Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is two-fold; first, to explore the Student Placements for Entrepreneurs in Education (SPEED) programme, which aims to help students gain real business start-up experience whilst at university and second to examine the impact of SPEED on the students. Design/methodology/approach ‐ For the first part of the paper, the author explores the SPEED programme in the context of "experiential learning". Second, the "critical incident technique" approach is explored and found to be a suitable approach towards obtaining "real-life" insights into students' business start-up experience. Findings ‐ The paper finds that the "experiential learning" approach and all "critical incidents" have been valuable learning experiences for the students on SPEED. SPEED has provided a platform for students to gain the experience, knowledge and confidence to either set up a business or use their new-found experiences to succeed in securing a job upon graduation. Research limitations/implications ‐ As this programme is delivered across 13 higher education institutions in the UK, there is a need for further research on SPEED and for comparisons to be drawn for future practice. Originality/value ‐ This paper provides an insight into student entrepreneurs within a university context, a relatively unexplored area. The results also indicate the value of "experience" and the "experiential learning" approach within an enterprise programme.