I invested my last year pursuing a postgraduate degree in Entrepreneurship at one of the universities here in the UK.
I am now a business management graduate and hold an MSc degree from Oxford Brookes University, one of the universities based in Oxford, UK.
As part of one of the personal development modules, I wrote a reflective essay on skills that I developed from my degree in entrepreneurship.
This essay is my reflection on the skills that I gained from the postgraduate degree in entrepreneurship.
Follow the essay to know more about the skills you can develop while at the university that are helpful for your entrepreneurial career.
I think I was trying to do “entrepreneurship” even before I knew what the term meant. When I explored the term’s meaning, it didn’t take me long to associate myself with it and then began my passion for entrepreneurship.
Coming to this University was mainly because I could specialize in Entrepreneurship by doing my master’s degree in business management.
Over the year, I have developed several skills that are crucial in terms of growing my two startups and leading my life as a successful entrepreneur.
2.0 Personal and Professional Development
There is an ongoing debate on if you really need to have a degree to be an entrepreneur (HBR, 2011) or a startup something but for me, a rather important concern was that I wanted to be in an academic environment that will inspire me to think about ideas and do something.
The best part besides being in an academic environment at this University was being involved in two entrepreneurial societies based in Oxford – Oxford Entrepreneurs and Oxford Brookes Entrepreneurs that significantly helped me to grow my network and build effective connections.
I had plans of launching my startup within a few years, and I started exploring options for the best possible ways to do it.
Considering that it’s very difficult to return to the academic environment once I start working full-time, I thought of investing a year more in doing a master’s degree.
The entire MSc program was geared towards developing business and leadership skills and thus, in hindsight, I believe to have made a really good decision.
A year’s investment in the degree has helped me prepare in a much better way for my proposed long-term plan for an entrepreneurial career.
3.0 Skills Development Reflections
Several skills, that I learnt and improved on, have assisted me in gaining a better understanding of my self-awareness and have greatly enhanced my knowledge of career options that I can pursue for my thriving future.
The application of Johari Window (Luft and Ingham, 1955), particularly knowing about my blind area skills helped me build self-awareness, as by decreasing my blind area, I would have more of my truth open to me.
This was particularly useful in developing group working skills among others that were the main priority in my previous action plan.
Joining the program also helped me evaluate other options that are open to me and although this hasn’t changed my primary plan of following an entrepreneurial pathway, it has made me open to other contingency plans.
I have developed myself certain skills such as group working, presentation, critical thinking, career management, and leadership, and I am using this reflective statement as an opportunity to reflect on those skills I have learnt to transform myself over the past year.
3.1 Group Working Skills
Working in a group is always a challenge and with multicultural groups like ours, it was even more challenging.
Because I didn’t prefer to work in teams initially, I made improving group work skills as my short-term plan. As I became aware of my own nature with an understanding of MBTI nature and Belbin roles, I used that to develop the skills effectively in group-working situations.
Understanding my Belbin roles (i.e. being “Plant” type, I was more action orientated) helped me understand my own role among the particular team, which I used to develop my strengths and manage my weakness as a team member, and thus improve my contribution to the overall group work.
It didn’t only help me to understand my own behaviour in the group but also knowing others’ preferences and roles was useful in terms of delegating and managing my expectations from the group members. Similarly, relating my MBTI preferences indicated being an INFP (Introverted Feeling with Extraverted Intuition) that supported my preference of being intuitive about people, being a good listener and keeping people at ease.
I can further relate this to my entrepreneurial career, which will involve team building and group work as a crucial aspects of it.
Ensuring fair composition within my team members with regard to Belbin team roles and understanding each other’s MBTI preferences will ensure that the team implements robust solutions and takes a bird’s eye view in making decisions.
Also, reflecting on the group works carried out during the semester, I have developed essential skills such as working in virtual groups, which might be essential for me for my future projects of startups.
Additionally, the reflection also made me seriously think about if I was able to lead and motivate others to follow and deliver my vision. Indeed being able to motivate others is a crucial skill required for entrepreneurs and I used the group work incident on framing the changes I could make to develop this skill.
Using the above-mentioned Johari Window tool and using it as a framework for identifying blind area skills also helped me to know the perspectives of my team members in the group.
By learning and adopting a framework of group work stages (Tuckman, 1965), I have thus realised that I need to focus more on communication during the storming phase to achieve better results from the performing stage.
3.2 Presentation Skills
My initial feedback on presentation skills from one of the master classes of the module suggested that I should work on my articulation.
After that session, I approached the trainer to seek ideas on how I could improve my articulation and simple tips (such as reading aloud, among others) that I practised every day helped me to improve the articulation of my speech during future presentations.
I added this to my short-term plan and the improvement in articulation was supported by the Viva feedback I received from the module leader of this PDL in semester one.
I was glad to have received feedback that acknowledged my possessing other skills such as good posture, eye contact, body language, voice projection, and good pace of speech among others necessary for effective presentation skills.
Reflecting on the recent incident of pitching my idea in a hackathon, however, made me realize of more practice is required in different settings.
I could have performed better with presentation skills amongst familiar faces in classroom settings but as things change in large and unfamiliar settings, my practice to gain confidence is still necessary.
Linking this to my career management, strong presentation skills will further benefit my startup/business presentations, be that for funding or partnerships.
3.3 Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking is the most crucial skill that I struggled to gain over the year at Brookes.
The university program has definitely helped me in achieving a huge leap of critical thinking efforts from being unconscious incompetence (as I wasn’t particularly aware of the deficiency till semester 1, to being conscious competence (as I believe I can perform it reliably at will).
With continued practice of critical thinking skills both in my writings and in everyday life, I aim to make it my second nature i.e. be unconscious competence at critical thinking.
In addition, an assessment of my personal strengths and weaknesses (SWOT) along with my preferences and their possible impact on my decisions made me practice critical thinking.
My own understanding of critical thinking skills when I started the program was basically at an “unreflective thinker” stage i.e. I was unaware of significant problems in my thinking. Based on feedback from semester 1, I have put this into my short-term goal under my future action plan.
With regular practice of this skill in conjunction with assignments and discussion, I want to progress to “the advanced thinker” stage i.e. to advance in accordance with my continued practice. And progressing it further, I want to take it to the level where skilled & insightful thinking becomes second nature to me, and I achieve the “master thinker” stage (Paul & Elder, 2006).
3.4 Career Management Skills
The course and degree overall opened a broad array of opportunities. The most important option that I considered evaluating and actually doing was joining a graduate program of innovative companies.
Even after passing the several stages of one of the top graduate employers and having a clear view of the development process of graduate roles, I finally decided to withdraw from the graduate program.
Such a bold decision was after seeking advice from a consultant at careers service and advice from my close networks who in fact supported my option of continuing with building my startups.
Leaving the graduate program option, however, meant that I had to make sure of my graduate entrepreneurial route through the university endorsement scheme.
With further advice from my careers consultant, I approached the business development manager at Brookes responsible for the graduate entrepreneur scheme. After discussing my business plan and eligibility for the scheme, I have been assured a place in the scheme, and I can proceed to be a university-endorsed graduate entrepreneur as soon as I receive my master’s degree results.
But to be successful as an entrepreneur over the next few years, I need to have a clear idea of opportunities (arising from self-evaluation) and challenges that I need to overcome. Along with evaluating my entrepreneurial options, I have taken a step further to evaluate opportunities and challenges for me being an entrepreneur.
Considering the previous action plan, I had determined career planning and building my startup as important goals. I am a social-savvy person and although I had made sure of my presence on networking sites like Linkedin, the master class on career management included additional tips on optimizing the profile to look more professional.
Further, observing interview skills in action in one of the master classes and taking recorded mock interview practice at the Brookes careers service has not only increased my own interview skills but also provided insights into the aspects of what to look for in people and how to make decisions on hiring the best candidates.
I reflect this from the perspective of an entrepreneur where finding co-founders and team building can be really important for me.
While I have now built on the necessary skills that I identified as my success criteria, this is the area that I need to further focus on in my forward action plan to achieve my long-term plan of being a successful entrepreneur.
3.5 Leadership Skills
The importance of leadership skills was made evident frequently through master classes of the personal development module that helped me develop in areas of problem-solving and decision-making skills, communication and negotiation skills, and personal effectiveness and building self-awareness.
My own observation of skills (through a recorded video demonstrating leadership skills) and the feedback received from peers made me self-aware of my leadership style. Based on the positive feedback received from the participation in the graduate trainee selection exercise, I perceive being an effective leader as one of my competencies.
As a leader, I am more of a collaborative person that respects the different perspectives of people in the team.
Additionally, the use of Kilmann’s (1977) conflict mode instrument (TKI) helped me foster my leadership ability in the later stages of the semester.
Reflecting on the previous group works I find myself to have been in the “competing” mindset but with the application of TKI, I now realize perhaps adopting a “collaborating” mindset with high assertiveness and cooperativeness would have been useful in conflict situations.
Working on this essay and several critical incident logs or reflective journals over the year developed my self-awareness significantly and became an essential part of my learning and development.
I have realized that reflections like this undoubtedly help me grow personally and professionally.
I plan to continue reflective thinking and writing and make it part of my learning process in my entrepreneurial journey.
* The essay makes reference to multiple action plans, critical incidents, and feedback sheets from seminars over the course of the year. A few prominent references are listed below.
HBR (2011) Harvard Business Review on Succeeding as an Entrepreneur. Harvard Business Review Press
Luft J and Ingham H (1955) The Johari Window, a Graphic Model of Interpersonal Awareness. Proceedings Of The Western Training Laboratory In Group Development. Los Angeles: UCLA.
Paul R and Elder L (2006) Critical thinking. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Prentice Hall