bridge 2 Business (delivered by young Enterprise Scotland).
This is just part of a range of ongoing initiatives we are developing to support entrepreneurship and enterprise in our college, including an entrepreneurial challenge competition and job-shadowing opportunities at local businesses.