“Losing the stereotype of ‘The Entrepreneur’ will inspire more people to work for themselves.”

Matthew Rogers-Draycott is a Compliance Director at Arcadia Nursing Recruitment and a lecturer in Entrepreneurship at the University of Worcester, as well as being an IOEE Fellow. This month we spoke to Matt to discuss how the economy is changing the way that we work, his passion for helping people to set up their own businesses, and how shaking off the stereotype of ‘The Entrepreneur’ can show people that they also have the potential to make a career on their own terms. 

Matt has been teaching enterprise and entrepreneurship skills for almost a decade. He was involved in the designing of the University of Worcester’s Entrepreneurship degree from its inception, and rejoined the university as a lecturer in June last year. He delivers on a number of modules across the course, including The Entrepreneurial Mindset, Business Modelling, Business Strategy, and Business Planning. Matt says:

“I teach on an undergraduate course, but there’s a diverse range of students on there, so it’s not just your post-sixth form 18 year-old crowd, and this in itself is reflective of economic change; it’s not just affecting young people, it’s impacting people of all ages at all stages of their careers. People are being made redundant, or leaving jobs, or coming back from career breaks, and they’re making assessments and asking themselves ‘do I still want to be employed and work for somebody else, or do I want to take my skills and go off and do something with it myself?’ Of course, sometimes the diverse group can create friction and tension in the classroom, but it also brings about some really interesting ideas. You’ve got people from all backgrounds and levels of experience sharing thoughts and concepts, and the end result can be fascinating – and it probably wouldn’t be such a beneficial learning experience if you put a more ‘traditional’ group together.”

Matt first played with his entrepreneurial streak when he was just 18 years old himself, setting up a business with a friend, and although it didn’t achieve great success, Matt says it taught him valuable business skills, as well as helping to shape where he is today:

“We set up a company providing high-end media systems to various companies, such as pubs and bars – my friend’s father was in business and he thought we had a strong idea, so he backed us. We were fairly young and naïve and it wasn’t wildly successful, but it was definitely a useful life lesson. And today, that friend is my business partner at Arcadia, and his father is the Executive Chairman, so our initial business venture may not have gone anywhere, but the experience has still shaped my career.”

Matt says that as our economy is changing, it’s important to consider that there is a difference between people ‘wanting to’ and ‘having to’ work for themselves. By looking at the World Economic Forum Data that came out last year, he says that you can see the prediction of many ‘traditional’ careers and industries declining or disappearing in the next 10 years. This includes such things as low-tech manufacturing, which is now being automated heavily; accountancy, which is being supported with web tools; and even PAs and administrative roles, which are being replaced with online software. Matt says:

“We’re starting to see it everywhere, such as the self-service checkouts in supermarkets, as technology replaces people to reduce staffing costs. Structurally, the economy is shifting, and I think that people are realising now that portfolio working and the gig economy are here to stay.

Essentially, we’re shifting to a more American model, where it’s quite normal for people to have several jobs. As someone who teaches entrepreneurship, it’s a really good thing to see people wanting to do something for themselves, as it will create economic growth – but are the underlying reasons why this is happening a good thing? That depends on your viewpoint. The more European view is to have employment protection, whereas the more American view is to have the freedom. I’m torn between the two, and I can fully appreciate both sides, and it makes a fascinating debate.”

Matt finds it extremely rewarding to help his students readjust what they think makes ‘an entrepreneur’, but he says that this stereotype is a problem in the wider world too:

“One of the biggest misconceptions of entrepreneurship is this idea of the ‘unicorn entrepreneur’. People hear the word ‘entrepreneur’ and it instantly takes them to a Richard Branson-esque idea of a macho, dominated, works-90-hours-per-week sort of fictional character. But in actual fact, there are entrepreneurs in every area of our economy – people delivering your takeaway, or your online food shop, consultants doing projects, freelancers writing the articles that you’re reading. That ‘wealthy businessman’ idea can be great in that it creates something aspirational for people, but at the same time it pushes other people away. And that’s one of the great shames – people think that they can’t do it, and they really, really can.”

In Matt’s 10 years of teaching entrepreneurship, he says he has seen the same challenges again and again, and believes that the key elements to a business’ success are a solid foundation in how the business is put together, and then knowing how to take a product to market. Matt says:

“You often see that dream of ‘just sell a few of these and I’ll be a millionaire’, but obviously it doesn’t work like that! Every day I see people come to me with crazy madcap plans that will never work, but if you scale it back and break it down – look at the market, decide what’s feasible, understand your customer, develop a model, plan, test, deliver – then there’s almost always a gem of something that will work. However, lots of people just want to be right at the end straight away and not do the hard work first. The best advice that I could give to aspiring entrepreneurs would be to just take it one step at a time.”

The University of Worcester’s Business School is an IOEE Centre of Excellence, and Matt says that he is proud of the credibility this brings to both the institution and his position as a lecturer, but also the opportunities that this brings his students:

“As a lecturer, it gives us that recognition that what we are doing is important, and that it’s accepted by a broader community outside of the industry, and it also highlights to our students that there’s a certain level of quality here, and a real respect for what we do. But more than that, giving students the opportunity to become a member themselves, and to use the IOEE’s resources to enhance their learning, means that they’re able to develop their enterprise and entrepreneurial skills even further.”