In Business Student Startups

Every time I go to a university anywhere in the world, I’m amazed by the buzz of ideas. Not particularly academic ideas; those you can take for granted. It’s really striking how many undergraduates and people studying for higher degrees are excited by the prospect of creating businesses, and are often well on the way to doing it.

Google came out of Stanford University at top speed, and now thousands of other students want to do something similar.

In many universities, student entrepreneur societies are the biggest social clubs on the campus.

This programme reports on a recent encounter with a clutch of would–be entrepreneurs gathered together for a student–run annual conference on technology in Cambridge, matched with a few seasoned and experienced business people who have watched the city develop as a striking British centre of enterprise (with help from a lot of other nationalities, as you will hear).

Meanwhile I spent a recent day at another university in order to be given an honorary degree... not something that happens very often.

Despite the things I have said recently about masters of business administration, the University of Lincoln was kind enough to award me a DBA, a doctor of business administration.

The ceremony took place in a glorious building I know very well indeed... Lincoln Cathedral. This is what I said:


“Pro Chancellor, Pro Vice Chancellor, fellow graduates, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you very much indeed. I feel rather fraudulent. You new graduates have striven for your degrees. I’ve been given mine simply for doing my job... or maybe for doing my job simply. And simplicity is what I want to talk about today.

It is particularly moving to be here in this extraordinary place almost 52 years to the day after another rather memorable event.

It was September 1957, my first weekend as a boarder at what was then Lincoln School. The headmaster took pity on the 10 or so new boys away from home for the first time in our lives. On Sunday afternoon we walked to the cathedral and went along to the north transept and there through a little door in the wall he took us up the winding stairs to the base of that great north window... the Dean’s Eye. The headmaster – about to retire – went out along the ledge into the middle of the window and then we boys were sent out, one by one, along the ledge with only a thin iron bar between us and the abyss... the ground was 50 feet below.

And then we turned our back on the great spectacle of the cathedral below us and tried to listen to Mr Franklin explaining the stories told by the stained glass roundels in front of our nose. An unforgettable occasion.

And story telling is at the heart of what I grew up to do. It’s called reporting, and it is an honourable if slightly disreputable craft, and maybe it’s in retreat.

For example, there has been a great inflation of titles in journalism over the past few years. New recruits seem to yearn to write commentary and analysis. And at the BBC we have turned our correspondents into editors and our reporters into correspondents because I suppose it sounds grander... to the neglect of the craft of reporting.

This has been intensified by the great disruption now taking place in the media. A combination of the credit crunch recession and the rise of the Internet is suddenly horribly undermining 150 years of print and broadcasting. Undermining not merely the commercial principles of newspapers and magazines and broadcast stations, but the journalistic principles too.

Yes, there is a potential vast democratisation of the media taking place through blogging and twittering and citizens’ journalism on mobile phone cameras reporting from a G8 summit protest or the Iranian election.

But it is deep nonsense to pretend that this can replace the arduous, organised, deliberate, assigned reporting by trained sceptics wearing out shoe leather to discover what is happening out in the real, physical, world.

I am a reporter. I do not want the job to be loftier than that, or more reputable.

The current upheavals in journalism may result in a great diminution of professional reporting and in the newspapers and broadcasters that can afford to support it. But if reporting dwindles, then society’s sense of itself is weakened and some of the vital props of democracy are cut away.

I report endlessly on the great disruptions that technology is engineering in the established way of doing things in business and the world. And I fear that we may not realise how much we need basic skills and crafts such as reporting until they are dangerously atrophied by a rush to adopt new ways of doing old things.

We may have to lose them to realise how much we need them.

It is true for other crafts, too. As today we go out of here with our shiny new degrees, we ought also to remember the continuing importance of craft skills. They built this cathedral and our world. We neglect them at our peril.”

Peter Day

Previous Programmes

Watch Your Language - Peter Day joins a group of enthusiasts determined to improve the language of business.

Keep it Local - As pubs struggle to survive, Peter Day travels through villages in Yorkshire and Cumbria to talk to local activists.

Space - Peter Day asks what happens next on the USA's journey into space.

German Pencils - Peter Day asks Faber-Castell and Staedtler how they both stay sharp ...

Building BRICS - Peter Day finds out about the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and China

Over A Barrel - Peter Day contemplates the turmoil in the Middle East and fears it will affect the price of oil

Reconstructing Capitalism - Peter Day hears all about the challenges to the way capitalism works.

All at Sea - Peter Day hears all about sea transport.

China Dispossessed - Peter Day hears about some of the problems caused by China's rush for prosperity.

Back on the Road - Alan Mulally tells Peter Day how he changed the way Ford works and how it is now back in the business of selling cars.

Asia Bling! - Peter Day ponders how the rise of the Asian comsumer will change business.

Euro on the Rocks - Peter Day asks what is the future for the Euro?

Bitter Pills - Peter Day looks at changing face of drug development.

Operation Robot - would you allow a robot to operate on you? Peter Day looks at robot-assisted surgery.

Growing Pains - Peter Day asks, what is the main component of growth?

After the Crunch - Government funding and regional development: the view from Newcastle.

Chips off the Old Block - Computing in the UK, past, present and future.

Hidden Depths - Graham Hawkes, DeepFlight and exploring the oceans.

Sociability - How social technology makes new business models possible.

Are CEOs Up to the Job? - Two thirds aren't according to Xinfu's Steve Tappin. Peter Day investigates.

In at the Start - Saeed Amidi and Silicon Valley

Power Play - Is the 'smart grid' the start of something big?

Now Wash Your Hands Please - How a simple idea can transform lives in the developing world

Coming Soon - What can the experience of previous financial crises tell us about the current one?

Ticking Over - Can the Isle of Man rejuvenate the business of watchmaking?

Not Just Silicon - what can Silicon Valley teach us about innovation?

Press under Pressure - what lies ahead for the world of newspaper publishing?

Remembering CK Prahalad - in a world of change and multiple opportunities, how does a company keep up?

Rwanda Rising - building a clean safe state where business can flourish.

Life Cycles - building businesses around the idea of new kinds of bikes.

Who Sets Our Standards - the business and social benefits of standardisation.

Ready to wear - the ethical issues of the international clothing industry.

Doing It Wrong - what's wrong with the way business works?

New Age - the business of aging.

Project Alcatraz - rehabilitating offenders in Venezuela.

Selling Salvation - Peter Drucker and the Salvation Army.

Let Me Entertain You - office parties and away days.

Brazil's Sugar Rush - Brazil.

Small Wonder - microfinance.

Unlimited Company - organizational models.

Credit Crunch - cash and credit.

Student Startups - student entrepreneurs.

Media Mayhem - changes in the newspaper industry.

Squeaky Clean - branding.

Battery Power - Bolivia.

Women's Work - women in the city.

Hell For Leather - John Timpson and Timpson's Shoes.

Learning Curve - organisational culture.

Let's Start a Bank - banking.

Goodbye to Intel - Craig Barrett and Intel.

Location Location - So?

Iceland feels the Heat - the credit crunch in Iceland.

The Cisco Kid - Mike Lynch and John Chambers.

Grand Design - business schools.

Power Drive - the car industry.

All New - innovation.

Europe on the edge - What is this thing called "Europe"?

For more programmes visit the In Business programme archive.

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