Birmingham Skills for Enterprise and Employability Network, or simply BSEEN, is an intensive five-day boot camp for students and graduates who are willing to acquire or hone their business skills. It is a collaborative initiative between Aston University, Birmingham City University, University College Birmingham and Newman University (UK), partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The boot camp offers a comprehensive package of start-up support for new ventures in the form of various workshops, networking opportunities, tailored mentoring, business grants, and office space.
Like any initiative, BSEEN existence is underpinned with a reasonable idea to promote innovation and create networks with regional businesses for advancing local economy. As explained by Professor Helen Higson, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Aston University, ‘entrepreneurship and innovation are key drivers for the region’s economy, and it is important that we encourage young people to consider setting up their own businesses.’ Norman Price, Deputy Chair of the West Midlands ERDF Local Management Committee, chimed in by stating that ‘supporting graduates to develop and start small businesses which in turn will create jobs and ensure we retain valuable skills, are key priorities for the programme.’
Since the programme is regionally oriented, the eligibility criteria limit the pool of applicants to those who study at participating universities and graduates within the last five years from any university in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull area (UK).
Boot camp agenda
Initially, applicants submit their BSEEN initiatives online. In the application, they briefly explain their business idea, define start-up costs and its target market, describe how they intend to raise money and what difficulties they anticipate. The authors of the selected initiatives are then invited to pitch their business ideas to a panel made up of two BSEEN representatives and an external assessor.
The boot camp is delivered by a range of start-up trainers, or mentors, who are entrepreneurs themselves, and who know the intricacies of the start-up environment. Apart from running numerous workshops, they contribute with their invaluable advice and guidance to inspire students to persist with their business ideas.
Stats to be proud of
BSEEN project saw its launch as a pilot version in 2009, and since then it has gone through several stages of transformation. The impact, it has created, shows that the initiative has made a significant influence on the lives of boot camp attendees and the region where they live.
Participants see their experience in the boot camp as an ‘excellent’ opportunity to learn not only from their mentors, but also from the boot camp alumni, as well as to broaden their network of like-minded people. As described by one of the boot camp graduates, ‘[BSSEN] is a creative sandbox. The level of creative engagement between people … is just mind-blowing.’
This article is based on a case study originally written by Scott Revers (University of Warwick), developed as a part of the WEXHE Project.