A workshop on…business

Yes, the title is correct. A convinced classicist, archaeologist, wannabe museologist, today had the crazy idea of going on a workshop in the business school. Actually, it was not such a drama – though the fact that we were in a room on the 10th floor sounded like a good test for our resilience to the idea of enter the world of economics!
And yet, all the participants stuck to it, and a bunch of humanities PhDs and early career researchers successfully attended the AHRC “Creating social and commercial value from your research” workshop, part of the “Afterlife of Heritage Research” training programme.
The purpose of this full-day workshop was to think about potential business outcomes for humanities researches, and we were encouraged to look at our projects from a new perspective: that of a social entrepreneur.

Martin Henery from the Manchester Enterprise Centreintroduced us to the main concepts of the day: how successful business work, how to better understand what value we can offer to our potential customers, and how our research can be developed into a real world context. Moreover, he encouraged us to think about the risks in running a business and how we can avoid them, by using a tool such as the business model canvas. The discussion on this model led us to reflect on what we have to offer and to whom we are offering this value. In every stage, we were reminded that if we have to work in a real world context, we must be as much precise as possible in identifying the people affected by certain issues (whereas we are speaking of political, economic, social or technological changes on a wider scale or a more local one) and reflecting on how we can help solving these issues.
Three entrepreneurs spoke of their different businesses, and this group of speakers emphasised diverse aspects of the process.
  • Ruth Daniels, from Un-Convention, clearly demonstrated that a lot of enthusiasm, organising skills and a wise use of social media are key elements for success. In her presentation emerged also the importance of creating a strong community around a project, which led then to a debate on the role of volunteers in such organisations.
  • Daniel Silver, from the Social Action & Research Foundation, discussed the added value that researchers can bring to social enterprises, and he reflected on the resilience needed to start a business and get through the first period. His presentation shed light on how research can actually contribute to understand real world problems, and how our research training can be used in a business context.
  • Finally, Jayne Lawton, from Grobox Gardens, emphasised how a social business can help the local community, both by improving the general living environment, but also the personal lives of many people. Her presentation was again full of passion and dedication, alongside with a careful business planning that included a great knowledge of the context into which she was operating and the needs of her customers.

Overall, the three speakers gave a well-round overview of key virtues needed by any successful entrepreneur: enthusiasm, passion, dedication and resilience, and a great attention for the contexts into which they were operating, the resources they could rely on, and the problems they were trying to address.

In the afternoon, we went on trying to analyse the issues we are faced with nowadays, and reflecting on how our researches may be inserted into these contexts. What values can our research offer? And to who? What challenges are we forced to face? What are the factors that are influencing the world around us – and our potential customers? These were the constant questions we were debating around – and the fact that we probably got lost in our own worlds and researches, rather than finding a middle ground, challenged us even more to think about the values we could offer, and how to propose them to a wide range of stakeholders.
In conclusion, this workshop surely improved our awareness of the issues to consider when starting a business, and it also helped us understand what kind of business can be linked to a research in the humanities.

In the end, the trip to the Business school was then a successful one, during which I gained a lot of new information and ideas – and though I still feel more comfortable spending my evenings reading Herodotus rather than getting lost into business plans, I must admit that the view from the 10thfloor was also pretty good and it would be nice getting back there.

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