The Enterprise Placement Year (EPY) started life in 2007 when it was called the ‘Alternative Placement Year’. It was designed for students to explore self-employment and business start-up as a placement opportunity instead of working for someone else as an employee during their placement year. Five years ago, the EPY was revitalised with an enhanced and structured programme of support put in place in collaboration with academic Schools. Students thus drive and run their own business in a supportive managed-risk environment whilst gaining 120 credits towards their academic programme of study.
Delivery and Good Practice
The EPY programme is made up of induction and review sessions, regular group mentoring sessions, 1-2-1 business advice, enterprise skills workshops, and ad hoc opportunities such as a master class with an entrepreneur or a field trip to an entrepreneurial company. Students complete monthly progress reviews which inform the content of group mentoring sessions and allow the Enterprise Team to spot emerging business issues and intervene if necessary.
The Enterprise Team work in collaboration with academic schools to select up to 20 individuals who will be invited to work as sole traders or small partnerships to take forward their identified business ideas. Students can also set up as a limited company and all the necessary support is provided to do so. One or two businesses a year are made up of students who are supported by the School of Computing and Engineering Placement Unit.
104 students have completed the EPY to date. As of 2013/2014, successful applicants are provided with free hot-desk office space in addition to the support described above. EPY students are assessed by their academic schools and placement tutors with feedback from the Enterprise Team. Students submit a business plan, financial forecast, and a reflective journal for their final assessment. They also give a 5 minute business pitch, a 5 minute presentation on their business journey, and answer 10 minutes of questions from a panel including local business representatives.
Innovative and Novel
This is a highly immersive and challenging learning opportunity with a well-structured support system. It is designed for students to fully explore and drive business start-up, making and taking responsibility for their own business decisions whilst gaining academic credit for their learning and development. There is no bursary attached to the placement year; students need to generate their own income. They can currently however apply for a small grant (up to £500) to help prove their business idea and take it to the next stage.
“Having the Enterprise Team in the same office means that support is always there when you need it.” Student
Businesses do not need to be successful in terms of income generation or intention to sustain to pass the academic module. A student deciding that business start-up is not for them is an equally successful outcome of the year if learning has taken place with reasoned reflection.
Students complete a questionnaire on induction exploring the starting stage of their business and their expectations for the year. They complete a further questionnaire on the final pitching day to evaluate their experience of the EPY and whether or they felt it met their expectations. The majority of respondents feel the year exceeds their expectations and that they have learned from their experience. Students are increasingly planning on continuing their business during their final year studies and/or on graduation. Examples of success include one EPY company who postponed their final year of study to see their computer game through to full launch, and another EPY company who became Duke of York Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award winners for 2014.
Some example quotes include:
“We have similar goals in spite of the different business ideas and it is an amazing opportunity to exchange our experiences and learn from each other.”
“Having the Enterprise Team in the same office means that support is always there when you need it.”
“The business advisors were a huge help. They worked with us to produce a plan for getting our business off the ground, using their contacts to help us wherever possible”
Example EPY Business
After successfully completing the Enterprise Placement Year, Hypersloth Ltd has gone on to secure substantial funding from a market-leading games publisher to complete their inaugural game, Dream. They have taken on additional staff and established an office in the University’s 3M Buckley Innovation Centre.
Combining a passion for Electronics and Climbing, ClimbMax Technologies Ltd (pictured) are looking at creating the first truly intelligent climbing wall. They are currently in talks with a local climbing gym and are in the process of patenting their new technology.
New to 2014-2015 is a ‘Games Industry Enterprise Placement Year’. Around 15 students (in addition to 20 on the standard EPY) will learn about starting-up in the games industry, supported by games company mentors in addition to having access to the general business advice provided by the Enterprise Team. The prize money will be used to evaluate this new programme, and to explore new areas across campus that could benefit from a similar industry specific scheme.