Recently twenty students from St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance (FINEC) came to visit the Business & IP Centre. This was a follow-on from a smaller group who came to see me last year, led by Elena Orlova, Associate Professor and Project Coordinator at FINEC.
Her aim is to create a centre for entrepreneurship within St. Petersburg, based in part on our Business & IP Centre, and inspired by several UK universities’ enterprise support activities.
I was happy to have Elena back, as I had strong memories of her enthusiastic students, and this larger group proved to be equally passionate about introducing enterprise to their university. This year their programme of visits has been expanded to include London Metropolitan University, London School of Business & Finance and University of East London Knowledge Dock. They also travelled outside London to Judge Business School Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (part of the University of Cambridge), and Manchester Metropolitan University.
As well as giving the students a tour of the British Library and the Business & IP Centre, and a talk about how we help start-ups and growth businesses, they also gave presentations to me about their projects.
Not only was their grasp of English excellent, their plans to create a University Centre for Entrepreneurship and an interactive map of entrepreneurship opportunities in St. Petersburg were impressive.
It came as something of a surprise to me to discover their biggest challenge is not finding financial support, as they already have sponsorship from SBERBank. But is the cultural challenge of persuading fellow Russians to consider starting their own business as a realistic life choice. Although traditional state Communism ended many years ago, it seems the attitudes that went with it are harder to shake off. Individuals remains cautious when it comes to investing their time and money in a business venture.
One encouraging sign was the fact that just two of the twenty students on the programme are men. If this is representative of the rest of the population back home, then we can expect to see plenty of female entrepreneurs in St. Petersburg over the next few years.
Today I received this lovely letter from the students:
To Neil Infield.
“You need to be pathological optimist”
We’ve returned to Russia, to Saint Petersburg from London and Manchester. And we are still excited by our visit to the British Library, especially to Business and IP center. Thank you so much for organising such an amazing meeting. We’d like to share the most interesting moments from our visit.
First of all, your library impresses by its extensive collection of rare books, recordings and other sources of information. We loved Jack Kerouac’s 120-ft-long manuscript exhibition. The book “On the road” and the movie are really popular in Russia.
Secondly, you gave us a really good presentation of your business and IP center. It is the right place for every person who wants to get help in starting their own business. There are no barriers to be involved in the centre activities. Besides you encourage young entrepreneurs by using swap skills desk. And now we are more enthusiastic on creating our own center. We’d like to include the following services to our center as well as you do: consultations about intellectual property, networking with start-ups and mature entrepreneurs. But there is one thing that’s not common to Russia – exchange of business ideas. That’s why it is necessary for us to make a platform for trainings, workshops and meetings for peers. Entrepreneurs-to-be need a place where to go and the right people to talk to.
You told us about the cultural challenges we would face while implementing our project – we will try to forsee them. Thank you very much for this advice.
The diversity of opportunities and ideas that can come from one particular thing is another idea that you discussed with us. The way you introduced it – with your “Water presentation” – is a brilliant idea how to tell people not about “water things” but very, very important issues.
So, we want to thank you for all your patience and interest that you listened to us to.
We hope we keep in touch with you and continue our collaboration.
Best wishes, students of FINEC.