Kings College London: University: An Incubator for Entrepreneurial Thinking

October 7, 2015

I am an impatient person. Period. Always was. Always will be. At 15 I worked in a chemist, graduated to a McDonalds Saturday job at 16, worked behind bars at 18 (the alcoholic kind, as opposed to prison!) and latterly, behind a computer screen.

University was an interesting time for me. I can’t say I was the most dedicated of students but I always read the prescribed reading list (well, ish…), handed work in on time (well, ish…) and crammed for exams. Fortunately I passed with pretty good grades thanks to some great teachers and a good memory. I had a good time too.

University evolved my entrepreneurship skills. For those of you with no intentions of starting your own business don’t be fooled into thinking they are irrelevant.

None of us know exactly where we’ll end up in life but many of us are excited to get started: to start to study, start to live an independent life away from home, start to work, start to impact the world, start to climb the career ladder and if you’re like me, ditch homework. Others are keen researchers and are ready to graduate from bachelors and masters degrees to PhDs and teaching posts. Brilliant – but not something I can comment on. I can’t wait to be given an honorary PhD (take note King’s) but was never the kind to commit to that many years of voluntary study!

So to those reading this, you might be forgiven for thinking that if I had my time again I might not go to university but rather go straight to a full-time job. Or I would have chosen to study business (instead of languages) given my obvious inclination towards the world of commerce. Or that committing four years to university did little to foster my entrepreneurial spirit. You would, however, be wrong. With the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Go get those social skills!
For many, university is a fantastic incubator. Most of us arrive at 18 (unless you’re one of those nine-year old child geniuses I see on TV!) with a small circle of friends limited to the area you grew up in, the schools you went to and the sports clubs you frequented. Suddenly you’re exposed and introduced to people you might never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise, from all walks of life and all corners of the world. There were some I liked, some I loved and some who didn’t resonate at all that I downright avoided. But either way, as with working life, I had to learn to try and get on with everyone where possible. In retrospect, it was an early master class in networking.

University isn’t the right path for everyone but when I reflect, I can see why my parents were so keen for me to have the experience. It shaped me. And my business skills…

At university there were societies and clubs to cater for every interest. I was responsible for my own profit and loss (no money, no lunch). I was thrown into accommodation with people from all over the world, crowded (and sometimes intimidating) classrooms, a city I didn’t know and a rhythm where on the whole, I was responsible for my own time for the first time.

It didn’t take me long to figure out you get back what you put in. If you stay home and watch quiz shows all day you won’t meet anyone and more importantly, are unlikely to pass your degree. That’s no good. But if you do venture outside of your bedroom, the school of life awaits.

I spent a term abroad studying in Spain and a year abroad working in Paris. Many of my contemporaries lived in small towns and took up teaching assistant posts. I was adamant I wanted to work in the capital city – and was lucky enough to secure an amazing job working on the shop floor of the infamous Virgin Megastore on the Champs Elysees. Being multi-lingual I was always asked to escort and help some of the pop stars who came to the store for record signings so I built up an envious collection of CDs all the while learning to speak French.

Entrepreneurial skills are required in all walks of life.
They mean applying yourself to situations with agility, applying innovative thinking to whatever you do. It took me out of my comfort zone and ultimately gave me confidence.

I had to navigate a new city, a foreign subway system, supermarket shopping where initially I couldn’t understand most of the labels and make new friends. I had to start a new job whilst initially struggling to express myself and had to concentrate harder to learn the skills required because… asking questions meant having to speak French!

There is no better way to learn the value of networking – building your friends and acquaintances so that your access to advice and study and work opportunities is extended – than by living independently; abroad or not. Being young for my academic year, I was 17 when I secured a place at university, barely 18 when I arrived and 19 when I moved to Paris. I grew up fast.

King’s College London: the land of opportunity.
University evolved my entrepreneurship skills. For those of you with no intentions of starting your own business don’t be fooled into thinking they are irrelevant. Entrepreneurial skills are required in all walks of life: They mean applying yourself to situations with agility, applying innovative thinking to whatever you do – and self reliance.

I met people from all walks of life who I learned to live and work with, as you must do at work. I learned how to live on a budget as opposed to coming home to my parents’ full fridge. I learned to find a job despite living in a city with thousands of other students seeking a job too. I learned to do a lot with a little; money, wardrobe and time. I learned that you get out what you put in. I learned to chase what I want. I learned that the world is a competitive place and I needed to define myself and soak up as many opportunities as possible before thinking about graduating and joining the workforce.

Careers – wherever you find yourself and whatever you find yourself doing – require a plethora of skills: Skills that were unrefined when I rocked up to my first day of university but which I had definitely honed on the day I left.

So to those of you arriving at King’s for your first year, those of you returning for a second year or those of you in the final furlongs of your degree, step out of your comfort zone and social circle and soak up as much as you can because never again will you have so many opportunities at your finger tips, all under one roof, designed specifically to help you get wherever you want to go. And of course… have fun!

Written by Emma Sinclair; serial entrepreneur and currently co-founder of EnterpriseJungle and the youngest person to have floated a company on the London Stock Exchange.