UL: An accelerated track to entrepreneurial career

Master’s students at Kemmy Business School at UL learn to develop their skills and competencies

Mon, Apr 14, 2014, 01:00

The University of Limerick Kemmy Business School’s master’s in international entrepreneurship management aims to provide students with an accelerated track to an entrepreneurial career by encouraging, facilitating and connecting aspiring entrepreneurs to achieve their entrepreneurial ambitions. It helps develop entrepreneurial skills and competencies with the objective of equipping students with skills in creative thinking; networking; opportunity recognition; market validation, resource leveraging and business planning.

Students also engage with the entrepreneur community, thereby extending learning beyond the classroom.

“First of all, we want to give students the confidence to say ‘that could be me’ when they are thinking about entrepreneurship,” says programme director Dr Briga Hynes.

“There is an assumption that entrepreneurs just emerge from nowhere and people don’t see the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into getting them to where they are. We need to demystify and dispel some of these attitudinal barriers to entrepreneurship.”

In this context, she believes that educators need to review and reconsider not only what is taught or the content of entrepreneurship programmes but more importantly, how it is taught and delivered to the meet targeted needs.

“Entrepreneurship education should be about building character – the entrepreneur, and capability – viable businesses, and programmes should be more directed to address the needs of the person by enhancing student motivation and self-belief through peer learning in addition to the acquisition of relevant and applied business knowledge.”

This applied business knowledge is largely gained through direct engagement with entrepreneurs. “We try to get the students to experience as closely as possible the lived world of the entrepreneur,” Hynes explains. “This very much underpins the ethos of the programme.”

This is achieved in a number of ways, primarily through bringing entrepreneurs in as guest speakers.

“We get great support from local entrepreneurs who come in to talk to the students. It works really well in a panel format where you have two or three businesspeople talking about their experiences. You get great energy in the room during those sessions. The choice of entrepreneur is very important as well. We try to get younger entrepreneurs whom the students can identify with more. That helps develop a connection between them.”

Another element of the programme sees the students working directly with local SMEs. “A key focus of the Kemmy Business School is reaching out to industry. Students work in teams to develop sales and marketing strategies for local SMEs. This is not just theory, they have to be practical strategies and that makes this element of the programme very valuable to the businesses as well as to the students. It bridges the gap between the classroom and real business. It also strengthens our links with industry – academic institutions are usually the last places they would come for help.”

Students also participate in a mentoring programme through the Irish Exporters Association’s (IEA) Asia Trade Forum Programme where they devise an international market entry strategy into an Asian market for a growing small firm. Mentors from the IEA and local firms such as Analog and Flextronics assist students in the completion of the assignment.

Critically important for many of the students is the completion of a commercialisation plan. This is an option which replaces the traditional thesis for master’s programmes and it sees students developing a two-year strategic commercialisation plan for a business to make it investor ready.

The plan incorporates areas such as opportunity recognition, market validation, resource leveraging, financial management and international growth. “We brought in this option two years ago and it has proven very popular,” Hynes says. “The students are guided through the preparation of a plan for their own business. It might be just an idea when they start the programme or it might be a business that they already have up and running.”

One company which is already up and running with the help of a commercialisation plan drawn up during the programme is Tamm Marketing.

Established by Theresa Mulvihill during her time on the programme, Tamm, an acronym for technology-aided marketing management, offers an intuitive marketing management system for the SME sector at an affordable price

It merges social media with traditional marketing tools and techniques to allow sophisticated campaigns to be easily created, managed and reused.

Mulvihill secured €50,000 funding from Enterprise Ireland under the Competitive Start Fund and now employs nine people in the Nexus Centre in UL. “Doing the master’s was the best move I ever made,” she says. “I had my own marketing consultancy for 12 years and I wanted to upskill but little did I know what the programme would offer me. It gave me the time and space to think strategically and got me back into project management and working with teams.

“Since I left I have got the business up and running. We are still at the very early stages but we have nine people working here now and it’s going very well. The course was fantastic and I’d recommend it to anyone.”

Another graduate who has been doing rather well is Ian Kerr, who established Idaso, a Mullingar-based software company with a software as a service product to count and classify traffic from CCTV for the traffic data-collection industry.

He also secured €50,000 funding from Enterprise Ireland under the Competitive Start Fund. “I had the idea a number of years ago but it was beyond me at the time,” Kerr says. “When I raised it on the course, Briga Hynes put me in touch with an entrepreneur who helped me validate the idea and that helped me get moving on it. The course is great. It not only gives you the confidence to go out and become an entrepreneur but it gives you the contacts as well and that’s almost more important. A lot of success in business is about being able to get the right advice at the right time. The practical end of the course is also very strong,” Kerr adds, “and that is very good for less academic people like me.”

Entrepreneurship is not the only option open to graduates, according to Hynes.

“The course gives them the confidence to become entrepreneurs if that is the path they chose,” she says, “but it also makes them much more employable as it gives them a lot of valuable skills which they can offer to companies.”