Gen Y’s Marketplace for Entrepreneurship
While at Oxford, Rajeeb Dey knew that students generally gravitated toward traditional internships with leading banks and prestigious firms. Yet, as the head of Oxford’s Enterprise Society, he had countless small businesses and start-ups approaching him, interested in working with Oxford students as interns. But they didn’t have the marketing tools to publicize these opportunities–a dilemma for many SMEs (small and medium enterprises) who often provide more hands-on experience, but lack the brand power to attract students.
So Dey introduced a simple website that listed the opportunities.
“At that time, I had no idea that it would go beyond Oxford. It was just a straightforward website – all the jobs just listed on a page.”
Three years later, though, in 2009, Enternships.com formally launched and flew beyond Oxford. Dey and his team have built relationships with over 3,000 companies spanning 20 countries. With the economy hitting a low in ‘09, Dey happened to launch his company at a prime time. When the big firms were cutting jobs, students had to start looking elsewhere for opportunity. So, SME’s were a perfect fit and Dey focused on injecting more young talent into startups and small businesses.
And because Dey had personally been involved with the social enterprise incubator UnLtd., he was keen for his website to showcase social enterprises alongside for-profit businesses. His business model made it easy for social enterprises to utilize Enternships.com — it was free to list an opening. Even today the company allows enterprises to post for free for a time period before the pay cycle kicks in for a premium listing.
Dey is now considering proposals from abroad to create micro-sites that list openings in developing nations. When we spoke he’d just returned from lectures in Italy and Switzerland, suggesting that while European nations have already caught on, there is scope to expand farther from home. Some options include South Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
“If we go into South Africa, for example, we’d be doing a social good as well because we’re linking people with jobs that they may not have known of otherwise.”
At home, Dey feels he already makes positive contributions to the community, encouraging entrepreneurship among youth beyond the halls of Oxford and other elite universities. His underlying passion is not only to connect job seekers with employers but also to foster a culture of innovation, enterprise and risk-taking; these entrepreneurial skills aren’t as emphasized or rewarded in the UK as they are in the US.
“Whereas in the US failure is accepted, in the UK, it has not been as well received in the past,” Dey explains.
The United Kingdom is trying to change that perception with StartUp Britain, a team of eight individuals–including Dey– who are crafting a web-based initiative to encourage entrepreneurship. Launched in March of this year, it aspires to not just grant budding enterprises with a financial package (of 1,500 GBP) but also create a unique web portal that directs startups to useful resources, and thus creates an ecosystem for enterprise.
While StartUp Britain has garnered the support of biggies, such as Microsoft, Virgin, O2, McKinsey and more, critics argue that it may just be too much hype with little substance; instead, these skeptics would like to see tax cuts for startups and less bureaucracy, which they feel will spur entrepreneurship and allow for that “Made in Britain” recovery that the government is rallying behind.
Even Dey acknowledges that they may have faltered in the beginning. But he continues to support it because, he explains, “at a time of recession and record levels of youth unemployment, we need growth and this will come from entrepreneurs.” Dey also points out the initiative hasn’t received any government funding and the March launch was just the beginning – much more is to come.
A follow-up report indicates that StartUp Britain has indeed cultivated interest in entrepreneurship. According to realbusiness.co.uk, three months after it’s launch, the website had accumulated over 1,500 hours of mentoring for just over 100 startups and their startup guide had been downloaded approximately 3,500 times.
This coming September, the campaign will go local with an emphasis on building a more grassroots network and a series of workshops will be available, addressing technology and finance for startups, as well as continued collaboration with the government to build a startup friendly infrastructure in the UK.
In the meantime, Dey has been able to see countless young graduates acquire “enternships” in startups and SMEs across the UK (and even beyond), many of which have turned into full-fledged jobs. In an economic downturn, that’s a hopeful sign, not just for Dey and his team, but for the StartUp Britain campaign, suggesting that enterprise might be the road to recovery.