Spotlight On… Gurpreet Jagpal

Gurpreet Jagpal is the Director of Research, Enterprise and Innovation at London South Bank University (LSBU) and the CEO of South Bank University Enterprises Ltd. Gurpreet is also an Academic Member of the IOEE, and LSBU’s learning approach was awarded a Highly Commended status at 2016’s IOEE Celebrate Enterprise Awards. This month we chatted to Gurpreet to find out about his what inspires him, bridging the gap between studying and the working world, and the advice he’d give to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Gurpreet joined LSBU in 2014. His role centres around leading the development and implementation of LSBU’s research, enterprise and innovation strategy, and he is responsible for aligning teaching, research and enterprise activities with sector drivers to provide a gateway for external organisations to access the university’s research and enterprise expertise. In a short space of time, you can see the results of Gurpreet’s ambition, dedication and influence, and at the end of 2016 LSBU celebrated an outstanding achievement; transforming its culture, curricular education and local community to become Entrepreneurial University of the Year at the prestigious Times Higher Education Awards. Gurpreet says:

“Creativity and innovation are what inspire and motivate me. We see students coming through our doors with these exciting new ideas for products and services, and we have to find the best way to help them to run with their idea and take it all the way to market. And to do that, we have to look at the way that we are working with and engaging with students - to ensure that they develop the entrepreneurial skills necessary for securing their dream job.”

Gurpreet and LSBU are passionate about a ‘real world’ approach with their courses, so that their students aren’t simply gaining knowledge and studying theory, but are learning through actual hands-on experience. Gurpreet says:

“It’s about bridging the gap between university and the real world. We have a cross-campus approach that delivers entrepreneurial support to students and graduates, and through this we are creating an ecosystem with the local business community, exploring innovative ways that we can connect academic expertise with the real business world.

“However, this is very much a two-way thing. It’s not a case of the university claiming to be experts in absolutely everything. We, as a university, are always learning too, and we learn an awful lot from our interaction with businesses that informs our teaching and research. As a result, we can help local businesses to grow, develop, generate wealth and create new jobs. It’s very much a two-way relationship.”

LSBU is home to the award-winning Clarence Centre for Enterprise and Innovation, which brings this approach and ethos to life. It fosters an environment of sustained growth that is closely engaged with the local business community. Gurpreet says:

“Within the Clarence centre we have a hot-desking environment for our students who have the gem of an idea and want to run with it and see where it can go, and there are also five Entrepreneurs in Residence who offer one-to-one mentoring support, by sharing their own first-hand experiences and areas of expertise. In addition, we have office space to rent for established businesses, and graduates also have the opportunity to get a permanent desk here too, where they have access to further support in those early stages of setting up a business.”

With LSBU’s students working towards such a wide range of different jobs, careers and industries, Gurpreet explains how the skills and challenges faced in the field of enterprise and entrepreneurship are similar across the board:

“Regardless of what students aspire to do or the industry they want to go into, there are common skills that all entrepreneurs need. You need the confidence to press ahead with your idea. You need to be able to network, and to get in front of customers and suppliers and forge effective relationships. You might also use different language depending on the industry. For example, in an arts of creative industry career, you might not call it being an ‘entrepreneur’ - you might call it ‘freelancing’, or having a ‘portfolio career’ - but the skills necessary to succeed are still broadly the same.

“We also run a number of business support programmes, where we provide advice and training to ambitious SMEs seeking to further develop and grow, covering areas like business planning forecasting, efficiency management, digital marketing and leadership. It’s about developing this combination of professional skills with the confidence to drive forward.”

Through LSBU’s unique, energetic and applied approach, the university has earnt numerous awards, and Gurpreet says that this practical ethos is what sets them apart - and that university is the perfect time to embrace this ethos:

“If I was going to give advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, it would be to just go and do it. Especially when you’re still at university - this is the best time you could try and launch a new and exciting business venture. There isn’t a safer time than when you have the full support of an institution behind you.

“I would also say - don’t be disheartened if a venture fails. Sometimes, this is part of the process, and you need to fail in order to learn from it. Being able to pick yourself and not make the same mistakes again and again is sometimes the greatest lesson you can learn in order to make your business a success.”

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