Recognition given to students who 'grow their own' businesses

11th September 2009 at 01:00
Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well at many Scottish colleges and universities, writes Neil Munro

The drive for colleges and universities to turn out enterprising students is clearly working, judging by the success of a Cumbernauld College graduate, named Enterprising Student of 2009.

Walter Law was chosen as the overall winner in the awards, which are sponsored by Scotland's Colleges and the Federation of Small Businesses. He was presented with his cheque for pound;500 by Bruce Crawford, the Minister for Parliamentary Business who is also MSP for Stirling, where the ceremony was held.

The awards are designed to reward FE students and graduates who have capitalised on their academic knowledge by setting up their own business. It comes as the Scottish Funding Council is considering further steps to support students who want to do so.

Mr Law studied computer engineering at Cumbernauld after a previous career in the glazing industry. He has established a computer services business in Kirkintilloch, which is said to be "thriving". The company has taken on an employee and both went back to the college where they passed a Microsoft technician course in certified desktop support.

Other finalists were Artur Dziewisz, who studied graphic design at Stevenson College Edinburgh and has carved a career in web design; Kelly McGhee, who studied at Aberdeen College and is developing "groundbreaking" engineering solutions; and photographer Roselyn Carlson, whose time at Dumfries and Galloway College equipped her to run her own studio.

Ray Harris, interim chief executive of Scotland's Colleges, said: "We hope that, as these entrepreneurs grow their own businesses, they will continue to use their local college's knowledge and expertise to develop their own, and their employees', skills for future success."

Student enterprise was also top of the agenda elsewhere in Scotland last week, during the International Entrepreneurship Educators Conference which was held at Heriot-Watt University. Activity in this area in Scotland has centred on higher education where the Scottish Institute for Enterprise, funded by the Government, has helped students start 166 companies through funding, mentoring and other support.

It organises an annual "new ventures" competition, won this year by a young student from Edinburgh University, Edward Bolam, whose RevDrive company aims to produce a gearbox for the downhill sector of the cycling industry.

Runners-up included hoodeasy, set up by another Edinburgh University student, Richard Burton, to provide students with a "hassle-free" way of ordering customised clothing online; and Giglets, a children's book publishing venture by two Strathclyde University students, Craig Johnstone and Scott Francis, who plan to educate young children in Scottish history while tackling issues such as childhood obesity.

Last week's conference heard from a senior figure at the Scottish Funding Council that now may be the time to extend this initiative to colleges. The council has been holding consultations, which closed last month, on its overall employability strategy, Learning to Work Two.

Laurence Howells, the council's senior director of learning, research and knowledge exchange, said the majority of responses backed the view that "enterprise and entrepreneurship is a core learning and teaching issue, which should be part of wider thinking about preparing people for the world of work" and that "there is also a need to encourage and capitalise on the potential for some students to set up their own businesses".

There was also strong support for the suggestion that "university graduates are not the only priority: school leavers and college graduates also need to be included".

Mr Howells said the council would consider these responses and "identify where further investment will make the biggest difference". He said one springboard for future action was the Scottish Programme for Entrepreneurship, a joint venture set up in 2007 by the Scottish Government and The Hunter Foundation, at a cost of pound;2.65 million over three years. It has concentrated on establishing academic Masters programmes and professorships in three universities - Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Strathclyde.

Having backed enterprise education in schools, Sir Tom Hunter said that "the university and further education sector provides the final piece in the enterprise and entrepreneurial jigsaw for our young people."

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