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Hidden entrepreneurs – survey finds many students are self-employed

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5 March 2020

University campuses are the new hotbeds of entrepreneurship. Rod McNaughton, Academic Director of the University of Auckland Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship says the environment for start-ups by students and recent graduates has never been better. He points to a growing number of high-profile businesses with young founders, technologies that level the playing field for new firms and younger founders, decreasing start-up costs, and improved access to mentoring, training and funding.

A recent survey of the University of Auckland’s students found that about 15% of them are currently planning a business, and a whopping 36% hope to have founded their own business within five years of graduating.

Unexpectedly, the survey also found that 7% are already running a business while they are a student. A survey of alumni found a similar result: among those who had graduated since 2010, 10% are employed in a business they started before graduating. This means there may be about 3,300 businesses being run by current University of Auckland students.

McNaughton calls their founders “hidden entrepreneurs” because little is known about these students or their businesses, and few are likely involved in the entrepreneurship-related courses or extra-curricular activities on campus. “Our focus is more on student teams who are in the early stages of planning their venture, often technology-based businesses with potential for significant growth. In contrast to these hoped for success stories, hidden entrepreneurs are already earning revenues and dealing with the day-to-day problems faced by small businesses.”

Taking a deeper dive into the survey data, McNaughton says that about 47% of the businesses are owned by undergraduates, with 28% being owned by masters students, and 25% by PhD students. 51% of them are owned by women. While the largest number of businesses are owned by students studying business (20.6%), social sciences (13.5%) and engineering (10.6%), the highest rates of business ownership are among those studying computer sciences, arts, and music. The businesses cover the full range of sectors, with concentrations in IT (23%), education and training (20%) and retail or wholesale trade (12%).

Most of the businesses are really self-employed individuals, as 30% have no employees. Another 53% have between one and three employees. A few have more, ranging to over 100 employees. The oldest and largest firms are typically owned by postgraduate students. For the smallest firms, employees are often co-founders, with 31% being a relative and 24% a fellow student.

“For most, self-employment or running a small business is a means to an end to put themselves through university” says McNaughton. “Almost half indicated they don’t want their current business to become their career when they graduate.”

“There is an opportunity to connect with these young business people, to see if we can turn that statistic around. We aren’t reaching out to see how we can help these businesses to be successful and support them to grow and scale, nor are we creating opportunities for them to integrate their business experiences with their studies. Few courses explore the issues related to consulting, sales, retailing and small business management that these students encounter and solve on their own every day.”

James Hutchinson
James Hutchinson

social media

5 March 2020

University campuses are the new hotbeds of entrepreneurship. Rod McNaughton, Academic Director of the University of Auckland Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship says the environment for start-ups by students and recent graduates has never been better. He points to a growing number of high-profile businesses with young founders, technologies that level the playing field for new firms and younger founders, decreasing start-up costs, and improved access to mentoring, training and funding.

A recent survey of the University of Auckland’s students found that about 15% of them are currently planning a business, and a whopping 36% hope to have founded their own business within five years of graduating.

Unexpectedly, the survey also found that 7% are already running a business while they are a student. A survey of alumni found a similar result: among those who had graduated since 2010, 10% are employed in a business they started before graduating. This means there may be about 3,300 businesses being run by current University of Auckland students.

McNaughton calls their founders “hidden entrepreneurs” because little is known about these students or their businesses, and few are likely involved in the entrepreneurship-related courses or extra-curricular activities on campus. “Our focus is more on student teams who are in the early stages of planning their venture, often technology-based businesses with potential for significant growth. In contrast to these hoped for success stories, hidden entrepreneurs are already earning revenues and dealing with the day-to-day problems faced by small businesses.”

Taking a deeper dive into the survey data, McNaughton says that about 47% of the businesses are owned by undergraduates, with 28% being owned by masters students, and 25% by PhD students. 51% of them are owned by women. While the largest number of businesses are owned by students studying business (20.6%), social sciences (13.5%) and engineering (10.6%), the highest rates of business ownership are among those studying computer sciences, arts, and music. The businesses cover the full range of sectors, with concentrations in IT (23%), education and training (20%) and retail or wholesale trade (12%).

Most of the businesses are really self-employed individuals, as 30% have no employees. Another 53% have between one and three employees. A few have more, ranging to over 100 employees. The oldest and largest firms are typically owned by postgraduate students. For the smallest firms, employees are often co-founders, with 31% being a relative and 24% a fellow student.

“For most, self-employment or running a small business is a means to an end to put themselves through university” says McNaughton. “Almost half indicated they don’t want their current business to become their career when they graduate.”

“There is an opportunity to connect with these young business people, to see if we can turn that statistic around. We aren’t reaching out to see how we can help these businesses to be successful and support them to grow and scale, nor are we creating opportunities for them to integrate their business experiences with their studies. Few courses explore the issues related to consulting, sales, retailing and small business management that these students encounter and solve on their own every day.”


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