History shows us that the Schumpeterian winds of creative destruction lay waste to the old and present opportunities for the new. It is creativity that sees opportunity, enterprise that exploits opportunity, and business ingenuity that delivers innovation to customers. Creativity is therefore an essential but often overlooked key ingredient in the recipe of improving economic advantage.
In the UK, the tough economic conditions have illustrated an increasing propensity for us, as a nation, to be more enterprising. Business formations are up, with currently 4.9 million private sector businesses, an increase of around 1.5 million since 2000. 4.7 million of these businesses are micro; started by both innovation-focussed entrepreneurs – developing new products and services, and necessity entrepreneurs – those which attempt to create wealth through unfavourable personal economic conditions. Also, an encouraging trend is the growing number of enterprises ran by female entrepreneurs, with around 40% of SMEs led or jointly led by women. Systemically, we are not quite as enterprising as our US counterparts, but it illustrates an increasing capacity for entrepreneurship through economic adversity, certainly beyond many European countries. In fact, in the UK’s North West we have seen an increasing appetite for business formation, as the only region to have double-digit growth in the number of businesses formed between 2012-13.
Supporting and sustaining a more enterprising culture is essential to our long-term economic prosperity, and universities have a key role in this arena. Mirroring a growing enterprise culture in the UK, over the last two years Salford Business School has seen around a 45% growth in enquiries, support, and knowledge exchange projects that focus on SMEs, including charities and social enterprises – numbering some 3,500 p.a. This is coupled with graduates increasingly seeing start-ups or local SMEs as attractive employers – offering a diverse range of projects and responsibilities. More than 40% of our students go on to work for SMEs, which also illustrates a growing receptiveness for SMEs to shape the skills and attributes of graduates, when historically this used to be the preserve of larger businesses. This requires universities to adapt their educational content to deliver the right technical, and often specialist knowledge, but also develop distinctive competencies in students that are valued by employers – enabling graduates to make a more immediate contribution to an SME’s success.
At Salford Business School we have taken several steps to support this. One, which is proving particularly attractive to businesses, are our student projects, in which a student (or group of students) work on a pressing issue where a company wants a fresh perspective, with the aim of yielding interesting insights. With the support of an academic in an appropriate field, the student explores creative solutions – something they are naturally good at. Students are also strong in basic research, having the time and techniques to mine data, with the aim of seeking patterns or making connections beyond what may be immediately obvious. However, the bootstrapped nature of SMEs requires some ingenuity – finding a solution that can be implemented with very limited funding or investment. The Business School has many examples of projects which have brought a wholly different solution to a company’s issues. Examples include a media campaign for Morson Group Ltd, which achieved over 100,000 views on their YouTube channel for 22 video clips produced. ENER-G PLC, ran an internal awareness campaign, culminating in a training video featuring a Johnny Depp lookalike.
Salford Business School works with companies both in the UK and overseas for student projects. If you are an SME, or indeed a large company, and would like a fresh perspective to your businesses challenges, then please see www.salford.ac.uk/business-school/business-services
Dr Kurt Allman, Associate Dean Enterprise & Engagement