Entrepreneurial students get a head start with their startups

Image above – hechingerreport.org

Shocked by claims about miracle beauty products like “anti-ageing” lotions, medical science student Brigitte West decided to investigate the truth behind the cosmetic industry. But, much to her surprise, she found that many claims were underpinned by rigorous science. Her discovery led her to co-found a popular blog called beautybythegeeks.com, which explores the science behind beauty products. When she graduated from Newcastle University last year, she decided to turn it into a business.

West and her colleagues – all science students or graduates – worked out how to start making money from their venture with support from an enterprise incubator (an organisation that helps accelerate the growth of startups) at the University of Newcastle, along with business mentoring and grants.

“I laugh now at what I didn’t know about running a business – simple things such as filing accounts, or basic strategy,” she says. “The support you get now as an undergraduate entrepreneur is huge.”

Data from research firm DueDil and small business network Enterprise Nation shows a 70% rise in companies founded by under 35s between 2006 to 2013.

And support for young entrepreneurs has mushroomed; from the government’s own Start-Up Loans scheme to the growing number of entrepreneurship programmes at FE colleges. The Peter Jones Enterprise Academy – which delivers enterprise courses at FE colleges – raised the prospects of would-be entrepreneur Nathan Sansby. He went on to found a technology business before joining the young but growing communications firm Felicitas Media.

Sansby learned early on about the power of relationships. He buttonholed guest speakers at Solihull College to become his mentors and nurtured contacts with former course mates. He says: “You have to be tenacious; everyone suffers low patches. When you do, you need to remind yourself why you’re doing it.”

While figurehead entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson didn’t get a business education, they famously started ventures at a young age. And, according to James Hickie, a lecturer in enterprise at the University of Manchester, this is vital. “Leaving enterprise education until university is too late,” he says. Most successful young entrepreneurs he’s researched were already running their own businesses at school – albeit it selling sweets to their mates.

Enterprise is a good choice for young people, says Jenny Salihuddin, director of entrepreneurship at Bournemouth and Poole College; many of her students run small businesses alongside their studies – selling cupcakes or sports and fitness products for example. “Those who succeed are hard working, driven and committed to the idea of being successful and the lifestyle that comes with it.”

‘Listen to your instinct – it will be right in 99% of cases’

Belinda Parmar is the CEO of Lady Geek, a creative agency that addresses women’s perspectives on technology, and the author of The Empathy Era and Little Miss Geek. Here are her tips for young people starting their own businesses.

You’re never too young to start a business. Most high profile entrepreneurs were experimenting with business ideas when they were still at school.

Work experience is by the far the best way to get a real taste for what a business is really like. I’ve learned by making mistakes; no qualification can prepare you in quite the same way.

Study something that you love and are good at but that also has a practical application to the real world. Business studies and economics are good, and maths, science and technology are extremely useful. These subjects as help you understand the bigger picture.

Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. At the beginning you need confidence and conviction to sell yourself and your ideas. Having experts to help in areas you are not confident in really helps. Speak to people who know your strengths and weaknesses.

Get the really boring stuff sorted out at the beginning, such as an accountancy package, timesheet system, invoicing software and so on. Then you can focus on growing the business.

Advice helps, but you should make the final decision. Listen to your instinct as it will be right in 99% of cases. Someone once said to me they didn’t like the name Lady Geek as it reinforced stereotypes, but it’s been one of the best things about my business.

Never delegate the finance – it’s the lifeblood of any business. You need to know how much money you are making. You have to balance doing what you love with what pays the bills.

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