Southampton Entrepreneur Society Fish on Toast: James Pursey

09 DEC 2010

Fish on Toast Entrepreneur SocietyIn this interview, James Pursey, president of the Southampton entrepreneur society Fish on Toast answers questions about his organization and the Southampton Apprentice competition. You can find episodes from this reality TV series online at

What, exactly, is Fish on Toast and why is it called that?

Fish on Toast is the entrepreneurs society at Southampton. Our mission is to  engage students all across the University in enterprise through the mediums of guest speakers and awesome competitions.

The name “Fish on Toast” came from its founding department Research and Innovation Services, they were tasked with creating the society and came up with the name whilst looking at the old Southampton logo (Shark on a square), there was an element of alcohol involved so I hear! Fish on Toast subsequently came to be run by students.

What is the Southampton Apprentice show about?

The Southampton Apprentice was born out of a want to engage as many different departments, societies and students as possible in entrepreneurship. We went with the BBC Apprentice model because people have heard of it and it is fairly straight forward to innovate into a short term competition. The show runs over a 4 week period in which 10 candidates are put through their paces in a series of enterprising challenges, from selling raffle tickets to creating a new marketing campaign for a confectionery product.

What do participants win?

The winner of The Southampton Apprentice gets the glory of being the champion, as well as the nice sum of £333 and advancement onto the regional competition where they can win a paid summer internship with BBC Dragon Doug Richard.

How many winners will there be?

There will be one winner of the Southampton Apprentice, and one overall Regional Champion.

Who is the show targeted at?

The show is mainly targeted at students in Southampton, but we would love to see it shown to a wider audience. We believe that in showing students how enterprising they can be at their Universities, and the fantastic opportunities available even before they leave school, that they will engage more entrepreneurial activities. I guess we are trying to create the biggest buzz about student entrepreneurship that Southampton has ever seen.

Who are your sponsors?

We had three sponsors for the competition, taking a task each and then allowing us to run the final independently.

  • The first round was sponsored by graduate recruitment kings Ernst & Young
  • The second by online bespoke suit design company A Suit That Fits
  • The third by retail giant Tesco.

How many applicants did you screen in order to choose participants?

In order to gain applications and awareness for the competition, we emailed all students in all major departments within the University. In total I believe 20,000 emails were sent. To apply students had to email us with a 140 character answer to the question “Why should you be the next Southampton Apprentice.” 10 candidates were chosen from those that applied.

What kind of lessons do you think the show teaches?

I think the show covers a large number of areas. In terms of business skills it assesses everything you can within such a short time period really; pitching, selling, management, leadership, innovation and marketing . . .

In terms of lessons perceived by the people that watch the programme, it shows that being enterprising whilst at university is not boring, it doesn’t have to negatively impact your studies and, most importantly, that anybody can do it.

The most common misconception with student enterprise is that you have to be doing a marketing or business degree to know what you are talking about. This is simply not true and the competition shows this by bringing together a whole host of students from varying degree programmes like English, maths, engineering and business.

How do you steer clear of the surreal and arbitrary nature of most reality shows (non-real world tasks, arbitrary judging, etc)?

Interesting question! The thing with all apprentice style competitions is that they are build around real world tasks, but they are exceptionally accelerated activities that would normally take a professional team months.  Our tasks are done in one afternoon, so clearly the judging has to reflect this.

This year we were not looking for a refined business professional as our entrepreneurial candidate, we were looking for someone that had the potential and the instinct to be successful in business. Essentially we were looking for a natural entrepreneur.

To prevent the judging being about the entertainment, or not really reflecting the true goings on of the task, there was always somebody watching the teams throughout the task that relayed what they saw onto the other judges (just like Nick and Karen on the main apprentice).

Over the series we had judges from different departments and organisations to ensure that all was kept fair. All supporting companies were asked to provide at least one person to sit on the judging panel, and the final even hosted representatives from NACUE who really know what it is to spot raw talent.

Since it was a TV show, it did require an element of entertainment, but we did this whilst keeping in touch with the aims of the competition, “Lord Sugar-esque” judging happened, and we even had a celebrity judge in the form of previous BBC Apprentice Semi Finalist James McQuillan.

Who do you hope to help people with the show?

We aim to help every student that has ever had a dream of being successful in business, or even just has an idea and doesn’t know where to go with it.

By showing how diverse we can be, our membership base has increased, we have raised awareness for student enterprise all over Southampton and are engaging a more diverse range of students than ever before.

What’s your background, James, and why did you decide to create the show?

I study Electronic Engineering. When I joined Fish on Toast I really thought it would just be a bunch of posh idiots drinking wine and talking about how rich their parents were, but as soon as I walked through the door I realised its nothing like this at all.

It’s a very relaxed, and exceptionally inspiring organization. I took advantage of every opportunity I could within the programme, and ultimately found myself in the role of President within 6 months of joining.

From that moment I wanted every single person in the university to experiance Fish on Toast at least once.

I figured if they went to one session and didn’t like it then fair enough, but everybody should have the opportunity. The show was created to do this at both a typical student level, and also a union level. So we engaged different enterprising societies such as SIFE ( and Ad Here ( and we worked with the media departments for press releases, radio updates and the fantastic production of the TV Show.

The radio station is called Surge (1287am and, the newspaper is called the Wessex Scene (, and the Fantastic TV side came from SUSU TV (

It really has been a showcase of how people that have never interacted before can pull together to impact thousands of people. It has gone so much better than we could have ever dreamed.