Entrepreneurship must be at the heart of higher education

Some of the best-funded institutions have successful incubators to commercialise research innovations, particularly in the scientific and technology fields. But enterprise can be borne of any discipline. And an entrepreneurial skillset and mindset can prepare any student for success, whether in setting up their own organisation, surviving in a big business or forging a career in the arts. 

In the context of training performers, for instance, it’s not enough to teach people to be great actors and musicians, you have to also give them the skills to root their artistic lives in the communities around them and to manage their careers as a business.

Thats why we’re working to develop creative entrepreneurship as a core dimension of what we can offer the whole community, students, staff and alumni.

We recently launched our Creative Entrepreneurs scheme, aimed at supporting graduates and staff of the school to set up their own businesses and social enterprises as well as develop entrepreneurial skills, and with many workshop sessions also open to Guildhall students. 

The scheme, run in partnership with development and fundraising enterprise Cause4, helps the participants to create, launch and make a success of their businesses as well as to raise vital seed funding. It includes access to mentoring, coaching, business planning, marketing, sales and funding expertise. Participants also benefit from use of office and creative space for a 12-month period and are introduced to a range of entrepreneurial, community and partnership networks to support business development.

The scheme has incubated over 18 new businesses to date. Successes from the past two years have included Song in the City, a charity that programmes classical concerts around inventive and challenging themes; Drum Works, a music education programme that confronts disengagement within schools, and is currently reaching over 400 young people every week; and Bach to Baby, an innovative and award-winning concert series for babies, tots and their parents to enjoy together.

It is through this kind of entrepreneurial scheme that we plan to ensure that quality of the artistic skills and creative ideas of our graduates are matched with relevant business skills and practical understanding of how to unlock professional potential in the performing arts.

But these lessons are universal, and can be applied in any given context. Higher education has a responsibility both to incubate enterprises and to foster entrepreneurship among our students, if we are to ensure their success when they leave us.

Professor Helena Gaunt is vice principal and director of academic affairs at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

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