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Why entrepreneurship should be at the heart of higher education

Professor Helena Gaunt, Vice Principal and Director of Academic Affairs at The Guildhall School of Music & Drama, has spearheaded an entrepreneurial incubator to support its graduates.  As the successful programme opens to the public for the first time this year, Helena talks about why entrepreneurship needs to be at the heart of all higher education.

As one of the world’s top conservatoires, the Guildhall School might not be the obvious place to find successful business start-ups but, in fact, we’re committed to helping build entrepreneurial skills into our education programmes.  Whatever your profession, to succeed – or even just survive – in the job you want, you need to develop some commercial awareness, the right network and an entrepreneurial spirit.

The ‘job for life’ no longer exists in any career and never has for those in the performing arts.  What this means is that all graduates will need to be self-sufficient. Their achievements in higher education will just be a jumping off point rather than the key to a rewarding career.  It’s time for universities to start educating their students as entrepreneurs. Skills development or academic excellence will continue to be the main purpose of a higher education institute, but I feel that we’re setting our graduates up to fail if we don’t help them address their long-term sustainability in business-terms as an integral part of their education.

With this in mind, we worked with award-winning social enterprise Cause4 to develop an intensive 12‐month scheme (September – September) called Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs.  The scheme, now in its third year, has helped to launch 22 businesses that range from  Song in the City , a charity which performs classical works with challenging themes, to Drum Works, an educational programme confronting disengagement within schools, to Bach to Baby which provides concerts that parents and infants can enjoy together.

This type of business incubator is familiar in the world of science and technology, but we feel there’s a genuine gap in the market when it comes to the performing arts.  The options remain limited for those creative professionals who have an idea and the desire to turn their performing arts skills and creativity into a sustainable business.  So this year, for the first, time we are opening the scheme up beyond Guildhall alumni to people in the performing arts who want to start or grow an enterprise.  We offer enterprise training, mentoring and funding support over the course of a year.

Performers may have a reputation for having their head in the clouds but that’s an unfair cliché.  Most have worked tirelessly to perfect their skills and are dedicated to understanding the subject matter.  They can apply that same practical, dogged commitment to the challenges of running a business and succeed.

SMEs and start-ups make up 59% of private sector employment and contribute almost half the UK’s commercial turnover.  Entrepreneurship can have an enormous impact on our economy.  So we should re-look at how we prepare our students for life and help encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs.