How Students Help Businesses

Hi all! Today’s post is an especially exciting one, as it is our first Guest Post. This comes from Fish On Toast President Xavier Parkhouse-Parker, who has written an article focusing on How Students Help Businesses. We hope you enjoy reading this one, as we certainly did, and make sure to leave your thoughts!

Tom Davidson


I was recently asked to do a talk on how students help businesses. I was to represent “Fish on Toast”, Southampton University’s entrepreneurial society. I was a little worried; entrepreneurship is often about being disruptive to businesses and markets.


So how do students help businesses?

I believe students are great for business, especially entrepreneurial ventures. Students frequently have the best attributes resembling the best entrepreneurs: Passion, Tenacity, Self-Belief and, ultimately, Vision.

But how do students actually help businesses?

I thought about what I was asked to do a little bit more and a word came to me: Intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurship is a word which is being taken up and used a lot recently by the business media. Intrapreneurship means an individual within an organisation or business who facilitates innovative change. An individual who develops innovative ideas and processes that make the company better, an intrapreneur makes things happen.

An intrapreneur has very similar characteristics to an entrepreneur and so I believe students can have the perfect characteristics of both.

But how do students actually help businesses?

student lazy meme

Students are perceived by the media to be: lazy, uninterested and drunks! Out of the three, only one of them is true but even when being drunk a student is the only demographic group which you will see come in at 4am and then get up and go to their 9am lectures!

Students are not lazy and students are certainly interested; students are ambitious and looking for great opportunities. I’m part of the founding team of a student led magazine called The Worldly. The Worldly is a new national magazine for students written by students. The sections of The Worldly range from arts and culture to economics and politics: serious and interesting issues. Demonstrating that students are interested, we had over 5,000 unique visitors within our first month; more staggeringly is our database of articles waiting to be published with over 50 articles waiting to be edited or uploaded. How can it be said that students are lazy and uninterested?

So how can these interested and industrious students actually help businesses?

problem solving words

The University of Southampton has a fantastic student consultancy programme currently running where teams of students go into organisations, charities and local businesses to spot problems and create innovative solutions.

This process reminds me a little of an advert I saw on YouTube where a young 7 year old girl goes into her father’s work place and spots problems, the way the printer works, the computer system and even the lay out of the office. This is similar to how students spot problems in businesses and for similar reasons.

I’m not saying that students work in the same way as 7 year olds but students can approach businesses from a new and innovative perspective. Students haven’t been tainted by the corporate world, by the world of work or by working in the same place for a prolonged time. Students can see things and solve problems due to their professional innocence.

A spectacular example from the student consultancy project is when a team of students went into a luxury hotel group on the south coast. The group at the time was facing a squeeze on profits by filling their rooms via companies such as Laterooms or Lastminute where the room prices are dropped to a very low price just to fill the rooms. The student team spotted the problem, they came up with a solution: loyalty cards, they then marketed the solution and the company implemented it.

Students helping businesses by spotting problems. Students helping businesses by solving problems. Students helping businesses through innovation.

How else can students help businesses?

Lots of Student Coffee

Usually when you think of students and businesses, the first thing which comes to mind, is internships. The traditional image of an intern is a glorified coffee maker. This image is dead or at least it should be. Yet even though there are good internships and even great ones, there are also bad ones.

I’d categorise a bad internship as one, which doesn’t allow any autonomy, there is no skills development and the intern isn’t working on anything significant or creating something.

Autonomy is essential for motivation see above for Daniel Pinks motivational theory Drive. Autonomy is the key ingredient in a working environment for motivation. Developing skills is also crucial for the intern to benefit from his or her time and to help careers develop. Creating something significant, making something happen is important for interns to feel fulfilled as well as for the firm to benefit from the programme. An internship should be different from the normal working environment. An internship which offers none of these is a bad internship and I was recently involved in one of these. A waste of time and money for everyone involved.

So a good or great internship is one offering: autonomy, skills development and the opportunity to create. There is one great internship programme which comes to mine: The IBM Extreme Summer Blue. This internship puts teams of engineers and business students together to create a new and fantastic product or service and bring it to market by the end of the 12 weeks. The teams are given a problem and a basic idea and then told to create, so there is autonomy. The teams develop skills in every area and even out of their specialisms, business people learn to code and engineers learn to market and more. Skills are developed. The teams of interns are creating a real project for real IBM clients; they are making something real happen. This is an example of a great programme and the interns benefit significantly and IBM benefits by getting new products each year created by some of the most innovative brilliant minds. A brilliant opportunity for students but there needs to be more.

Light Bulb of Student Ideas

Student Innovation is almost unparalleled; look at Facebook, Google and Apple. Three of the most innovative companies founded by students and young people. Why are we such great innovators?

Students have two precious and sadly scarce resources: Time and Creativity.

Time is an essential resource for innovation; time is required to find problems, to create solutions and then to implement solutions. Time that a fulltime professional may not have, time that is lost in a busy workplace and time better spent away from working. Students have time.

Students are creative; I’m not sure whether it’s due to academic rigour or being around bright and interesting minds but students are creative. I’m not talking about arts and crafts, papier-mâché or origami, nor am I talking about inventive ways to get free drinks! I’m talking about the general creativity, which is taking something, which already exists and using it a new way to make something happen. Students are great at this.

What happens if you combine the two? You get innovation. Creativity plus time equals innovation. All students have the power of innovation. The power of innovation. And it is the power of innovation which makes good businesses great.

How should businesses work with students?

Students In Business

I’m the current Co-President of Fish on Toast, Southampton’s entrepreneurship and business society and we are always trying to work with businesses. We do this through a number of programmes. A business incubator: Spawn, where students create their own businesses from initial ideas and assumptions. Through spawn we help them build the teams, find the resources needed, help them find advice and mentorship and then by the end of the programme have a fully functioning business model. We run training weekends where our members and other students can develop skills for business, entrepreneurship and life. These training weekends are run in partnership with businesses so that students are learning from the real world. Fish on Toast has a global network of entrepreneurs and business leaders to offer advice to students on their great business ideas or fantastic career choices. This network will culminate in our global entrepreneurship and business conference to be held early 2016 connecting the best students with the best business people from all over the globe.

But the best example of brilliant student innovation and Intrapreneurship within a business is from our Student Apprentice competition. Last year we had over 100 applications, shortlisted down to 10 contestants and one winner of a cash prize and an internship. Each week the contestants competed in teams to complete a business related task, much like the TV show and then faced a boardroom to find out who would be fired. Each week the students who preformed best in each task were always the most innovative, with fresh new ideas, whether it was the sales, marketing or pitching tasks. This is truly exemplified by our winner Gabriella Palma who won with an intrapreneurial idea. The final task was to pitch a business and entrepreneurial idea to our judging panel. Gabriella pitched an intrapreneurial business idea to help to grow an existing business in an innovative way and she now has the opportunity to run this project through her internship at a local software company.

Businesses should be looking for ways for students to help them grow, develop and innovate within their businesses. Whether it’s running a new marketing project, sales project or creating a new and innovative product. Students will meet the challenge and surpass even the highest expectations.

Students are not lazy; Students are Interested; Students are ambitious and Students are looking for opportunities.

Students help businesses.

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