Preparing students for life and work

RMIT is addressing the fact that 20,000 students graduate every year but there just aren’t 20,000 new graduate jobs on the market every year. The university’s DNA is “ready for life and work”, and the RMIT Activator is committed to teach an entrepreneurial mindset to students to empower them to offset this issue by starting their own businesses.

There had always been program at RMIT that have helped people set up companies, approximately 3000 news companies have set up at RMIT since 1998. However, Renzo Scacco – Director of the Activator – makes the point that the millennials want to work for themselves more than any previous generation, so the Activator was launched in late 2016 to prepare some of the 87,000 students at RMIT for the new workplace and provide them with a pathway to progress to starting their own business.

RMIT offers both a Cert III and a Cert IV in small business and there are 600 studying a Bachelor of Entrepreneurship, for whom the Activator is a natural fit, but its facilities are available to the entire Melbourne student population, the approximately 15,000 students at RMIT’s outposts and partner establishments in Singapore and Vietnam, the university’s staff and its alumni.

“They can just walk into the Activator and say ‘I have an Idea’ and they’ll get guidance on fleshing out that idea into a viable business,” Scacco says.

25,000 people registered at the Activator in the first 12 months after its launch, studying modules such as “How to use LinkedIn” and “ How to negotiate”. There are also units in financial literacy and creating a lean business canvas.

To kick off new entrants take part in an all-day workshop to decide if their idea is a “goer” – if so an eight-day boot camp refines the idea and if that goes well the budding entrepreneur can apply for a residency at the activator.

There are approximatively 50 startup teams in the residency program who have access to a frontline business coach to get them to proof of concept and then a Minimum Viable Product. There are also Personal Business Coaches on hand to build their resilience so that they can deal with the tougher aspects of launching a business.

Activator has a $7 million capital found that offers up to 25,000 grants to each applicant to get their business off the ground. By the end of 2018 Scacco anticipates over $1 million will have already been handed out in grants. Each potential business pitches to a Board who decide on the grants, and the plan is to issue up to six grants per quarter. Activator is also in the process of building a community of angel investors and venture capitalists so the start-ups have access to extra funding to grow their business, with the best new businesses that have come through the program getting to showcase their business to that community.

This year Activator will launch a series of 2 to 4 hour online modules, such as “how to pitch?” created in partnership with industry and will give students accreditation in that skillset. This will mean that the number of start-ups they support isn’t confined by the physical space available to the Activator.

2018 will also see a resource at Singapore Institute of Management who are on RMIT affiliate. In the years to come they’ll do the same in Vietnam.

As with the CSIRO ON scheme, another Activator focus is commercialising research – turning a research project into a viable commercial enterprise. Even if students do not create a business directly out of the Activator they will come away with acumen other graduates don’t have, increasing their chances of success down the line.

Scacco says that engineering, food tech, games, and Virtual Reality are all logical types of business that will come out of RMIT students. There is a drone business that has come out of RMIT that Activator is supporting and helping find target markets for, and 20 of the university’s undergraduate engineering students are working to help with that project, giving those new students an insight into the “real world”.

Continuity is very important to Scacco, who sees RMIT’s alumni as crucial to Activator’s ongoing success, both in terms of potential new business owners using the Activator to launch and as a source of coaches and mentors to those doing the program.

This story first appeared in issue 20 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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