Languages and Entrepreneurship: A Guide for Students
Having started a business based on my year abroad experiences, I was recently asked to write a report for the Higher Education Academy entitled ‘Languages and Entrepreneurship: A Guide for Students’. The aim is to inspire students who have had some international experience to start businesses, as they are in a unique position to spot gaps in the market! Here is a bit of background about the report, and also some resources from the launch event at the Royal Society on Wednesday 21st November 2012.
I studied History of Art and Italian at The University of Edinburgh, and I spent the third year of my degree studying in Florence. I didn’t know anyone who had been there or anyone who was going, so it was quite a nerve-wracking experience finding accommodation, getting my tax code and matriculating at the university by myself - all in very shaky Italian.
After a two-week wild goose chase as I attempted to register on my course, I finally arrived at the right office and was faced by an ‘out to lunch’ sign at 11am! I waited on the sunny step outside for three hours and, fuelled by a couple of my first ever espressos, I compiled a long list of everything I wished I’d known before I left. That was where the idea for ThirdYearAbroad.com came from, now GlobalGraduates.com.
I think language students and other students who spend time abroad during their degree course have a unique opportunity. During their time abroad they encounter a huge range of problems, one of which they might be in a good position to solve. Being immersed in a foreign culture, they are surrounded by new products and services that they might not be able to get at home in the UK – or they might notice that they can’t find something which is readily available back home. They are abroad for long enough that their language skills and cultural understanding can help them act as a bridge between two places and two groups of people, which means they have a significant advantage over potential or existing competitors, and they are able to build an international network of contacts who could be first customers, cultural advisors, team members, or maybe even business partners.
When I returned to Edinburgh for my final year, I came across Launch.ed – the university’s support service for entrepreneurs – and they asked me if I’d like to enter a business plan competition run by the Scottish Institute for Enterprise.
The whole judging process took a year and, despite the Final coinciding with handing in my dissertation, it was a great experience which taught me about market research, financial management, innovation and technology, and made me realise that my little idea for creating a network of year abroad students could have a strong business model behind it. I only wish I’d come across the service before.
This made me think about enterprise and the university language curriculum. As a language student, my course had centred on the Language, Politics, Art and History of Italy. Looking back, during my whole time there nobody mentioned the idea of entrepreneurship as a career option for a language graduate. I know you can’t teach someone to have a good business idea or to spot a gap in the market, but it’s important for these students to be aware that if they do have an idea there is excellent startup support available, there are successful entrepreneurs who have ‘been there, done that’ and are happy to share their benefit of their experience, and with advances in modern technology it’s a lot easier to start a business now than it used to be.
The report is designed to help and inspire students who want to start a business based on their experiences with language, travel or culture. The core of the report consists of interviews with ten brilliant young entrepreneurs who studied languages and/or spent time abroad, and have passed on their advice and tips. Their businesses are in a range of different fields which students with language skills or international experience will be able to relate to.
There is also a section which includes the case study of BBC Apprentice Finalist Nick Holzherr, who started his first business on his year abroad in Frankfurt. Watch the video now!
After some more detailed advice and a list of useful resources, the report ends with a Final Word from Tom Adams, who transformed the small family-run business ‘Fairfield Language Technologies’ into the huge global brand Rosetta Stone. I asked him if he’d enjoyed his time there, and he replied:
“It’s amazing. My life has been fantastic. Being able to work in a field that you’re passionate about is so rewarding, and anyone who’s able to have work and passion combined has an amazing privilege… For anyone who’s had an international experience, you know that you feel different when you come back; you’re enriched and you’re far the wiser, and so being able to work in a field where you’re able to give any aspect of that back and give other people the same opportunity is amazing.”
I think that says it all, really. Year abroad students are so passionate about their experience, I am surprised that they have not set up more businesses based on their skills, experience and insight. It really surprised me how difficult it was to find case studies for the report. I hope that university business, language and entrepreneurship departments can make this guide readily available to their students to keep languages at the forefront of innovation in this country.
Here is my presentation from the Launch event, which showcases the entrepreneurs featured in the report:
And here is the presentation Rob gave about his business, Applingua: