14 September 2014 - 10:00 am

I’m not an entrepreneur, and that’s okay.

I’ve always found it difficult to describe, neatly, what I do for a living, whether that be to the academics and students I work with, my lovely colleagues in the extracurricular wing of our li’l ol’ USE family, or friends and family members outside of work.

Having a brand spanking new website helps, in part. Being part of an award-winning team also raises awareness and helps us communicate better about what we do.  Nevertheless, it is time for me to make an admission:

A cartoon Anna Nibbs screaming at the sight of a giant spider emblazoned with the word "business" on its abdomen

‘Clunky Metaphor #1’, 2014. Pencil, fineliner and MS Paint.

My name is Anna Nibbs.

I am not an entrepreneur and I have always had a mild phobia of the word ‘business’.

There. I’ve said it.

Aaaaand breeeeaaathe.

And yet, over the past four years, I have been working as an enterprise educator. An appropriate response to this apparent contradiction might be “Eh? Y’what?”

Houston, we have a problem.

And that problem appears to be vocabulary.

When studying for my MSc in Information Management, I often passed, on my way to and from lectures and seminars, that funny flat-roofed building (a café when I was still an undergraduate) with a sign bearing the words ‘White Rose CETL Enterprise’ hanging by its door.

Beyond thinking “Enterprise? Urggh. That must be something to do with business. Yuck” I didn’t give it a second thought.

(Bear in mind that this was pre-brightorangeyyellow re-branding, but still…)

When choosing modules for said MSc I quickly glossed over the one entitled ‘Business Intelligence’ and opted for the (to me) far more interesting stuff involving Educational Informatics and Information Systems Project Management.

Business? Yuck.

Skipping forward to March 2014, and the University of Sheffield Enterprise Academy (USEA) held its inaugural event. The event was very well-received; however, one attendee contacted us afterwards to express some concerns, highlighting  the “high rate of failure and resulting bankruptcies in new start up companies” and suggesting there might be sound ethical reasons for not encouraging students down the self-employment route.

I have never been self-employed. I don’t mind a little bit of risk, but I don’t like too much of it. I like having a relatively secure job, with predictable terms and conditions, agreed hours, a pension scheme, sensible annual leave arrangements and so on.

Recently, in the wonderful world of enterprise education, there’s been a debate going on – ignited, it seems, by this blog piece, which led to this response, then back to this, and finally back here again, all the while being discussed and debated across the socialmediaverse.

What this all boils down to (ish) is the burning issue of where and how to differentiate between the words ‘enterprise’, ‘entrepreneurship’ and ’employability’.

We grapple with this issue All. The. Time.

Wouldn’t it be great if…?

There are some students and academics out there who, like me, aren’t really down with the whole self-employment thing. Entrepreneurship is not their bag, baby. We have, of course, some absolutely fantastic support for those who are interested. But might there be other contexts where enterprise might be useful?

Somehow, I’ve always found myself in jobs that have given me the freedom and autonomy to experiment, try things out and be playful, creating novel solutions to problems and seizing opportunities as they arise; work environments where I’ve been allowed not only to say “Wouldn’t it be great if…?”, but also to follow up on that “if” and do something about it.

I’m no entrepreneur, but maybe, just maybe, I might be a little bit enterprising…

As a teacher, I’ve found myself delivering an increasing number of sessions about intrapreneurship. Yes, I know, for many people this term sounds somewhat cringeworthy, awkward and made up. It does to me; I don’t really like buzzwords. But it does serve a purpose, and I rather like what it means. It means being enterprising (or possibly entrepreneurial, but let’s not split hairs) within an established organisation; working for someone else, but using enterprise capabilities to effect change. This is relevant anywhere. It’s why contextualisng enterprise and making it relevant to your own subject discipline is so important.

So, then: wouldn’t it be great if there were more graduates not only ‘getting jobs’ because of their enhanced enterprise capabilities, but who also were able – within those jobs – to imagine the possibilities (“wouldn’t it be great if…?”) and act?

Wouldn’t it be great if this enormous problem I have in front of me were solved? Wouldn’t it be great if this group of people were happier/healthier? Wouldn’t it be great if this thing could be done in a new way? Wouldn’t it be great if this new idea existed in reality?

Wouldn’t it be great if the world were a better place?

True employability goes beyond getting a job. And surely, a University like ours should be aiming for more than this anyway. We should be making a difference in the world. And having more enterprise in the curriculum can help us to do just that.

[I should add here that not everything is enterprise. But I’ll leave the untangling of that particular issue to another blog post…]


  1. Love this, Anna. It’s so great that you’ve bitten the bullet and come out of the closet! Being enterprising or entrepreneurial encompasses so much more than setting up a business. It’s problem solving, critical thinking, some risk taking (but not reckless gambling) and it’s – as you quite rightly said – having the autonomy to act on the ‘ifs’.

    I think it’s a great thing that we’re not all business-types down at USE. It almost allows us to be even more creative and enterprising, given the relative diversity of our amazing team 🙂

  2. Anna Nibbs says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Sam! 🙂

    We all feed off each other’s different energies, interests and areas of expertise, and I think we’re all the better for it – and this is something I firmly believe should have the opportunity to experience as well.

  3. Anna Nibbs says:

    Whooops – I meant to say *students should have the opportunity to experience as well!

  4. Sara says:

    A nice blog Anna and I think it resonates well with the current debate of -” well if enterprise is as much about skills for intrapreneurship as it is entrepreneurship; where does employability end and enterprise start?” Now that’s a question to start taking a crack at

  5. Anna says:

    Definitely something I’ve been thinking about, Sara!

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  • About the author

    Anna Nibbs

    Howdy! I'm Anna, an Enterprise Education Developer, HEA Fellow, member of the National Enterprise Education Award-winning USE Academy team, and the first point-of-contact for academics in the Faculties of Arts & Humanities and Medicine, Dentistry & Health. I also teach on USE's "Making Ideas Happen" module. I'm passionate about learning and teaching, and empowering lecturers - and students - to be as enterprising as they can possibly be. Outside of work, I like to exercise, write, grow fruit and veg, drink tea and spend time with my children reading books, doing crafts and exploring. If you're an academic and you want to know more about embedding enterprise into your curriculum, visit our Enterprise Education website at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/enterprise-education