While studying at Oxford University, I was President of the entrepreneurs' society - Oxford Entrepreneurs. I was frequently being approached by start-ups and small businesses that wanted to advertise work opportunities to our members, so set up a basic listing service which I decided to call Enternships.
By word of mouth alone, about 200 companies listed roles and I realised that while large corporates have the time and resources to come on campus and do the 'milkround', small businesses do not have the luxury of doing that and thus decided to expand the Enternships site for students beyond Oxford and for start-ups across the world.
As a young person interested in gaining start-up experience, how can I get an enternship?
It's easy. Go to Enternships.com and look at the roles that are currently vacant. If one of them interests you then submit your CV, answer a 'killer question' and you're done. The company will then respond to you directly through the site. Some companies may ask you to email them directly but this will be made clear in the job posting.
What is the greatest challenge you faced in the process of starting up Enternships?
I am not a technologist and thus have had to rely on external agencies to develop and maintain the site. As we're a 'bootstrapped' venture (we have not taken on external investment), I am trying to achieve the maximum impact with minimal financial resources. Managing the development of the website has been tricky as I have learnt that things always take far longer than you anticipate and you have to be prepared for setbacks on the way.
What's the business model behind Enternships?
Eventually we will charge companies to list vacancies on the site; currently there are sites like Gumtree or Craiglist for classified adverts but they do not provide the same functionality and application management capabilities as we do. Over time as we develop our user-base we will charge companies to use these services. We will also introduce premium features which will enable companies to find the perfect candidates more easily and have their profiles appear as 'featured listings'.
There is also the opportunity for advertising as both the student/graduate market and small business market are attractive audiences for advertisers.
We are also exploring options to 'white label' the platform i.e. enable others to use the website for their own purpose with a different 'skin' (front-end) so whilst on the surface it appears like a different site, the back-end is 'powered' by Enternships.
You've been fortunate to receive a lot of press attention for Enternships. What's your secret?
I think there are a few main reasons:
We launched the site in the midst of the worst graduate unemployment crisis in over a decade. Our proposition is also different as traditionally small businesses have not seen themselves as graduate employers, and graduates have not always regarded small business/entrepreneurship as a viable career option. Given the importance that all political parties are placing on entrepreneurship as a way to achieve economic growth and a solution to the recession, our work in inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs through exposure to entrepreneurial environment has been welcomed in the media.
**2.* Being remarkable*
In the words of marketing guru Seth Godin - you need to make yourself 'remarkable'. I was very conscious that I wanted to create a new word - an 'enternship'. We are all familiar with the concept of an internship and automatically think of banks, law firms, accountancy firms etc.
Initially when people hear the word enternship they think - oh maybe it's a typo - however, it forms the basis of a discussion among people and provides a means of engagement with the 'brand'. We are more than just an ordinary jobs board - we are about creating a culture change and encouraging more students and graduates to be inspired to set up their own business and hence creating this dialogue and awareness of work opportunities in small business is important.
**3. *High-profile endorsement*
We have been fortunate to have been endorsed by and received support from some high-profile entrepreneurs, including the co-founders of Lastminute.com (Martha Lane Fox & Brent Hoberman), as well as the likes of Luke Johnson and Peter Jones.
How else are you marketing Enternships?
Social media and word of mouth are the main forms of marketing. We use Twitter (@Enternships) to promote opportunities as well as Facebook. The most successful way has been referrals among businesses and candidates. I also spend a lot of time doing talks at enterprise societies and universities.
Where would you like Enternships to be in five years time?
I would like to see Enternships as a global brand and perhaps even a word in the dictionary! I want all aspiring entrepreneurs or people looking to gain experience in the world of business to know about Enternships and to do at least one enternship during their time at university or after graduating. Doing an enternship should be seen as a stepping stone into the world of work as experience gained in a start-up or small business will prove valuable no matter what you wish to do in the future.
What other projects are you currently involved with?
I am still involved with the social enterprise I set up, the English Secondary Students' Association - ESSA (www.studentvoice.co.uk), working to give school students in England a voice in their education. I am working with the government's UKTI Global Entrepreneurs Programme advising on the creation of a new venture capital fund and involved on numerous Advisory Boards including Channel 4 (Education) and the UK-India Business Council. I am also a Trustee of UnLtd - the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs.
If you could give one fortune cookie to every budding student entrepreneur in the country, what would it say?
'Fortes fortuna adiuvat': Fortune favours the bold. We should see the recession as a time of opportunity; historically some of the world's most successful companies have been started during a downturn. Seize the opportunity and go for it.