Christian Nellemann is a serial entrepreneur and a double winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award – the only person to receive the honour twice. He has started four successful companies including his latest venture, XLN Telecom, a specialist broadband provider for small businesses. Here Christian explains why you should utilise your time at university if you’re interested in becoming an entrepreneur.
‘We live in the age of the self-made, “celebrity” entrepreneur, men and women who made it to the top and proved that it’s not just the privileged and the well-educated who can succeed in business: Alan Sugar left his Hackney school at 16 with barely a handful of O-Levels yet has risen to the House of Lords; Richard Branson gave up on education even earlier to continue running Student magazine without the distraction of school. And, yes, it’s probably safe to say that it worked out well for them (and their bank accounts) but it is not the way for everybody. For a lot of people going to university can be an invaluable boost towards entrepreneurship in many ways. Sure, the people I mentioned earlier made it big without a degree, but that doesn’t mean university is a waste of time. Quite the opposite! In fact, I believe that getting a degree before entering the world of business will turn out to be the best investment you ever make.
It gives you tangible skills
My very first business saw me taking apples from my neighbours’ gardens at the age of six and selling them door-to-door. Clearly I had the entrepreneurial spirit at an early age, but in order to learn the best way to build a proper (and, more importantly legal!) business, I realised I’d need to pursue higher education first. I studied my BSc in Economy & Business Analysis and four successful companies later, I still count it among the best decisions I ever made.
These days, in the world of ‘Big Data’, everything in business is driven by numbers. The large focus of my degree on analysis has meant that I can take the data available in the running of my companies and turn it into actionable insights, transforming my business for the better.
This focus on analysis enabled me to search for patterns within the data in order to solve the problems I faced – problem solving is in essence, what business is all about. The parts of my studies that focused on business not only incubated these talents, they taught me to apply them to real world problems with my own ideas. Many fantastic business ideas have failed because of lack of planning or efficient running, no matter how hardworking or enterprising their creator. On top of what I learnt, my pre-existing skills were developed within university, preparing me for the challenges of a life in business.
It exposes you to a variety of people
And it wasn’t just the educational side of university that I believe was vital in my development. Learning how to research and formulate ideas of your own, apply them to a scenario and share them with others through simple and effective communication is a priceless skill in almost any industry, but particularly if you’re an entrepreneur. That great idea you have is only as great as you can make others believe it is – whether it is the investors you are hoping to impress or the customer you are hoping to serve.
People in general and the way you can communicate with them will play a very important role in your business. The melting pot of university coupled with the sheer number of people available for you to meet during your time there is likely to not only foster great interpersonal skills but form lasting personal and working friendships. Connections made at university can last a lifetime and, in the world of business, ‘who you know’ can be almost as important as ‘what you know’.
Overall, I believe that university furnishes you with a set of invaluable skills to help your business idea grow. Although there is an argument for just ‘getting out there and doing it’, showing patience and waiting a few years to finish your studies can equip you with the knowledge you need to truly succeed.
If I could go back and talk to my 18 year old self, my advice would remain the same: stick it out. As impatient as I was to start on my own business adventures – and make a bit of money along the way – as an investment in my future earning going to university was one of the wisest decisions I have ever made.’
And you can get help with your business idea…
The QMUL Careers & Enterprise Centre has dedicated staff to help QMUL students and graduates who are interested in entrepreneurship. Whether you already have a business going or have an idea and don’t know where to start we can help you. We have events throughout the year for entrepreneurs, a newsletter giving information on competitions and events, and there’s also a chance to apply for funding to help develop your enterprise. If you’d like to know more about the help we can provide simply give us a ring on 020 7882 8533 or drop us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.