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What is being done at British universities to inspire budding entrepreneurs?

November 19, 2012 by John Davis

What is being done at British universities to inspire budding entrepreneurs?/university{{}}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:

  • 70% of students find the prospect of starting a business appealing given the difficulty of the job market at the moment
  • 90% aren’t afraid to take risks
  • 85% are dedicated to succeed in business, promising ‘never to give up’
  • 40% are prepared to sell personal belongings or fundraise to acquire enough capital to start a business.

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:

  • BaseCamp at Bristol University helps students to get their ideas off the ground by offering free office space, seed funding and a mentor programme.
  • The Hatchery is the business incubator at Sheffield Hallam University. It provides students with a creative space to develop ideas and meet like-minded peers and take advantage of 24/7 office facilities.
  • HeadStart at Nottingham Trent University is a structured process to help students shape their business concept, identify and evaluate the opportunities and potential, and put together a business plan.

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

How to start your own catering business

October 25, 2012 by Scott McCallum

How to start your own catering business/canape{{}}Catering is one of those businesses that people idly dream of starting because the entry bar appears to be pretty low. If you’re a foodie whose dinner parties are a hit, it seems like an easy way to get into the food business – easier, at least, than becoming a chef and working at a high-end restaurant; easier than opening your own permanent restaurant; easier even than getting into the food truck arena. After all, all you need is a kitchen and a few waiters, right?

Well, no, actually. A lot goes into a catering business. It’s more than just your secret recipe for to-die-for canapés or cheese puffs.


Depending on your local authority, you probably can’t run your business out of your home kitchen. Health inspections are usually required for any sort of food service. Also, you will need to register as a business and get a tax ID or similar recognition. There are industrial kitchens that rent workspace by the hour or shift, which can be a very affordable way to cook up your delights if you’re not ready for a permanent space of your own. 


Well, the food has to come from somewhere, and picking it all up from the local supermarket is not going to be cost-effective. While local shops or markets are fine for special ingredients or high-end touches, in general you’ll want to stick with wholesale grocers. Their costs will be much lower for the basics you need. Keep orders under control – a big mistake newbie caterers make is preparing too much food. Think hard about the number of people you’re cooking for before you place a grocery order. 

A second supplier will be needed for the non-edibles a caterer is expected to supply. If you need tables, chairs, table cloths, utensils, serving trays, urns and cambros, you can either purchase them and drag them everywhere (and store them when not needed) or rent them from a supplier, getting exactly what’s needed for each occasion.


Once you cook everything and assemble your flotilla of place settings and serving trays, you’ve got to get everything to the destination (even if cooking on-site, you’ll need to transport staff and materials). You can rent a van, of course, but here it might be wiser to purchase and use rentals only to handle bigger jobs and to get over mechanical problems with your own vehicle. Keep in mind you’ll need something appropriate for food transport – always follow the golden rule of keeping hot dishes hot and cold dishes cold while in transit.


In the beginning, and for small jobs, you may be able to get by on your own, but it’s unlikely. Even small parties will usually require you to run the kitchen/staging area while at least one other person handles bringing out serving trays and monitoring the party itself. A friendly partner is a good start, and for those small beginning ‘gigs’ friends and family, or students looking for work, may be adequate. Going forward, though, you’ll need to hire at least one professional server. Look for someone who has worked for caterers before. 

Don’t forget, a uniform looks more professional. It doesn’t have to be custom or something you’ve made. Simply specifying that all team members wear the same style and colour outfits is usually sufficient. You can have button badges made with your company logo to provide instant professionalism.

Catering is a business like any other and requires strong business fundamentals to be successful. Keep your eye on the receivables and payables and adjust your budgets as necessary, and never ever underbid your own costs just to get a job you think will be high profile. In the end, it will be complicated and more work than you expect – but also more rewarding, if you do it right!

  • Scott McCallum is the owner of Glasgow catering company Georgie Porgies. He started the company more than 12 years ago and it continues to be a success in Glasgow and surrounding areas. 

Starting-up the Irish way

October 24, 2012 by Naghmeh Reilly

Starting-up the Irish way/Irish flag{{}}Ireland has always had a pro-business attitude characterised by low taxes, investment in growth through innovation and the hub of tech and life science behemoths such as Dell, Johnson & Johnson, Google, IBM and Cisco reflects that. But now Enterprise Ireland (EI), the Irish government body responsible for supporting the development and growth of Irish enterprises, is pulling that into a sharper focus with help for UK start-ups willing to come and join us.

If you’ve read the papers recently, you’d be forgiven for thinking that global interest in Ireland has been tempered and the Celtic Tiger roar is more of meow these days. In fact, the recession plus the fall in the Euro has made Ireland a very cost-competitive base for internationally focussed start-ups with low-cost rents and access to a lower cost but highly skilled workforce.

That’s exactly why the Irish government set up EI’s Overseas Entrepreneurship team. We have a remit to attract what we call High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) companies from the IT, financial services and life sciences sectors to relocate to Ireland. One of our big focuses is the start-up fund, which offers up to €500,000 of funding from a pot of €10million for existing start-ups who relocate.

We don’t provide all the funding to get your business off the ground and would want you to invest a significant proportion yourself or raise funds from commercial sources. But we can help with advice and introductions to other investors in Ireland. And unlike many other investors we do not normally take a Board seat or take more than 10% of the ordinary equity so you retain control. 

We also know it’s about more than money and we’ve found direct assistance works well. The Irish government provides direct long-term strategic support for entrepreneurial start-ups that come to Ireland to grow.  Our goal is to actively support start-ups with advice and access to a network of contacts, mentoring, training and our universities to aid research and development. Schemes such as our Internet Growth Acceleration programme (iGAP) - where companies can apply for a six-month intensive management development programme aimed exclusively at high potential internet/games companies – have flourished.

One UK company that has used EI start-up support is the now VC-backed Digit Game Studios. Its co-founders, Richard Barnwell and Martin Frain, have a rich heritage in triple-A games and are working on a new IP for hard-core social games, developed for cross-platform support. Crucially, the appeal for Digit wasn’t just our support, it was Ireland’s ecosystem. Digit found that it could employ locally because most people had transferable tech skill that were perfect for the gaming industry and Ireland’s intertwined IT community helped them to get noticed. The Digit co-founders are already thinking about expansion, using the influence of the big US tech giants in Ireland as leverage for growth, particularly as we are one of the two Eurozone countries that speak English and the closest to the North American market.

It’s this commitment to start-ups and next-generation technologies – even during the global recession – which we believe will help UK entrepreneurial and dynamic start-ups and give them the support network to thrive.

Introducing the government’s new bank scheme - free gift and all!

October 08, 2012 by Guest contributor

Introducing the government’s new bank scheme – free gift and all/50pound bank notes{{}}With the reduction in small business loans offered through high street banks in these times, news of a possible Coalition scheme to offer start-ups the financial break they need, may sound like a bonus to many bank managers.

Hopefully, the Tory business bank will be offering nice promotional gifts like high street branches of Lloyds, Halifax or TSB have to incentivise the customer. At the very least they could hand a silvery pen out of it as they sign your business up for more of the government’s borrowed money from the IMF.

Chancellor George Osborne’s claim that it is "all the alphabet soup of existing schemes” should spell “the Tory way of tidying away bitterly disappointing incentives one to one giant kid’s meal, the kind that lacks XYZ of investment capital for genuine high-street money lenders at a time when the UK economy is in recession, without beans”.

The UK economy has statistically been suffering under the weather from a cloud of uncertainty forecasted by the so-called ‘big-four’ high-street Banks. A sector-based approach is a new way in which the Tories can withhold currency and lending to the banks, while having a stronghold in the business investment market and sell assets to small businesses and provide them the breakthrough that has been waiting in the wind.

Ahead of the speech, at Imperial College, London, Cable said that there was a "real shortage" of the "long-term patient capital" needed by businesses to grow. Larger businesses were "by and large" capable of raising short- and long-term finance via capital and equity markets. Meanwhile, the latest SME Finance Monitor showed that in the last 12 months, 33% of businesses that applied for loans were rejected.

Maybe it is along the path but this is still only in initial talks, meaning that the government need to open a tin of beans on-cue and finalise on its structure and offering to selected sectors, choose smaller ‘challenger’ banks and non-bank sources to take on the so-called ‘big-four’ and perform more like a business.

When Vince Cable addressed the public, the follow up indicated that it could shop around to find the tin. Smaller banking providers such as the Co-op, German lender Handelsbanken and Aldermore, are all contenders. By and large Aldermore sound like front-runners. In March, they announced their intended participation in the Government's National Loan Guarantee Scheme (NGLS) providing small businesses to borrow at a lower rate. The partnership would, Cable said, boost these smaller banks' lending capacity as well as round up existing co-investment and guarantee schemes.

Hopefully, this would lead to relief from this financial gasp and finally you start-ups out there will have the power to fulfil your destiny and have the financial backing you needs.

Signs of hope for our high streets?

October 03, 2012 by Lee Perkins

Signs of hope for our high streets/store closing down{{}}Britain's high streets could be pulled back from the brink of extinction by a new wave of entrepreneurs. Hope for our high street is provided by new research published by Sage, which suggests that one in five people planning on starting a business would open a retail shop on the high street. That number rockets to 47% for those planning on launching a service-based business.

The YouGov Entrepreneurial Britain study was conducted as part of Sage's Discover Your Business Potential campaign and surveyed 3,329 respondents. It aimed to shed light on how many people are planning on setting up a business in the UK, where these businesses will be and in what sectors. Its findings suggest that:

  • 25% of Brits want to start a business, with retail proving the most popular sector for budding entrepreneurs.
  • Providing services to business (11%) and personal services (9%), for example, beauticians, plumbers and cleaners, were the next most popular choices.
  • And despite the strength of online sales, 52% of 18-24 year olds surveyed were planning to start an offline shop.

High street shop closures have impacted town and cities across the UK, with an average of 14 shops closing a day at worst. The north east of England is the area hardest hit, with 15 per cent of retailers closing. However, Sage's research suggests that things are looking up for the region. The North East has the highest number of people planning to start a business, with retail again being the most popular choice (22%).

The research suggests there is light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone has business potential and it’s encouraging to see so many people set to launch a new venture in the next couple of years. Whether it's the Mary Portas effect or not, without doubt, there is hope for the UK high street.

  • The Entrepreneurial Britain research was conducted as part of a wider Sage initiative where the company is looking to provide prospective entrepreneurs and existing small business owners with guidance and insights that help them to discover their potential. We have published a range of free guides for small firms and start-ups. You can read them here.
  • We’ve also produced an infographic showing which types of businesses are being started in different parts of the country as you can see below.

Signs of hope for our high streets/Saga Entrepreneurial UK map{{}}

Ten tips for starting a business

October 01, 2012 by James Archer

Ten tips for starting a business/start up text on keydoard{{}}Setting up your own business can be tricky. The amount of questions flooding your mind can be overwhelming – Who are my target customers? How much stock do I need? Where should I set up? The list can go on and on. If you're starting to give up on your dream, fear not! Hopefully, the following 10 tips might help you…

1 Make sure there is demand

Proving a service that people want or stocking items that will sell might seem like an obvious point, but you'd be surprised how often small businesses fail because they are offering something that ticks neither of those boxes.

2 Lower your expectations

Opening a business, especially if it's your first, can be a head rush. In the excitement, lots of people get too carried away to see the bigger picture. Ask yourself simple questions: Do I really need that much money to start my business? Do I really need this much stock? That attitude will keep your feet on the ground and help you save money.

3 Location, location, location

Location is a more important consideration for some businesses than others. Make sure that you're not too hard to find, or you might lose out on customers. For example, a craft shop might benefit from being located away from the hustle and bustle, but it might not suit a cafe. Think of the lunchtime rush!

4 Stake out the opposition

A spot of espionage is crucial. Find your rivals; check them out; and see what works for them and what doesn't. Then think about what you would do better, and how you can not only emulate their success, but better it.

5 Create a quality website

If your website is shoddy, people will pass by your business quicker than the tinny click of their mouse. Even if you have to pay someone to design your site, it will be worth it.

6 Know what you’re talking about

Again, this might seem obvious. No matter what you're doing, make sure you install confidence in customers by being able to answer any questions that come your way. It's a crucial skill.

7 Check out online forums

The internet is likely to be full of people talking about your area of business. Spend some time looking through posts to see if you can pick up any useful hints.

8 Go to trade shows

Trade shows are a great way to show off to potential customers. They can also be useful ways to snoop on the opposition!

9 Don’t be afraid of big ideas

Taking risks is the lifeblood of a successful business. A quirky promotional campaign or an unusual service on offer can really help small businesses find their feet.

10 Spread the word

More often than not, word of mouth can be a great way to get people interested in what you’re selling. Keep reminding your friends, parents and partner to spread the word!

  • This has been a guest post by James Archer writing for Hill Interiors

The rise of entrepreneurial spirit in the UK

September 17, 2012 by John Davis

The rise of entrepreneurial spirit in the UK/Female writing on glass board{{}}Entrepreneurial spirit in the UK is thriving, with one in four people wanting to start a business, according to new research published by business software and services provider Sage.

The study also suggests that the country’s current economic dependence on the South East will start to move northwards, with the North East set to become the recognised home of UK start-ups over the next two years, as people take greater control of their future.

Up to 500,000 new businesses are starting each year in the UK, with about seven in 10 owners starting up because they want to be their own boss. According to research by The Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index and Imperial College Business School, the UK scores fifth in the world for its level of start-up activity. This is largely because of its share of technology sector start-ups and the quality of resources in start-up firms.

While the British economy may have slowed down in recent years, British entrepreneurs refuse to let their ambitions slide. Manufacturers, internet-based start-ups and retailers are all well represented in the UK’s small business landscape. Prime Minister David Cameron recently said: “Small businesses and entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the British economy and I am determined that we, working with the private sector, do everything we can to help them to start up and to grow in 2012.”

However, potential entrepreneurs should be aware of the numerous challenges involved in starting up and growing a profitable business before committing to launching a business idea. Pressures include:

  • Dealing with the lack of cashflow
  • Increasing turnover
  • Funding the purchase of new equipment
  • Operating against established competition with minimal resources
  • Being prepared to lose everything if things go wrong

With proper preparation, determination and a clear vision, entrepreneurs can successfully overcome these challenges.  As Michael Hayman, co-founder of Start Up Britain, summarises: “All around the country people are proving that you can make it in Britain, be your own boss and create jobs that can help transform communities.”

How I started my maternity clothes business

September 13, 2010 by Louise Boyes

Claire Keogh, Bethany Clydesdale and Louise Boyes at the North East Baby, Toddler and Maternity Roadshow in July 20109 June 2009 will always be a memorable date for me.  It was the day I decided to leave behind a 13-year career as a human resources manager, not to mention a good salary, to ‘go it alone’.  Scary.

When you look in the mirror every morning and dread the day at work that lies ahead it really is time to consider other options. I’d procrastinated for far too long about starting my own business – I could kick myself for not doing it before I reached 40.

A friend and I spent considerable time researching what sold and what didn’t on eBay. We carried out so much research we became more confused than when we had started. I felt as if I was wasting time, while my savings were dwindling. There wasn’t an additional household income, so I needed to get my backside into gear quickly. My friend and I were moving at different speeds and in different directions, so I had to have that conversation, but it was important to retain our friendship.

I decided to concentrate on maternity clothes, accessories and gifts. In the planning stages I decided I would still use eBay to sell my products and I hadn’t even considered having my own dedicated website. It became apparent very early on that operating my business on eBay was not viable. The cost, in my opinion, is too high. More importantly, the suppliers I wanted to work with wouldn’t sell wholesale to me if was using eBay as a sales platform. The concept of Global Maternity was born.

Why maternity clothes? Firstly, I love how pregnant women look. I’ve been there before (albeit 13 years ago) and the clothes available for pregnant women now are great quality and look beautiful, too. Secondly, the initial financial outlay to launch my business was going to be significantly less than if I opened a general women’s fashion store.

My website ( went live on 1 February 2010. Selecting and buying the stock was enjoyable, but tough. I wanted one of everything, but knew I didn’t have the budget. It would be so easy to get carried away, but I had to stop myself a couple of times. Delivering exceptional customer service is my absolute passion, no matter what I am doing. It’s what I did as a human resources manager and it’s what I do with my business.

It’s been a huge learning curve and still is. Global Maternity isn’t where I want it to be and I have so many plans, but I’m realistic enough to know it will take time. Above all else, I’m enjoying myself and will never give up.

Louise Boyes, Global Maternity


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