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Entrepreneurship & Social Enterprise | The Careers Service Entrepreneurship & Social Enterprise – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

Enterprising Oxford

Starting your own business, social enterprise or charity is a career option open to all academic backgrounds, and for in sector of the economy. Don’t be put off if you think you don’t have all the skills (e.g. financial accounting, building a website etc). There’s lots of help available with any and all aspects of starting an organisation, both while you’re here at Oxford, and after you complete your course. Another way to access those skills is to join up with others and “co-found” your new business, social enterprise, or charity.

Big shout-out here for Enterprising Oxford website – THE go-to website to start your investigation of this exciting world.

Entrepreneurship might suit you if you like being in charge, influencing other people, taking risks, making things happen and are adventurous, assertive, ambitious, and motivated.


  • Independence to follow ideas and ambitions
  • Geographical flexibility to suit your life
  • Control over the environment in which you work
  • The successes and rewards are all yours
  • Choice in the work that you do
  • Satisfaction in making the impact you want
  • Opportunities for significant growth


  • Often low/no income early-on
  • No guaranteed salary, sick pay, paid leave
  • Set-up costs: rent, equipment, insurance etc.
  • Inherent risks of failure
  • Can be hard to separate work from home life
  • Initially, lack of interaction with a big team
  • Accountability – it’s all on you
Types of job

The different types of self-employment can be broadly summarised as sole-trading, freelancing, and starting your own company, charity or social enterprise. Entrepreneurship comes in different sizes too – from a sideline to another job, to a smaller ‘lifestyle’ business or ‘cottage industry’, to a ‘scalable’ business with big plans for growth.


  • No organisation to set up, just register with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) as self-employed
  • No need for formal accounts, just keep your own records for a quarterly and/or annual HMRC self-assessment form.
  • You keep all the profits, but if you lose money, it comes directly out of your pocket.
  • Usually used for informal or sporadic work with low liabilities.


See our guide to Freelancing if you’re planning to win contracts from clients to deliver work as an individual. Many freelancers are sole-traders, or have set up a company, but some choose other ways of working (such as through an Umbrella Company).

Starting a company

  • Need to choose a legal business structure (usually as a limited company)
  • Register with Companies House, file accounts, send an annual return (often involves using an accountant), register for VAT (only over a certain level of takings)
  • The general benefit of starting a company is that it protects your assets as an individual: if the company loses money your assets are safe as a director
  • Company accounts published through Companies House

Starting a charity or social enterprise

  • Different structures to decide upon: a cooperative, a community interest company (a special type of limited company), a charity or charitable incorporated organisation, an unincorporated association or an industrial and provident society.
  • Some require registering at Companies House, some through the Charities Commission.
  • Requires same diligence and detail as starting a company, but in the case of a charity you look to fundraise for your costs, and for a social enterprise you look to use your profits for a social good.
Entry points

Many students who become entrepreneurs follow one of the following routes to get there:

  1. Use the support services here in Oxford to prepare to launch their idea as they finish their course. See the skills and experience section below for more about this.
  2. Use external support services, such as other organisations, incubators, national charities, or regional support groups after they graduate and prepare to launch their idea in their first year or two after they finish their course. See the external resources section below for more about this.
  3. Take a paid role in a related area of work to gain knowledge, money, contacts and experience before launching their own idea in the future.
  4. Take a job in an area which isn’t directly related, but using their free time to develop their idea as a sideline, which may develop into full-time entrepreneurship in the future.

Information for international students

Many international students will find that the terms of their student visa prohibit self-employment or starting a business. If you do work on a self employed basis you will be committing an immigration offence.  This could lead to a refusal of future visa applications or removal from the UK.

This also means that you cannot take freelance work where you would have to invoice the company or client for the work that you do.  If you get offered freelance work you should ask the company if they can offer you a contract as an employee for the time you’re working for them. See further guidance from UKCISA on what kind of work you can do during your studies.

Graduate entrepreneur visa

International (i.e., non-EEA) students who have completed a degree in the last 12 months are currently able to apply for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneurship Visa.

At Oxford, these are coordinated by The Careers Service, and you can read more about how to apply for the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa at Oxford.

 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa at Oxford.

The Graduate Entrepreneur Visa is different to the standard Tier 1 Enterpreneur visa (you don’t need £50,000 in investment funds to apply!).

Skills and experience

Core skills required

Essentially, any start-up needs three overall skills: you need people to:

  1. Build it
  2. Sell it
  3. Count it

If you are doing this alone, then you will need all the skills in broadly equal measure – to build the product or service, to sell and market the service, and then to ‘do the books’ (to run the accounts). If you’re co-founding an organisation, you might choose to work with people with complementary skills – not just your mates.

The following are the kind of core skills that are seen in many successful people who work for themselves. Everyone is likely to be stronger in some areas than others.

  • Willingness to take risks and revise your vision
  • Ability to work without direction and confidence to make decisions
  • Acceptance of a degree of uncertainty
  • Natural networker
  • Energy and resilience
  • Creativity and adaptability
  • Ability to solve problems and learn from mistakes
  • Self-discipline and self-motivation
  • Passion and belief in your project


In addition to these core skills, most entrepreneurs will also start to acquire the following:

  • Role models or mentors
  • Partners and collaborators to bring skills or resources you don’t have, or training to gain them yourself
  • A personal support network
  • Understanding of your market and any competitors
  • A ‘business plan’ for the project
  • Some money to fund the initial stages of the project
  • Financial estimates for the money you will need and potential funding sources
  • Credibility and knowledge in your field (to encourage investors and supporters)
  • Physical resources needed – desk space/workshop space/equipment

Building your skills at Oxford

Entrepreneurship Portal

Getting a job

If you’ve gained the skills, researched the concept, gathered any needed collaborators, and honed your business plan, you might be ready to take that last step from ‘someone with an idea’ to ‘self-employed entrepreneur’.


An incubator usually is a free or low-rent office space which gives you (and your team if you have one) a place to work alongside other entrepreneurs. They might offer training, mentoring or networking alongside just the office space. There are business incubators in lots of cities and towns, but sometimes you have to fit certain criteria to be accepted by one. There are also ‘pre-incubators’, which aim to support budding entrepreneurs before they’ve really decided on their business. You don’t need to start your business in an incubator (plenty of people don’t), but it might be worth looking into if some of the benefits seem useful to you.

Accelerator programmes

An accelerator programme’s main aim is to help start-ups get bigger quicker. Usually they involve ‘seed funding’ – the accelerator programme makes a small investment for a small stake in the company. This money helps to fund you while you get set up. The accelerator is invested (literally!) in helping you get big and to grow their investment. They’re much more common with tech companies, and with ideas which have the idea of getting big in their DNA. You don’t need to use an accelerator (plenty of people don’t) but it might be worth looking into if it seems to fit what you want to do. There are fewer accelerators than incubators, but they’re still found worldwide.

Check out our summary of accelerators and incubators, funding and more in our ‘External Resources’ section. Funding, incubation and other opportunities changes all the time. To keep up to date, remember to sign up for email newsletters or similar from any useful external websites.

Starting your business

Fundamentally, you just follow the steps for the country you’re starting up in. In the UK, there’s a walkthrough on the government website, or use the following links:

Finding jobs & internships

Getting a job or internship in a startup is a good way to learn about how businesses work, and whether a startup environment might be right for you. They can vary widely, from paid roles, to volunteering, from high glamour to hard graft. Check out our external links below to find some useful job hunting websites to get you started.

There are also schemes which aim to teach and train potential entrepreneurs while they work for a new enterprise, such as the New Entrepreneurs Foundation programme, but you could also take a job in any relevant sector and develop your business plan as you build confidence, contacts, credibility and capital.

Information for international students

Remember, if you’re on a student visa, you may find you are prohibited from self-employment or starting a business.

Our resources


The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Start your own coaching business, Entrepreneur Press and Monroe Mann
  • Start it up, Luke Johnson
  • How to write a Business Plan, Brian Finch
  • The one page business plan, Jim Horan
  • Brilliant Business Plan, Kevan Williams
  • Brilliant Employability Skills, Frances Trought
  • Velocity, Ajaz Ahmed & Stefan Olander

Programmes & services

External resources

Guides to setting up

Incubators, accelerators & support

More Oxford support


Unemployed / underemployed

  • New Enterprise Allowance is a new government scheme to support those starting up if you or your partner are currently receiving of Jobseekers’ Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance or you are receiving Income Support. Gives a weekly allowance worth up to £1,274 over 26 weeks
  • The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme explained – The Princes Trust Enterprise Programme: start up support, mentoring and finance for those aged 18-30 and unemployed or not working more than 16 hours a week.
  • Bright Ideas Trust  – charity support for start ups, working with StartUp Loans

Jobs & internships


  • The Startup Magazine – The StartUp Magazine has articles and content for entrepreneurs and start-up fans

Social enterprise

  • Social Enterprise UK – Social Enterprise UK has lots of advice on starting up, articles and a great job vacancy site too for jobs in social enterprise
  • Skoll World Forum – Skoll World Forum on social enterprise is coming in April 2015…
  • Marmalade…and the fringe events to Skoll World Forum, Marmalade (formerly OxfordJam), are also free to attend (13-17th April)

Sector specific

  • JLAB – Incubator from John Lewis to encourage retail startups
  • Distill Ventures – An accelerator programme for startups in the alcoholic drinks industry
This information was last updated on 10 August 2017.
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Recent blogs about Entrepreneurship & Social Enterprise

A Conversation on Entrepreneurship

Posted on behalf of Oxford Entrepreneurs. Blogged by Julia Hilton on May 3, 2018.

A Conversation on Entrepreneurship
with John Griffin, Founder of Addison Lee

  • When: Tuesday 15 May 2018, 14.00-16.00
  • Where: Oxford Foundry, 3-5 Hythe Bridge Street, Oxford, OX1 2EW (near Oxford Station and the Saïd Business School)

Members of the Oxford Entrepreneurs community are invited to join Founder of Addison Lee, John Griffin, Professor Colin Mayer, Fellow in Management Studies at the Saïd Business School, and members of Oxford Entrepreneurs for a Conversation on Entrepreneurship at Oxford’s newly founded entrepreneurial centre, the Oxford Foundry, at 2pm on 15 May.

The event is free to attend, but space is limited so please register your interest here. You will get the chance to speak with John during the Q&A session which we hope will be helpful to your entrepreneurship journey.

Oxford Entrepreneurs will also be in attendance along with members of Wadham’s student and alumni communities. This event is jointly organised by Oxford Entrepreneurs and Wadham college.

Design thinking and innovation skills – free workshops in Oxford

Posted on behalf of Innovation Forum Oxford. Blogged by Rebecca Ehata on April 9, 2018.

Innovation Forum Oxford is offering two fantastic opportunities to explore design thinking and innovation skills. You don’t need any prior knowledge of the topics to take part in either event, as training will be provided in both sessions. Participants with a broad range of backgrounds are encouraged to bring their diverse perspectives to the table. Attendance at both sessions is  strongly recommended.

Oxford as a Future City – Design thinking workshop

  • When: Saturday 14 April, 09.00-18.30
  • Where: The Careers Service
  • Book: Register and book your ticket via Eventbrite

Explore the future of Oxford as a connected city with particular focus on transportation and autonomous vehicles by participating in a challenge-led skill building activity. The workshop aims to frame and tackle the challenges from a human-centric angle and engage and harness the support of the full spectrum of local human capital. See Design Thinking Workshop for more information.

Innovation in Child Health Hackathon

  • When: Saturday 12 May, 09.00-18.30
  • Where: The Careers Service
  • Book: Register and book your ticket via Eventbrite

This hackathon builds on a recognised need to stimulate paediatric innovation amongst science entrepreneurs, academics, healthcare providers and other stakeholders. Join Innovation Forum Oxford to get involved in solving real-life child health challenges at an event organised in collaboration with a children’s health charity and a product design and development consultancy. For further information, see Innovation in Child Health Hackathon.

Both events will be held at Oxford University Careers Service, 56 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6PA. Register for each event through the links given above.

Student Consultancy TT18 – Deadline this Sunday!

Blogged by Lili Pickett-Palmer on April 4, 2018.

Applications close this Sunday 8th April – apply now!

To apply please search “Student Consultancy Trinity Term 2018” under the opportunities tab of CareerConnect.

For further information, and for mandatory assessment and training dates, please visit The Student Consultancy webpage.

Get Real Consultancy Experience this Trinity Term!

Blogged by Lili Pickett-Palmer on March 28, 2018.

The Student Consultancy is a unique opportunity to gain consulting experience…

The Student Consultancy provides you with an exceptional insight into consultancy practice. Across a term, you will work in a team on a real-life business challenge for a client organisation.

Past students have worked with clients including: The Oxford Boat Race, Yellow Submarine, Belu Water, Eco Concierge, Eve, Happen, IBM, Minervation, Modern Art Oxford, Oxfam, Oxford Limited, OxHub, OxFizz, Oxford City Council, Oxford University Library Services, Pegasus Theatre and the Playhouse Theatre plus a range of start-ups.

… but it isn’t just about consulting!

The Student Consultancy can help you prove or improve a wide range of employability skills, some consultancy but also transferable skills including team work, communication, problem solving and business and customer awareness skills. These will be helpful in a huge range of future careers. Many of the students who take part actually do want to be a Management Consultant – which is great, but not a prerequisite! In other words, we don’t mind what you are studying as long as you have the right attitude and interest. Past TSC participants have ranged from 1st years to DPhils and from English to Economics students – with everything in between.

The Careers Service tries to match you to a client in a sector of interest – to provide experience for future applications. Whether you want a career in museums or marketing, or an insight into IT or charities, The Student Consultancy can help…

Applications close 8th April – Apply now!

We run The Student Consultancy each term – applications for the Trinity Term 2018 Student Consultancy CLOSE ON 8th APRIL.

We strongly advise applying as soon as you can, as the application window will close once we have a certain number of participants.

To apply please search “Student Consultancy Trinity Term 2018” under the opportunities tab of CareerConnect.

For further information, and for mandatory assessment and training dates, please visit The Student Consultancy webpage.

Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa Endorsement – apply now!

Blogged by Timothy Collins on March 13, 2018.

If you have an idea for a business, have a venture currently in development, or are piloting a new concept, you may be eligible to apply for our endorsement under the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa scheme, which allows non-EEA nationals who are graduates or post-doctoral researchers to reside in the UK in order to develop their business.

Previously endorsed businesses have included:

  • Social enterprises and not-for-profits
  • Technology start-ups
  • Funding generation and investment organisations
  • Digital education tools
  • Energy research

The University of Oxford can endorse up to thirty applicants per year. Calls for applications are held four times a year: once in each term, and once during the Long Vacation. The next deadline for applications is Monday 19 March at 12 noon. Applications are now open, and you can apply by email to

You can find more information and details of how to apply on our visa page or on CareerConnect. Alternatively you can email

All applications must be submitted through CareerConnect or emailed to by Monday 19 March at 12 noon.

NB: Interviews will take place on Tuesday 20 March between 09:00 and 13:00. Applicants will be notified of their interview time by email or phone on Monday 19 March between 14:00 and 16:00.

This page displays current related blog posts. If none display, you can still stay up-to-date with our newsletter sent regularly to all Oxford students.

Older posts can be found in our archive of past blogs.