The rise of student entrepreneurship

The rise of student entrepreneurship

For many of us, the idea of launching and running a company may have felt completely bizarre during our university years.

Not anymore.

Just ask Liam Willward, who had already launched a handful of businesses at just 16 years old, then raised $2.2 million from the likes of Blackbird and Reinventure two short years later. 

In fact, we are seeing an increasing number of successful ventures being built by students, as domestic and international students are increasingly upskilling to enter the technology, innovation and entrepreneurship scene.

A 2021 survey of 267,000 students across 58 countries revealed around 11 percent own and manage a business, 18 percent want to become entrepreneurs immediately after graduation, and 32 percent want to do so within five years of graduating. 

At Fishburners, we have seen a fivefold increase in student enquiries over the last 12 months, as the next generation of technology pioneers seeks out a pre-existing network able to support them to launch and grow their businesses - even before graduation.

So what is driving this dramatic increase in student entrepreneurship and innovation?

Driver 1: Universities

Universities recognise the value that entrepreneurialism can offer to their students. 

They are increasingly working with innovation partners to offer entrepreneurship courses, programs, and competitions across a range of industries such as health, synthetic biology, defense, and climate.

For example, La Trobe University recently partnered with us at Fishburners to offer domestic and international students experiential learning programs in startups via the founders hub program

The UNSW Founders Program is also set to invest over $4 million of pre-seed funding into Australian startups through its 10x Accelerator program, which has a particular focus on health, synthetic biology, defence, and climate.

Driver 2: More early-stage funding

Early-stage funding for Australian startups hit an all-time high in 2022, according to the State of Australian Startup Funding 2022 report.

This trend could continue into 2023 as startups become more capital-efficient, and early-stage deals become more competitive.

There is also an uptick in angel investors, with programs like the Startmate First Believers and the Airtree Explorer Program. Many impressive names came through these programs such as Google’s Mike Langford, AWS’ Lauren Capelin, Earlyworks’ Daniel Brockwell, and Linktree’s Zak Islam.

Driver 3: Expanding early-stage communities

Communities like Earlywork and Fishburners are truly enabling students to start their own businesses or find their way into tech, whether that be in an early-stage startup or even a scaleup.

There are also more early-stage investment communities than ever, such as Ten13 and the incredibly impressive Flying Fox whose growing portfolio now boasts over 46 early-stage startups.

Driver 4: Big tech disillusionment 

Big tech companies have long offered generous entry-level programs and internships, allowing individuals in the early stages of their careers to gain experience and develop their skills. 

However, more and more of these programs are being cut, reducing the number of available positions for early-stage career seekers and students. 

Some students have also become disillusioned with the corporate culture and lack of diversity in big tech, prompting them to explore alternatives - like entrepreneurship.

Driver 5: Growing government support

Pleasingly, the Australian Government has committed to implementing Startup Year, a new income-contingent loan program to support student participation in accelerator programs at Australian higher education providers. 

This program aims to build a pool of knowledgeable new entrepreneurs and potential new companies, to drive innovation and job creation in Australia. It also seeks to grow much-needed links between higher education providers, industry and the startup community. 

These five drivers are unlikely to abate any time in the near future - and neither is the growing desire for entrepreneurialism building within universities and other schools. 

So we look forward to seeing the exciting range of innovations emerging from the next generation of enterprising and ambitious young students.

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