Blog by Laura-Jane Silverman, careers consultant and LSE Generate team member:
It’s Day 5 in the Big Brexit House. As the country scrambles to come to terms with last week’s news, business owners and influencers are busy studying how the inevitable changes may affect them, both immediately and in the long term. For startups, whose survival often depends on international investment and global talent acquisition, the news that the UK will soon be leaving the EU will no doubt create a feeling of deep anxiety – at least at first. While it will hopefully bring about exciting opportunities in the longer-term, entrepreneurs will in the meantime be focused on delving deep into their networks and ensuring current relationships are as sturdy as they possibly can be, while simultaneously looking at new growth channels, and fast. The good news (yes, there is actually some good news in all of this!) is that this is exactly what entrepreneurs appear to do best. Adjusting quickly to new situations, dealing effectively with risk, creating new business leads, networking until a new opening emerges: these are all skills that successful business people must demonstrate on a regular basis. If anyone can weather the potential economic storms that await us, it’s the entrepreneurial types.
We’ve witnessed such innovative traits within our own entrepreneurial community at LSE. Just yesterday, I met with one student in the midst of creating his new food-related business. He had visited us briefly a month ago with a very vague business plan, and armed with information and leads he went away only to return just a few weeks later with an impressive pitch deck, workable platform to develop his service, at least one potential investor and a handful of promising clients. All of this while completing his exams, too! It’s this proactive attitude which is exactly what’s required to operate in a fragile economic climate and we are so proud of the fact this is by no means uncommon to see within the LSE startup community.
So while the markets continue to jump about, and the future appears uncertain and at times, quite frightening, here are a few suggestions entrepreneurs can focus on in order to start creating a more stable environment in the short term:
A positive attitude
In startups.co.uk’s Twitter poll last week, 52% of 125 businesses were ‘Remainers’ so for a large group, the opposite result will have caused a great sense of disappointment. It’s easy to let the tweets and forums have a negative impact on how you view the future. Yet, it’s essential to remember where your passion lies, how much you have invested, financially or otherwise in your dream and to focus on these positives in order to maximise your chance of succeeding. Meet with a mentor to come up with fresh ideas, book onto one of our entrepreneurial appointments, speak to friends whose own startups have just received funding or witnessed recent achievement, in order to reignite that feeling of excitement in your own situation. If you’re feeling particularly disillusioned, get yourself plugged into some inspirational testimonials or TED talks – Scott Dinsmore’s How to find work you love is a great one to help you gain an even keel again.
While the UK and Europe transitions to embrace its new identity, we are told that no drastic changes in the way we conduct business will take place, at least for a while. During this ‘limbo period’, why not explore ways to secure a series of small successes, whether that be through small injections of funding through an existing business competition or a mini consulting project that provides you with enough investment to continue developing your project while everything becomes clearer? Where are your strongest networks? Who owes you a favour? By seeking out these short-term opportunities you can keep the momentum going while you await greater and more substantial success later down the line.
… new business channels
One of the main drivers that may have led you to consider entrepreneurship as a viable career path upon graduation will likely be your impressive ambition. Rather than following a more traditional job route you have chosen to embrace a riskier and more uncertain path, that consists of a continuous series of peaks and troughs. While ‘Brexit’ may have created what seems like a whopping great big trough right now, it’s really important to use your ambitious approach to business to consider new sales channels, perhaps further afield than Europe, and what might be for you unchartered territories. If London ceases to be the global financial focus in the short-term which other emerging global hubs could you approach? This doesn’t mean being reckless in your decision-making but ensuring you are operating outside of your comfort zone and exploring the bigger picture. We are fortunate enough to be connected with a range of alumni with different international backgrounds – reach out to these groups via LinkedIn or through the Generate programme to see what information you can collect and what promising leads you can create.
… hidden growth opportunities
Maybe you’re reading this as someone who has an interest in entrepreneurship but no specific idea in mind at present as to how to pursue this path. Why not observe the emerging repercussions of the UK’s EU referendum vote and look at what opportunities may arise from such an event? What are the new problems that need to be solved? What businesses are not just recession-proof but fare better during times of difficulty and depression? As an example, the film industry often witnesses a boost in ticket sales during a recession – box office sales were up by double digits as recently as 2009 – this could be down to people’s need for distraction as the website entrepreneur.com suggests: ‘A night at the movies offers a chance to get out of the house and be wrapped up in someone else’s drama for a few hours, all at a relatively low price.’ During a downturn or a particularly volatile economic period, buying behaviour doesn’t always drop but instead shifts, changes completely and refocuses. What new markets can you address that are flourishing at this time?
Support from LSE Generate
And finally, what makes our Generate programme such a pleasure to be involved in is the visible and considerable international impact that student projects increasingly demonstrate, year on year. Often underpinned by altruistic motives, developed in ways that inject innovation into all too-traditional industries, and often causing immediate positive change to society, our student startups have contributed positively to a range of sectors – from improving the lives of India’s urban poor to developing a platform that gives young people of all backgrounds the chance to make their voice heard and disprove the negative stereotypes associated with their age group. It’s exactly this cultural richness, desire to think beyond geographical borders, and ability to grow projects that unite rather than divide people, that will hopefully lead to the stability and growth we are all so desperately searching for at this time.
We’re open all summer so come and see us for advice. If you’re concerned about the practical implications of how ‘Brexit’ may affect you as an international student you might also find this week’s blog written by LSE Careers Director Jenny Blakesley useful.