Here be dragons... how to bridge the gap between the world of work and academia

It's not everyday you get to 'send the elevator back down' as Kevin Spacey puts it. But once a year, I meet up with a team of fellow dragons to sit as part of a judging panel on the Elevator Pitch Programme students undertake as part of their 'Entrepreneurship and Creativity in Hospitality & Tourism' module.

There is is huge gulf between the world of academia and the world of work. In fact it's a key strand of work being conducted by our local Thames Valley Berkshire LEP. And I think Oxford Brookes have found a very creative way to address this.

Students at Oxford Brookes, not only get personal industry mentors, but as part of the module, get the chance to pitch a creative business concept to a bunch of us dragons. BTW — we bear no relation to the merciless TV panel who roast and toast applicants until they are stuttering, quivering, dripping wrecks. No, we aim to be constructive and fair and help shape the ideas whilst we are doing the questions at the end of each pitch.

Students had eight minutes exactly to pitch their new business concept. Then 6 minutes of questioning from Dragons — designed to tease out a deeper understanding of the research work undertaken and risks assessed in order for us to evaluate their pitch.

What became very apparent is that this process does expose weaknesses in some of the individuals. It sorts the wheat from the chaff. And by that I mean, it is very evident who has put in the work and who has tried to pull it out of a bag days before. I truly hope they blame no one other than themselves for their own failure and for wasting such a wondrous opportunity.

However, I couldn't help thinking, as a parent, what is it we have to do to get some kids to step up and discover themselves and their inner strengths. And I wonder if we parents are partly to blame, by doing too much for those - who should perhaps be taught to learn to 'do' for themselves. But maybe I am over thinking this or trying to apply a formulae to something that is possibly entirely random...

Thankfully, there were very few who didn't grasp the mettle. So we enjoyed a thoroughly incredible series of pitches by students who had leapt up to the plate. Not only had they grasped the opportunity, but they had really tested themselves and in doing so discovered incredible inner strengths. Strengths that will stand them in great stead as they move forward into that world of work. In fact all on my panel were absolutely convinced these students would go out and deliver their dreams.

For me, it was giving up one day of my time, to give a little back. And it is without doubt, one of the most satisfying things I've done for a while. There is no doubt that I too have grown as a result. Who could not help but stand back and be impressed at these students, hungry for life and hungry to make a difference.