Alumni are “low hanging fruit” – an under used group who can be mobilized to good purposes. It’s time for a revolution in alumni/student/pupil relations with respect to support of entrepreneurship. North Americans tend to be good at this – Europeans not yet. Every entrepreneur is an alumni of somewhere. Even a solopreneur that operates their business completely by themselves has learned what they know from somewhere.
I’m starting with several assumptions.
People who have started businesses -entrepreneurs – have experience, know how, insights and characteristics and (sometimes) money that would be valuable to share with people who are thinking of starting a business, whether alumni, students, or others.
Students would benefit from be able to listen to, ask questions and interact with entrepreneurs, and other students interested in entrepreneurship.
the benefits would include increasing the chances that people who had such experiences and interactions will start new ventures, and if they do, both reduce the risk of failure and increase the scale of success.
Exposing students and alumni to people who are considering the possibility of starting their own ventures can be inspiring and motivating, increasing the chance that those people will make then most of their lives
Having more new initiatives and business ventures will change the world for the better faster, increasing human prosperity and welfare.
The internet makes the spreading of new ideas and the organisation of new movements easier, cheaper and faster than at any time in human history.
Many “pro-entrepreneurship events” are badly run and do not achieve nearly as much as they could. There is a better way of running events.
Years of organising TEDx events, Open Coffee Krakow events, Krakow Enterprise Mondays and speaking at multiple entrepreneurship related conferences has given me a strong insight into what makes an event special. I was even asked to do a workshop about this at TED.COM – who organise the best (and most expensive) events I’ve ever attended (TEDx events are low cost).
8. if more alumni become successful – and the place they studied has had a part in their success- it may positively impact on the school/university in terms of increased donations.
The starting position seems bad
1 Most alumni are not actively engaged in the the life of the place they studied at all.
2 To the extent that some alumni are engaged somewhat, they are not actively engaged. They might show up once or twice a year, and/or send some money. I will be more than glad to cite honourable exceptions. I want to be wrong.
3. A major purpose of engagement from the point of view of the School/University is fund raising. The thought that the alma mater is going to ask for money may act as a disincentive for alumni to engage.
What are the components of a revolution?
The challenge is that are several components. to achieve full impact they all need to work together smoothly. This is not easy and takes time and effort from those who share the vision.
The purpose needs to be made clear.
Entrepreneurship is not just about making money: it is about encouraging people and teams to take the risk to start social and business projects that may lead to making the world a better place. Celebrating the fact that there are those people who are ready to take the risk because doing anything new runs the risk of failure.
What needs to be done?
The alumni of an organisationwho have gone into business need to be identified and contacted in an intelligent way to establish if:
a) they are interested in supporting entrepreneurship and networking with other entrepreneurial alumni and current pupils/students.
b) they might be ready to help on- or off- line by giving talks, mentoring, investing or coaching.
While the alumni contacted need to be asked and prompted to think about what they able and willing to do in networking and helping each other current students, and others, it is probably best to start with early adopters. In any community there is a spectrum between leaders, who are most active and committed, to the totally inert, with most people being somewhere in the middle. It’s important to identify these early adopters and leaders and work with them so that those who might be willing to get involved but are not sure, they have inspirational people to follow and work with.
This project may be best done in co-operation with the Development Office, the Careers Office, the Alumni Relations office and/or independent Unofficial Linkedin/Facebook Groups.
This is a case by case decision based on the current situation. It is worth making contact with these organisations to see what they think and whether they want to help. At Cambridge University – the alumni office supported the formation of an officially sanctioned group Camentrepreneurs.
At Winchester College (the school I attended from 1979-84) I founded Wintrepreneurs
modelled on Etonpreneurs aimed to operate independently – in co-operation with the School In October 2017 I was asked *not* to organise a meeting to launch in Winchester because the School was worried about “Safeguarding” legislation. (I had been invited to give a talk in the school, was flying 2000 miles to be there, and thought I would start things off while I was there).
Apart from the referring to of my voluntary initiative to encourage entrepreneurship as a “scheme” (which – excluding the costs of my time – I had put a thousand or more pounds into making happen) – a message like this underlines the challenges for those who want to change things. Not everyone will be in favour, and some will make difficulties.
Informal self-organising communities of alumni and pupils are what is needed, with central support and direction to maintain standards and share good practice.. It’s the antidote to the optimism of TEDster Clay Shirky’s talk about the Grobanites. My “sanctioned” talk to the pupils went well, and for those interested, I recommended these entrepreneurship related resources.
In Kraków, Poland where I live – an Official Alumni Association run by salaried staff of a famous University are so unprofessional that they not only do not have time to to meet to discuss the idea, they are too busy to answer questions about their activities by e-mail.
If you decide you want to try to do something about this in your own place of former study, an important challenge is to find out who in a School/University are responsible for inviting guests, be they teachers, parents or pupils and make contact with them.
What sort of people are invited at present, what sort of events take place at which entrepreneurial alumni would be welcome and helpful.
It is often easier to build on top of existing institutions and practices (like guest lecture series) than do something entirely new.
On the other hand if there is the ambition and local leadership aiming to “do things better” than normal, a dedicated event offers more control.
Additional questions include
What awareness is there of the potential of alumni to contribute to the purpose of the School/University ?
and in what areas would they like alumni to contribute?
At some schools I have done workshops at, I have been the first entrepreneur school pupils have ever met. It would be a mistake to assume to that everyone knows what the potential is. Guest workshops can fit very well some parts of the curriculum.
This means it is important to ask and find outwhat platforms are there for spreading information about the benefits of this practice. Is there a school web site, newsletter, school magazine, Facebook page, or Linkedin group where an article about the idea can be published? Who can write an article about the topic ?
If there is a local leader they need to think about what they would like the local situation to look like?
If there are to be regular meet ups, basic questions
Who is in charge?
How frequent should the meetings be and with what format?
need to be asked.
If you are at this stage I can provide some input and support,
if you share my values. Icebreakers, Short talks, Q&A, Office Hours, Community Announcements, Education, Pitches are the basic ingredients, together with a laser like focus on welcoming and participant experience will be important.
Doing good events, not just events ,.
Existing assets and relationships need to researched be understood. There may be particularly active staff, alumni, teachers, pupils or organisations that can be ideal for spreading the idea. Getting these people on board can be a game changer. They need to feel you are co-operating not competing.
It is important to look at the values and attitudes of the existing community and defining what is going to be important to the early adopters. I’ve made clear for the movements I lead that despite (maybe because of) their elite position they are “Open” in the sense that they are not Cambridge or Winchester “only” they are Cambridge or Winchester “and”. It is not for me to define the values that matter to those reading this, but it is important to make sure the founders of your initiative know what they stand for.
Other Important Provisos
Processes and habits take time to build.
Assessing local competences and skills is important. In some cases there may be a need to “train the trainers”/ Teaching the entrepreneurs to teach. This is very much a question of local conditions. Many entrepreneurs are natural trainers, because they have all had to do develop on boarding and training processes for their staff.
In other cases, one person entrepreneurs/freelancers (or people in the school/University) may have no idea how important training and development is to successful enterprises, because they never thought about it.
A really bad workshop may be worse than nothing, although as my father told me “the best is sometimes the enemy of the good.”
If you care and want to do a good event, it is better to do something than nothing. There has never been so much know how available for free on how to do things well as now. 10 minutes on Google is often enough.
As always it is important to have clear objectives for each activity/event.
1. To facilitate and encourage transfer of know how and capital to from successful businesspeople among the alumni of Polish Universities to current entrepreneurial students
2. To give current students access to role models among entrepreneurial alumni who can help transmit the message that business success is possible.
3. to celebrate the business success of alumni. and the sense that the current generation of students appreciate and value entrepreneurial success.
4, To encourage existing alumni associations to include entrepreneurship support in their activities
5 to provide a business friendly environment where students from different universities in Krakow can meet and get to know each other, and develop their networks.
6. To encourage Student Societies to support business and social entrepreneurship among their members.
You need to know your objectives, best in collaboration with your core founders.
Objectives for alumni/entrepreneurs might include: feeling good, valued, and useful, making new contacts, finding new staff, co-founders, clients, suppliers, partners, investors , and well as having fun.
objectives for students may include learning new skills, being inspired, making new contacts, finding jobs, investors, co founders, and having fun.
If you want to mobilise the
– trend towards self-organising networks,
– desire for people to have better experiences in their lives, rather than just accumulating assets
– the willingness for people to be useful
and believe the world needs more entrepreneurship, join me in making this revolution happen. I’ll do my best to help.
It’s an honour to be regarded as an authority by Techcrunch’s John Biggs so rather than just answer in the thread, I am making a blog post. John posted the below in a thread here by Maciej Serafin who is looking for a native speaker freelancer.
Who are the Brits in Kraków? English teachers…. Kind of obvious. the local rate $13-17/hour goes quite far here.
People with Polish partners, who prefer it here to where ever they are from
People working for international businesses According to Andrew Hallam of Aspire.org.pl – which generated the above slide – about 15% of the staff in the Business Process Outsourcing/Shared Services sector are foreigners which means about 2000, but companies like Cisco have put major research centres here, like their Cyber Warfare/Security/whathaveyou monitoring centre, thanks to the admirable work of the likes of Ramon Tancinco They are more than 75% foreigner. and have 2000 employees so it adds up.
Academics Trustafarians – like Rastafians but living on trust funds from mummy or whoever..
Adult Polonia – people who made their money elsewhere, tried to retire here, but ended up working.
Entrepreneurs – it’s cheaper to start your business here as an entrepreneur than in major western European countries, Your money goes further.
Freelancer translators – Your clients can be anywhere
Stag Nighters no comment. Almost as ashamed of them as of Brexit.
Dodgy Brits with criminal records
In principle you might think you ought to be able to outsource your English language content creation/news gathering to a English language low cost country. I tried years ago when I was running PMR but wasn’t happy with the results
People who get stuck here They arrive, think it is great, settle in, have a kid or two, get divorced, and then realise they can’t afford to leave
According to Sam Cook of ProjectKazimierz podcast, the “East is the New West”, the land of opportunity. (btw can we interview you for Project Kazimierz John? )
If you mix local and international income., live smart, – and for sure – content creators can do that – why not? you can live better in Kraków than in many places on the same income.
At the same time if you don’t think about what you do, who you work for and how to keep your income higher than your outgoings, you are going to be fucked, possible faster and more nastily here, than in a high cost country. You can always vote for some crazy politician who blames immigrants, foreigners and the EU, promises to make your problems go away…
Brits can come here live and work without a visa – for now. Thanks to Brexit this right is being given up, so if you are reading this in 10-20 years time, things will be different. There may be British economic refugees here, if we aren’t all fleeing from an even more dangerous neighbour. A lot of tech businesses will be forced out of the UK by Visa issues, or racism. For sure some of them will end up here in Kraków where they will be welcome no matter what nationality they are.
In the meantime, I would underline that through our thriving Startup Community, and local as well as international investment, (and not just in Kraków), that Poland is very much open for business. Getting working visas is a lot easier than in the UK or USA. The government seems pretty committed to that. We may have a political problems but they are nothing on the scale that face the UK or maybe the USA, provided we are not invaded in which case all bets are off
Do please promote these events – they are all free of charge- to your community, and people you think would benefit. If you want introductions to people in my network please just ask.
You asked how you can help in our mission to change to perception of enterprise for the better, and bring great ideas to global attention. Thank you (There are many more people who approve passively, rather fewer who actually offer to help).
If you have any media contacts, with optimistic journalists/vloggers/bloggers who are interested in speeding up Poland’s development and growth rate, please introduce me.
Journalists/Media are really important to us in getting to word out to those who don’t realise how important the cause is. Not everyone realises that our national survival depends on making more of our potential. Journalists are also great sources of contacts for potential topics for TEDxKazimierz talks They tend to have know what ideas are worth spreading . so introduce me to journalists. or contact them suggesting they ought to take an interest and show up.
Students we struggle with the “Thank God it’s Friday” “Shame the Weekend is over” brainwashing that is propagated from multiple sources in Poland – as if the ideal state of a happy Pole is resting. To reach students we need contacts with leaders: from Student Associations, be they based on Faculty, Interest, or part of a global organisation like AIESEC. To reach students we also need contact with positive minded academics, both lecturers and in the administration. The great support we get from AGH is an example that could be emulated by other Careers Offices.
Apart from students – we need entrepreneurs who are patriots and risk takers. Please introduce me to Entrepreneurs who would be ready to make short presentations and mentor/coach students. Patriots because we need people who both care about the country, can set a positive example and realise that unless Poland grows and prospers we are in danger and that we ought to work to make the best of our potential. Risk takers because my projects are new, and they have to trust that working with me will not damage their reputation.
An pro-business eco-system also involves government officials, politicians, trade and professional associations, training bodies, NGOs, financial institutions, lawyers, accountants, recruiters, consultants and so on. It would be great if they were better represented in our pro enterprise eco-system. If you know the right type of person, please please send them along. Anyone else you think I ought to know or work with – just make the introduction.
If you can help with these projects, I will be very appreciative