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Students face up to a dragons' den
  1. Lindsay Brooke


The entrepreneurship of students at Nottingham vet school was put to the test when they entered the school's own ‘dragons’ den'. Scrutiny of students' business acumen is part of the teaching programme at Nottingham, explains Lindsay Brooke

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Lindsay Brooke is a media relations manager at the University of Nottingham

TEN teams of fourth-year veterinary students had the opportunity to pitch their ideas on how to rescue an imaginary veterinary practice from failure as part of an innovative teaching programme. Their strategy, financial forecasts and funding proposals were put to the ‘dragons’ in the hope of finding backers for their business proposals.

Business teaching at Nottingham veterin-ary school is delivered within the personal and professional skills module, which aims to equip vet students to become effective members of a practice team. The vet school believes it is important that its students understand how their actions, as qualified veterin-ary surgeons, will affect the profitability of the practice in which they are employed.

The teaching, over two semesters, incorporates aspects of strategy, finance, marketing, management and entrepreneurship. The business training culminated this year in a one-day business game mentored by experienced practitioners from the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) and industry leaders.

SPVS president-elect Richard Holborow was a mentor for one part of the day. He said, ‘It was a stunningly well-thought-out and well-delivered day, of which the “dragons’ den” was one part. I found the event tremendously exciting and I believe that the educational value of the day was fantastic.'

Students' challenge

The students had to analyse the current performance of the fictitious practice, consider their strategy, provide financial forecasts and put together a proposal for funding the newly acquired business. They had to decide whether to continue the business as a mixed practice or to sell part of it to focus on small animal work.

Their proposals were presented to an intimidating panel of potential investors. The business plan had to withstand 10 minutes of searching questions. These included questions about delivering the new strategy to staff, devising a stock management system, creating a ‘30-second sell’, and dealing with telephone calls from clients.

Asking the questions were: (from left) Peter Wells, who retired from his position as global head of research and development for Novartis Animal Health in 2008; Chris Jagger, director of estates at the University of Nottingham; Phil Adcock, an independent financial adviser; Arwel Griffiths, a business and marketing consultant with over 27 years' experience in industry; and Karen Braithwaite, director of academic support and administration at the vet school

Members of ‘Vet Equity’, the winning team, along with their tutors

Asking the difficult questions were ‘dragons’ with experience in the veterinary profession, management, marketing and financial consultancy. Richard Holborow said: ‘I was seriously impressed. This module from Nottingham will make these students better employees, and for some of them it will have sparked an interest in practice ownership that may have a profound influence on their careers.’

Another SPVS mentor, Ewan McNeill, from Castle Veterinary Centre in Nottingham, said: ‘It really was a huge success in every way. I didn't realise I would get such a buzz from it, and everyone – students, staff and mentors alike – were on a real adrenaline high all day. I had a fantastic team and I got a lot out of it myself.’

‘Dragon’ and management consultant Arwel Griffiths said: ‘I thought the teams were very good indeed. Most had understood the key issues and had clearly put a great deal of thought into their approach, and delivered their points with confidence. The best teams managed to hit the right balance between having a clear and attractive proposition for financial investors and outlining the steps they would take in the business to turn the performance around and create value. All seemed to have a very significantly greater grasp of business issues than I had at their age!’

What students learned

Student Kevin Spencerlayh, said: ‘This experience puts us ahead of most vets out there. The business game was really good, and it brought together everything we had learned in the module this year. The “dragons’ den” was really good fun. The mentors were really helpful and having them there was a real boost.' Toby Trimble, a member of the winning student team, ‘Vet Equity’, added: ‘The business game gave me a valuable insight into the running of a veterinary practice and the input from our SPVS member was extremely useful.’

Jamie Meagor, another student, said: ‘The exercise really put into play everything that we learned throughout the business skills module, and it was a great opportunity to practise my public speaking and presentation skills.’ The help from the mentors was also appreciated – Naomi Ragsdell said of her team's mentor: ‘He gave us lots of insights into the realities of running a practice and how much things actually cost. The whole day, along with what we have learned in the module, has really enlightened me on the business of veterinary practices.’

Liz Mossop, the module convenor and a lecturer, said: ‘This was a busy, yet fun day, which helped the students to understand how veterinary practices function as businesses. We hope this will help our students as they graduate and enter the veterinary industry. Skills such as these should help them to stand out as truly all-round competent veterinary surgeons.’

Nottingham's business day is to be repeated in 2011 with input from the SPVS.

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