Do entrepreneurs need a university education?

Entrepreneur Tina Boden explains why university is not necessary for those with entrepreneurial ambition.

I often get asked about my university education, so it’s great to see the reaction when I say I didn’t go to university. It comes as a bit of a surprise to many of the people who pose the question to me.

Back in the mid 80’s, when I started at Scarborough Technical College, now Yorkshire, studying a BTEC in hotel, catering and institutional operations, I had every intention of moving on to a university degree before heading out to work for one of the big hotel chains like Trusthouse Forte.

At the time, my parents owned a ten-bedroom country house hotel in Hunmanby, North Yorkshire, just inland from the small seaside resort of Filey. This award-winning hotel was an old vicarage that they had converted from a ramshackle ruin a few years earlier. Living through the conversion hell in my early teens should have been enough for me to need therapy, but I had the hospitality bug. As I whizzed through the two years at ‘Tech’, with most of my free time being spent helping mum and dad run Wrangham House, I realised that I would not be joining my college friends Emma and Annie in Newcastle but wanted to help my parents develop their small business. So the decision was made that I would work for mum and dad; a university degree and large hotel chain were not to be.

By the age of 21 I was newly married and had taken ownership of my first business. In partnership with my mum we bought a property letting and management agency which made my BTEC in hotel, catering and institutional operations redundant.

How many people go off to college and university then find themselves not even needing the qualification they studied for by their mid 20’s? Plenty I am sure. It wasn’t until my late 20’s, as I fought my way through an unpleasant divorce, had an established business and was mum to a four-year-old son that I regretted my university decision. I felt that I should have studied for a degree but now realise that was because I was finding myself doing business with more and more people who had enjoyed the whole university experience – flying the nest, Freshers’ week, studying, partying, meeting new friends and stacking up debt. Apart from Freshers’ week and an element of studying, I had done some property lettings and management qualifications throughout my 20’s, not much else was any different.

By the beginning of my 40’s, happily remarried, mum to a second son and going through a strange stage in my life where I thought working for others would be a good idea, I decided to become a mature student and enrol on an Open University degree in business studies; finally I was at ‘university’ – but what an anticlimax it was.

Firstly I had established myself as a micro-business specialist helping others to turn their business dreams into a profitable reality and secondly I already worked ridiculous hours a week as well as being a mum and wife – this wasn’t the student life I had imagined way back in the 80’s. So I trolled through my first module of the course, attended the day schools, handed in the assignments on time but soon realised business studies was for big business not the micro-business world that I had come to grow and love.

Then EUREKA! I met a man. No, this is not another divorce-in-waiting but the start of a fabulous friendship. This man was none other than Tony Robinson OBE, founder of SFEDI, not the guy who played Baldrick in Blackadder, and someone who appreciated what my knowledge of micro-business was worth. ‘What on earth are you doing a degree for?’ he enquired. ‘Someone with your micro-business experience doesn’t need a degree!’ And that was all I needed to realise that experience is worth far more than paper qualifications and having people believe in you is the equivalent of an Honours. Tony and I co-founded Enterprise Rockers in January 2012, a movement to make life in micro-business better and fairer, he is one of my heroes and I will be eternally grateful for the advice he gave me.

Uni is not the be all and end all folks; if you didn’t make the grades why not consider starting your own business.

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