At the Labour Party Conference in September, panellists from the world of business and politics told the audience at the Student Entrepreneurs Question Time (SEQT) event that technological advances meant today’s entrepreneurs have more available opportunity than ever. However, to succeed they must be prepared to fail, remain ambitious without spending beyond their means and seek expert advice when faced with more complicated challenges.
The event was hosted by the National Association of College & University Entrepreneurs (NACUE) and Santander, to enable would-be entrepreneurs to discuss key issues and challenges. Similar events were later scheduled for the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham and the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Glasgow.
According to research by Santander, some 80,000 UK university students combine studying with running their own business (“earning while learning”), with a quarter of these hoping to generate a wage for themselves from their business after graduating.
Students at SEQT appealed for increased practical support from the government and their universities, for example, through mentoring schemes. Other suggestions included making vacant office buildings available to university start-ups and for extra-curricular entrepreneurial activity to be assessed as part of degree courses.
Johnny Luk, NACUE chief executive said: "More students are setting up businesses and choosing to be self-employed than ever before. They’re engaging in activities beyond the classroom, such as entrepreneurial societies, and developing their soft skills, which is not always reflected in an exam grade. Students often find it difficult to engage with politicians. We work to advocate for these students, the dreamers, the strivers and the innovators, opening up more meaningful engagement channels between young people and politicians.”
NACUE directly supports more than 200 entrepreneurial societies at universities and colleges throughout the UK, while organising national events for students, educators and professionals, and seeking to influence government policy.
Many fantastic businesses continue to be born and supported on campuses throughout the UK. Post-graduate student Katerina Kimmorley, co-founder of Pollinate Energy, is the reigning London School of Economics Student Entrepreneur of the Year. Her fledgling social business provides solar lighting and other sustainable, affordable products to people living in urban slums in India, where more than 300m people live without access to energy.
Selected from a pool of 2,000 students and alumni, Pollinate Energy was commended for its impressive growth during its first 18 months. According to LSE: “A strong commitment to sustainability and inspiring entrepreneurial potential in others was also noted: local people are employed as ‘Pollinators’ to run their own mini enterprise and sell various products in their own communities.”
Katerina said: “LSE has supported Pollinate Energy from when it was just an idea to today when we are providing solar lights to people in more than 500 urban slums. It’s empowering to have the support of LSE. This year we’ll be replicating our model in a second Indian city to show it can be done in the 53 other cities in India that have more than one million inhabitants. Winning this award is a wonderful demonstration of LSE’s commitment to the practical application of research at the nexus of two of the world’s greatest challenges – poverty and climate change.”
Recently there has been a surge in the number of graduates choosing to work for themselves as soon as they leave university. Rather than becoming employees they are choosing self-employment. Armed with their entrepreneurial skills they are turning their talents and passions into businesses, the most popular of which being website design and mobile app development.
It seems graduates are plagued by gloomy thoughts of leaving higher education to compete for the restricted number of jobs available. The latest graduate unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that around 9% of recent graduates were out of work, while a significant 47% were forced to take ‘non-graduate’ jobs after leaving university.
So, with this in mind it’s no wonder start-ups are on the increase, after all, who wants to job hunt when you can be your own boss so easily, especially with advancements in mobile and online technology, which allows you to start and run businesses from anywhere.
Small-business owners can now tap into a global marketplace of highly skilled freelancers and run a flexible workforce, with flexibility to hire more staff on a temporary or one-off project basis without the overheads or office space requirements that come with taking on employees.
With that in mind there really has never been a better time to start a business, and it seems Britain’s young graduates are doing just that with the number of recent graduates registering as freelancers or micro-business owners increasing by 97% in the last twelve months. The number of male graduate entrepreneurs was up 110% and female graduates up 94%.
Considering the average cost to start a business from scratch is £632*, for a graduate leaving university with little or no start-up funds, the prospect of going it alone doesn’t feel as daunting as the days when you had to ask your local bank manager for a business loan. With low start-up costs and armed with all of the tools to get a business off the ground, the graduate entrepreneur is here to stay.
* Statistic from a recent survey of 1,000 start-ups by PeoplePerHour
Blog supplied by Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder and CEO at PeoplePerHour (@PeoplePerHour)
Research published by StartUp Britain, carried out during its recent tour of Britain’s universities and further education colleges, suggests 63% of students “are now looking to start a business”. More freedom (29%) and wanting to “be their own boss” (29%) are the key reasons.
The research, based on feedback from 400 students aged 15-24, also suggests that a fifth of respondents believe starting their own business will be a route to higher earnings, but only 4% believe self-employment is their best way to avoid certain unemployment. A quarter of respondents hope to start a business in the technology sector.
Tellingly, more than 70% of respondents cited the laptop as “the most essential piece of equipment for starting up”, followed by a mobile phone, but the preference for working remotely or from home really is popular, as only 0.3% believe that “having an office was important”.
The survey was conducted as part of the 2012 StartUp Britain bus tour, which “aimed to inspire and support young people who are interested in starting their own business”. The tour stopped off at 40-plus colleges and universities in Britain (“from Plymouth to Cardiff to Edinburgh and everywhere in between”).
Should we find any of these figures surprising? Not at all. As a recent piece on Start Up Donut pointed out, graduates are now four-times more likely to be unemployed shortly after leaving university than they would have been six years ago. At the end of 2011, 18.9% of those who graduated in the previous two years were unemployed. Not good, but not as bad as the beginning of 2010 when the figure peaked at 20.7% (source: The Guardian).
Arguably, the very idea of being a successful entrepreneur is more appealing and more achievable than ever to young graduates. They’re inspired by the success of other young people who’ve started and grown enormously successful ventures, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a host of other extremely rich young entrepreneurs. Business reality TV programmes such as The Apprentice have also played a part, of course. Business is certainly not as naff or nerdy as it might once have been on campus.
Thanks to technology, businesses can now be started very easily and quickly, at little cost and with relatively little effort required to run them (if you come up with the right idea, of course). This site features numerous case studies and profiles of many fantastic businesses started by young people, often by uni mates who go on to become successful business partners.
A few weeks ago we published another very interesting blog entitled “What is being done at British universities to inspire budding entrepreneurs?” that, based on a Viking commissioned survey of 1,000 students, suggested that 70% of students found “the prospect of starting a business appealing, given the difficulty of the job market”.
The piece also shed light on some interesting support programmes, namely BaseCamp at Bristol University, The Hatchery at Sheffield Hallam University and HeadStart at Nottingham Trent University. There are many other such programmes in other seats of learning in the UK – and long may they continue.
Since launch, the Donut sites have also been a highly popular source of information for students and lecturers on university campuses and in schools and colleges, too. The challenge for government, universities, colleges, StartUp Britain and our very own website is to make sure that graduates get the information and support they need to help them start and grow their own successful businesses.
Mark Williams is editor of the Start Up Donut
A new trend is emerging at universities across the UK: students are avoiding the struggle of trying to get a graduate job by embarking on a route to self-employment while studying. According to a recent survey of 1,000 students commissioned by Viking:
While it may appear naïve or daunting for 18-25 year olds to start their own businesses without any experience and alongside the pressures of studying, the latter three statistics reveal key entrepreneurial traits. Some of the most successful businesses are run on a blend of energy, fresh thinking, enthusiasm, perseverance and discipline – attributes many students have in large measures.
Young entrepreneurs face the same challenges as any start-up, such as obtaining finance and establishing a customer base, but the government is getting behind this tide of budding business owners. David Cameron recently declared: "The future of our economy depends on a new generation of entrepreneurs coming up with ideas, resolving to make them a reality and having the vision to create wealth and jobs."
Support programmes are sprouting up across several university campuses:
Successful products of these programmes include Sam Piranty, who benefitted from BaseCamp funding to set up film production company InHouse Media, and Adam Roberts, who runs his business Go Dine from a hot desk at HeadStart.
“The support we receive from the team is excellent and it's good to share your ideas with other entrepreneurs based here,” Adam comments. “I have monthly meetings with a mentor, which sharpens my focus and helps clarify my thoughts. We’re fortunate that the university was forward-thinking enough to establish HeadStart. There should be more schemes like this for entrepreneurs. If you’re inexperienced in business, it is almost too difficult to set up without this kind of backing."
Universities are hot beds for entrepreneurial ambition and students should be encouraged to cultivate their ideas into commercial ventures. Nurturing young talent will doubtless produce a host of unique products and services and give the economy a much-needed shake-up.
BCSG creates, distributes and supports value-adding products and services to small businesses through financial institutions. For more information visit www.bcsg.com.
We’ve all heard the news that times are tough for graduates, suffering from cut-backs in jobs and graduate schemes due to the ever-present state of the economy. While bad for ex-students, this is potentially good news for employers as there is a massive pool of keen and well-educated young people, ready to bite your arm off for a job, or even just work experience.
In some respects, these young people are blank canvases that can be moulded to fit your way of working. And, with more degree courses than ever before including a work-placement, plus the majority of students having to supplement their income with a part-time job, it’s likely that employment isn’t a completely alien concept.
If your business is in the fledgling stages, taking on experienced members of staff might be a risky expense you can’t afford. What graduates lack in experience, they make up for in brains, quick-thinking and a fresh attitude. The majority are eager to learn and will cost a lot less than somebody that has earned their stripes following many years on the career ladder. If it’s just a placement you’re offering, potentially, graduates won’t cost a penny – although I have to say, I am not particularly supportive of the current trend for abusing the situation and getting graduates to work for long periods, for nothing.
There is funding available. In the North East, for example, Graduates for Business, offers £70 a week towards the salary of a graduate for the first 15 weeks of their employment. Specifically aimed at smaller businesses, qualifying SMEs must have less than 250 employees and be able to pay new graduates a minimum of £14,000 a year. For information about graduate funding in your area, visit www.businesslink.gov.uk.
For a short-term commitment, a placement can provide a mutually beneficial exchange between employers and graduates – particularly in the summer holidays when those that are still studying have a lot of spare time on their hands. Depending on the length of the placement, this doesn’t necessarily have to be paid – especially if it’s over the summer break – however be realistic, if you take someone on for six months and don’t pay them a bean, then that’s a little unfair!
Rate my placement is a website for undergraduates looking for work experience and employers offering internships – like a job dating agency. Students will ‘rate your placement’ so it’s important that if you get involved, you provide good levels of training. Placements can be anything from a few months to over a year.
Giving these young people a chance could be good for your business and will help dent the massive levels of graduate unemployment. If all goes well, you never know, you might find just the right person to take your company on to the next level.
A recent feature in The Guardian ran with the headline: ‘Graduates warned of record 70 applicants for every job’ The next line went: ‘Class of 2010 told to consider flipping burgers or shelf stacking to build skills’ Was I the only one thinking flipping burgers and shelf stacking is a flippin’ great way to earn part time income whilst building a business? For all graduates considering self-employment, here are five tips along with stories of those who’ve been there and done it.
If you’re an undergraduate and looking at the job market with dread, start taking small steps now to earning an income. Is your degree in languages? Become a private tutor via sites like First Tutors or sell your skills to business through the likes of Lingo 24 and Language123.com. Are you good at making things? Make a few more and upload to sites such as Folksy.com and MyEhive.com so you can sell to a wider audience. Kane Towning started on the path to self-employment whilst at Leeds University and as soon as he graduated, became full time director of AIM Clubbing; an events company set up with two fellow students and friends.
There is plenty of help on offer whilst you’re studying – and still when you leave. Whilst studying, check to see if your College or Uni hosts an enterprise society; NACUE is a good source for this. Make the most of events, competitions and Awards hosted by National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship and Shell LiveWIRE and why not take on work experience with entrepreneurial upstarts so you can learn on the job via sites including Enternships and Gumtree.
Does starting a business seem a bit too daunting when you haven’t even left learning? Then pool your talent, join with friends and start that way. This is what the three amigos Oliver Sidwell, Ali Lindsay and Chris Wickson did when they came up with the idea for RateMyPlacement whilst studying at Loughborough University. After graduating, they all secured jobs and worked collectively on the business at nights and weekends. That was three years ago and the company is now a startling success.
To be sure of a wide market for your products and services, go global from the start. Technology enables you to do this with sites such as Odesk and elance.com allowing you to be found by customers around the world if you’re selling time and knowledge and having your own website (with good search engine optimisation) increases your chances of picking up overseas trade. In business, the world truly is your oyster and think of all the places you’ll get to travel to meet clients, and taste local culture!
I hear from many students who are running a business and getting much-needed help from parents whether it be rent-free accommodation or having a bookkeeper/mentor/telephone receptionist on tap who won’t expect a salary in return! Arthur Guy started a star solutions when he was 17, after working at an electronics store. He’s now completing a PhD at Sussex University so his Mum takes care of the day to day running of the business. Thanks, Mum!
Even if you don’t turn your business into a full time venture, the experience of being your own boss and showing you have the attitude and skills to make a living will look good on your CV and set you apart from those other 69 applicants.