A STEP Journey

By Grace Kennedy

Project : How do we ensure the library builds student community online?

The day before my final university deadline, I was scrolling on Facebook and procrastinating when I came across a Careers Centre post about the St Andrews Team Enterprise Programme. Intrigued, and desperate to do anything other than my assignment, I looked at the page but brushed off the idea of applying because I had to work. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the post and how rare it was to see a programme designed to actually help you develop your own skills. I decided I would take a look at the page, and as soon as I saw an initiative focused on helping the library turn into a virtual study space, I was immediately drawn to it. The library had been such a big part of my final year so, I thought, ‘Why not apply?’

I started working on my application, deciding that my imminent deadline could wait. I quickly realised how excited and passionate I was about joining this programme – I really wanted to be part of such a unique opportunity. Luckily, I got both my application and my deadline in on time – a testament to the time management skills I wrote about in my application! A week later, I received a welcome email, and with imposter syndrome getting the better of me, I suddenly convinced myself I would not be good enough and had to reassure myself that the workshops would provide me with the necessary skills to not only succeed in the internship but also to help me develop valuable transferable skills for my future 

And that’s exactly what they did. The weekly workshops taught me the skills needed to face challenges from the project, whether it was realising the library had digital standards that we had to comply with, which meant changing our initial ideas, or the number of things we had to do in a limited amount of time. 

Working with the library has been an incredible opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes of a university building. It is quite easy to walk into the library and head to a study space, completely oblivious to the staff’s hard work which ensures its smooth running. My, I am ashamed to say, previous cluelessness about their hard work quickly changed when I first spoke to our sponsors. They were clearly dedicated to their jobs and wanted to make sure that students were receiving the best service despite the library having to close in accordance with government social distancing guidelines. This meant they were working even harder to provide a reliable service online. 

That’s where our team came in. To help with the stress of all this, we researched ways organisations were adapting to Covid-19, created a survey to collect students’ opinions, made a focus group to get additional, in-depth opinions about our ideas and offered tips about how to improve the library’s social media to ensure that information was easily accessible. We also produced marketing materials and created some fun study tips, which I hope will appear on their social media platforms in the coming months. 

Overall, this was an incredibly rewarding opportunity. I have worked in a team effectively, enhancing my research skills and learning how to write a report, all of which will be incredibly helpful in the working world that, having just graduated, I am now entering. By the end of the project, I found it difficult to balance the workload with the easing of lockdown. But I really enjoyed learning more about my university and working with a team that I never would have had the chance to meet otherwise.

Growing Together, While Apart: A STEP Story

By Ella Watson

Project: “How do we define what enterprise capabilities look like in real life?”

I first came across the Summer Teams Enterprise Programme when an isolation-induced pity party caught me scrolling indefinitely through Facebook. STEP represented an opportunity to make something of an otherwise boring and frankly depressing summer. I spent an entire day writing my application and promptly received an email confirming my spot.

Our first team meeting was chaotic: six strangers with no experience producing podcasts tasked with creating a series exploring the question, “What do enterprise capabilities look like in real life?”. We had each been asked to study an autobiography written by a successful entrepreneur with the aim of identifying and discussing their common attributes in our team meetings. At first glance, it might seem like a fairly straightforward task but for a group of complete strangers meeting for the first time in a virtual setting and attempting to brainstorm, discuss, and plan with very little guidance, the task seemed daunting. I came away from the meeting feeling overwhelmed and honestly ready to disengage with the whole project. But this is the challenge of STEP – we had less guidance than we might have been used to but we also had a team of like-minded individuals with the drive to create something great.

I am proud to say that is exactly what we have done! Over the past seven weeks, we have worked hard to produce our podcasts, which explore the capabilities of five exceptional entrepreneurs, with the overall aim of putting the somewhat abstract concept of “enterprise capabilities” into a real-life frame. In terms of what we have achieved as a team, it is so much more than the production of these podcasts. Despite never having met in person, we have managed to build the interpersonal relationships necessary to allow our team to function effortlessly. Under the instruction of our incredible team leader, we have managed to accomplish a task which was at first daunting. We divided into smaller sub-teams, each with a clear purpose. As individuals in these smaller teams, we have all had unique experiences in this journey: learning how to produce and edit podcasts within an impossibly short space of time, embarking on research in areas completely new to us, and creating new connections through which we can market our deliverables. Although we have all had very different roles in this project, I’m sure that we can all identify many ways in which we have drawn from the bank of skills represented by the enterprise capabilities we have become so familiar with. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity STEP has afforded me to work on my own personal skills but even more grateful that I had the chance to work with a group of such intelligent and driven people who I might be so bold as to now call my friends.

Reflections on a Fascinating Experience

By Cameron Edge

Project: “How do we define what enterprise capabilities look like in real life?”

As I enter the final week of the Summer Teams Enterprise Programme I decided to reflect on why I had applied and what I hoped to gain from the project. On a base level, in the context of COVID-19 I saw it as a great opportunity to develop the remote working skills, both digital and soft, that have become necessary. Beyond that, I needed an opportunity to be exposed to new people and work through a project from beginning to end. My first meeting showed me exactly what needed fixing: I really struggled to get involved and was happy to let myself get carried along in the process. This is something I knew I couldn’t let happen and made certain this did not continue. Despite attempting to convince myself otherwise I had nothing to fear of my new teammates; Aimee, Pri, Eleanor, Ella, and Iona were a pleasure to work with and really brought the best out of me.

The research element of the programme introduced me to Daniel Lubetzky, the founder and CEO of “Kind”. The story of Kind is a great case for sustainability, not in terms of ecology but in regards to the business model. Especially in the health food sector, there are numerous competitors who have failed due to buying into the fads of the time whether that be gluten-free, low fat, keto, etc. Through being honest about their products and having faith in them, Kind have been able to set the course rather than follow the consumer. It is overstated that the consumer is so socially aware they will choose a brand that betters society. Quality is the key: Kind has built its movement through quality products in terms of nutrition and taste. A quality product will create a business better able to fund social change. This will not fix everything, but such a company will scale faster and last longer than many other avenues of change. Striking this balance between financial success and ethical considerations has hugely influenced my views on enterprise. I had previously thought these ideas were binary but now, the prospect of using enterprise as a vehicle for social change really excites me.

People who know me would definitely not associate me with tech and I was originally unsure about my ability to deal with such technology and source and use both recording and editing software. However, through planning out the pros and cons, I managed to find not only an effective method but a free one, going above and beyond what I was expected to do. I was part of the logistics team running the recording and editing process. We were efficient as a team, working through several rounds of quality checks to ensure that the podcasts were consistent and well-edited.

I was hugely proud of our achievements as a team this week in terms of finishing our project on time and to a high quality. Many of the problems that I had experienced earlier in this process regarding issues asserting myself in conversations, balancing, and closely following a clear work schedule, I have improved upon significantly and I hope I can continue to on my professional development.

Keeping it Short and Sweet: A Podcasting Journey

By Priyanshu Agarwal 

Project: “How do we define what enterprise capabilities look like in real life?”

In a time where the whole world was full of disgraceful, disruptive, and doomy events, a group of strangers collaborated to create a podcast series with the aim of bringing back some of the positivity that we all miss. It wasn’t easy, but we did it, thanks to the organisers of the Summer Teams Enterprise Programme.  

Like most others, due to the lockdown, I was bombarded with hours of free time that I forgot even existed. Scrolling through my Facebook feed (as we have all done for hours on end in the last couple of months), I saw a post regarding STEP. Instantly drawn to it, I applied straight away, with no idea what I was in for. The Enterprise Capabilities project stood out the most to me: making a podcast series for the University website (not what I was expecting of my summer 2020 but still exciting).  

I vividly remember our first group call: full of exciting ideas, enthusiasm to learn and develop but a huge lack of confusion as to what we were actually meant to achieve. After a more organised discussion with the rest of the team and the project sponsor, we were able to direct ourselves to a clear goal.  

After weeks of training, discussions, and debates we managed to create a podcast series that summarised all of our research regarding the different entrepreneur we were each studying. It was a challenge was compiling all our thoughts into a short ten-minute podcast but in a world where everyone has less time, we are forced to keep things short and sweet! 

None of this could have been possible without the brilliant team I was assigned to, which consisted of highly driven individuals who were full of great thoughts which really changed my perspective during our discussions. 

Exploring Real Stories of Entrepreneurship: A STEP Project

By Aimee Watts

Project: “How do we define what enterprise capabilities look like in real life?”

Think about the following words: leadership, decision-making, and innovation. 

Are these important concepts? Absolutely. Have they also been overused in abstract contexts, such that they sometimes feel like empty buzzwords? Absolutely. 

 This was part of the challenge that our team was presented with at the beginning of our project for the Summer Teams Enterprise Programme. We were tasked with making these words and their associated ideas come alive, providing concrete, real-life examples of skills like communication, opportunity recognition, and reflection – in short, the important (but often abstract!) capabilities that underlie entrepreneurship. 

To begin with, each member of the team chose a famous entrepreneur and engaged in extensive research into their background, experiences, and the different traits and choices that allowed them to achieve phenomenal success. The individual I personally focused on was Tony Hsieh, a famous American entrepreneur who founded multiple multi-million-dollar companies, including famed online shoe retailer “Zappos”. My research process incorporated a variety of sources, with a particular focus on Hsieh’s autobiography, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose”.   

My teammates researched similarly impressive and exciting individuals, such as Adam Braun of the non-profit “Pencils of Promise”, and Yvon Chouinard of the renowned clothing company “Patagonia”. Every week we met virtually to discuss our findings, and how the different entrepreneurs converged and diverged in their approaches. Gradually, our final product began to take form – a short podcast series, summarising real stories of real entrepreneurship. 

In my Hsieh episode, I wanted to highlight what I personally found to be the most engaging aspect of the project, namely the storytelling element. Consequently, I structured the podcast as a chronological narrativecovering many different points in his life over the course of ten minutes. Firstly, my lovely interviewer Iona and I touched on his early project, “LinkExchange”, the mistakes he made in founding and running this multi-million-dollar company, and how his in-depth reflection allowed for actionable lessons.  

Then, the podcast explored his main project, Zappos, the challenges that come with being innovative, and the importance of listening to those who are sceptical of your ideas. Continuing further into Zappos’ development, we looked at how Hsieh recognised hidden opportunities that his competitors had missed, especially the unexpected advertising goldmine of call centers. We also examined the difficult chapters in the company’s history, especially the burst of the dot-com crash in the early 2000s, and the combination of open-mindedness and innovation that was needed to ride out the storm.  

After touching on the impressive state of affairs of current-day Zappos, we concluded by focusing on key takeaways. After all, Hsieh has a lifetime of hard-won knowledge, both about what entrepreneurial success and failure look like. This translates into highly actionable advice for any listener, regardless of what stage they may be at in their career. 

When Wrong Plans Turn Right: A STEP Blog

By Iona Bielby

Project: “How do we define what enterprise capabilities look like in real life?”

After a worldwide pandemic abruptly canceled my summer of dream-worthy internships, I was left with the question most students have come to know relatively well: “What am I going to do now?” Seeing that the University was advertising a new initiative to both teach and test the enterprise capabilities of the student body over the course of the summer, I quickly signed up, received an acceptance email, and began to enter the wild digital landscape of the Summer Teams Enterprise Programme.

I showed up to the first day on Microsoft Teams and was subsequently placed in a group with five other students I had never met before. We were given the task to create a series of podcasts that reflected on what enterprise capabilities looked like in real life. Simple, right? Well, not really.

The first meeting was awkward and chaotic. There was a sense of reluctance in the air – of hesitation that this programme could be nothing but boring and a waste of our time. This reluctance was then catastrophically met with a bombardment of ideas from everyone and an overwhelmingly obvious lack of chemistry between any of us strangers.

Wallowing in my own self-pity while wanting to get this project over with as quickly as possible, I debated closing my laptop, walking away, and emailing the STEP coordinators that I was no longer interested. Yet, lost in my own narcissistic daydreams, I found the project coordinator had asked everyone to turn off their cameras if they were not interested in being the project leader. I looked up. All cameras were off and I had found myself, by default, the leader of a group of students I had only just met.

Fast-forward a good seven weeks late when our podcasts are completed and I’m writing this blog post, and boy do I miss it. Our group fell into a clockwork routine where we attended workshops on Mondays (covering opportunity, creativity, leadership, and other entrepreneurial traits) and group discussions on Thursdays where we shared our own thoughts regarding the individual entrepreneurs we had been assigned to research. Our conversations were rich and informed and I was impressed and intimidated by the intellect of my teammates. All hundreds of miles from one another, we cultivated a space of critical thinking underpinned by a unique desire to support one another. STEP not only taught me the core attributes of entrepreneurship, but also the skills of optimism, accountability, and meaningful collaboration.

A lot can happen in seven weeks. Plans get canceled, podcasts are made, and strangers grow into colleagues who develop into friends. Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned about myself was the extent to which I cared about the wellbeing of my team and the final product we delivered. I’m proud to know that this is how my leadership style has developed with thanks to the once-strangers I’ve met with an approach that is caring and above all, kind.

The Promise of a Pencil: Changing the World One Child at a Time

By Eleanor Duce

Project: “How do we define what enterprise capabilities look like in real life?”

I ordered my copy of Adam Braun’s “The Promise of a Pencil” as soon as I decided it would be the perfect case study for my Enterprise Capabilities project. It arrived the next day, and by the following, I had read it cover to cover. Like this inspiring entrepreneur, I also aspire to be a leader in Global Education.

Founder of the “for-purpose” organisation “Pencils of Promise”, Braun left his corporate career to pursue his passion and fulfil his sense of moral obligation to make a profound impact through philanthropic endeavours. From its humble beginnings inspired by an encounter with a homeless Indian child whose greatest dream was to own a pencil, the organisation has achieved international recognition and success. Social media campaigns, donations from celebrity sponsors, and entrepreneurial high school students have funded the construction of 525 schools (and still counting!) across Ghana, Guatemala and Laos. Despite these enormous achievements, Pencils of Promise remains dedicated to its vision and aim of empowering communities through education. They do so not only by providing access and resources but also through developing robust evaluation programmes and teacher training, ensuring high quality of education.

Learning more about Braun’s journey and conviction in the transformative potential of education – as symbolised by the promise of a single pencil – really resonated with my own determination to pursue a career dedicated to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4: “Quality Education of All”.

The Summer Teams Enterprise Programme has therefore been an incredibly enjoyable and stimulating experience for me, and each week I have looked forward to discussing the intersections of our entrepreneurs’ lives with the weekly workshop topics. Our team’s sustained engagement, mutual interest, and shared curiosity has sparked conversations and encouraged us to question and compare our case studies.

In his book, Braun emphasised the importance of engaging in a constant cycle of reflection and self-evaluation, challenging one’s limited beliefs, and seeking advice from mentors. Although I initially resented the weekly reflection tasks, often not knowing what to write or rejecting my ideas as insignificant, I came to realise the value of regularly recording my progress and being critical about my actions so I could intentionally improve my practices for the following week. As a consequence, I made adjustments to patterns of behaviour and bad habits (such as checking my phone during calls or workshops) and committed to detailed note-taking and reviewing to ensure I dedicated my undivided attention to the conversation and retained what was most valuable.

Communication is another theme which is integral to Braun’s narrative, and STEP offered a wonderful opportunity to exchange ideas and practice virtual cooperation. Despite encountering inevitable connectivity and technological challenges, our team was always courteous, understanding, and supportive which meant that communicating in our group calls and through chats was ultimately always both efficient and enjoyable. These online platforms will no doubt feature ever more prominently in the future world of work, and my lovely STEP team highlighted that above all else (and regardless of possibly precarious Internet reliability), effective communication relies on compassionate human connections.

Braun’s autobiography is structured into 30 chapters, each titled with a mantra which serves as valuable guidance for how to turn dreams into reality, offering a roadmap for success. These lessons are drawn from and shaped by his core values of integrity, humility, and excellence. Indeed, these characteristics appeared to be common amongst our chosen entrepreneurs’ success stories, and attributes I aspire to embody both in my project work and in future endeavours.

Through studying the enterprise capabilities in a real-life context, I learned that in addition to these skills, discovering and pursuing your passion and purpose is what makes your story memorable (for potential employers and business partners) and meaningful (for the people you serve).

STEP Workshops: Offering Professional Development and Critical Skills

By Siobhan Ali

Project: “How do we develop critical thinking in practice for S3-S6 pupils?”

As well as working in a group on a particular project, the Summer Teams Enterprise Programme also includes six workshops designed to develop entrepreneurial skills. When embarking on the internship, I was grateful for the opportunity to gain and hone skills to boost my critical thinking and employability. While initially uncertain about what these workshops would entail exactly, I was pleasantly surprised by how informative and useful these have been.

The workshops kicked off by discussing “Reflection” which was a solid place to start as it instilled effective practices from the onset. I came across the “Gibbs Reflective Cycle” which involves extensively analysing your past experiences and identifying what you learned as a result and how to improve in the future.   While this is important when launching your own project or business, it can also prove invaluable when applying to internships and jobs. It can support discussions about your experiences in cover letters, applications, CVs and interviews. Effective reflection also ensures you go beyond a surface level understanding of your roles and responsibilities and basic acknowledgment of the transferable skills gained.

This workshop also helped me ensure I get the most out of the Enterprise Project; noting what skills and gaps in knowledge I currently possess and what I would like to accomplish during the course of the internship. With a clearer understanding of how to chart my progress and development, I can also apply this model to any future jobs. Ironically, even this blog post is a means for me to apply my reflection skills.

Adaptation of Gibb’s Reflective Cycle

Week 2’s workshop focused on “Decision making and critical reflection” and strongly correlated with the work we were conducting in our smaller project teams. One of the most crucial lessons from this workshop was the concept of “Issue Trees”. As someone who enjoys an organised and methodological approach to problem-solving, I really enjoyed this technique as a way of identifying key factors and issues and breaking down our project into manageable chunks. I, therefore, broached the subject of including an Issue Tree in our presentation to our project sponsor as a way of explaining the thought-processes behind our decisions.

This also closely links to Week 3’s workshop on “Opportunity recognition and evaluation” which not only encourages creating effective solutions to problems but also promotes realistic thinking. It is important to consider how feasible and useful an idea actually is and consider factors such as costs, necessity etc.

Smoothly transitioning into the following week’s workshops on “Creativity and innovation” which advocates for designing unique ideas to meet client and market needs. This is an enterprise skill I was able to apply when pitching and designing the STEP blog: I identified a potential gap in the market which could be of interest to others.

In addition to this, the workshop highlighted the importance of incorporating key components such as equality in each aspect of your project. In light of current global discussions on diversity and inclusion, this develops crucial professional and personal skills.

Example of how an Issue Tree can be used to tackle a client’s problem

With only two weeks left to go with the project. I am looking forward to gaining a better idea of effective leadership tactics and learning how to successfully and concisely communicating in a team. These workshops will undoubtedly continue to further my growth and development. I cannot recommend STEP enough for students wishing to develop crucial and transferrable skills.

Welcome!

Welcome to the STEP Blog! This platform shares the experiences of individuals participating in the University of St Andrews’ Summer Teams Enterprise Programme. From students and sponsors to project managers and the STEP coordinator team, you can learn first-hand the wonderful work being carried out by the St Andrews community. Stay tuned for future posts!