Let’s get down to business


Photo/ Mattes
Photo/ Mattes

Picture the scene: It’s 6pm on a Friday, you’ve managed to hand your essay in on time and the weekend stretches out in front of you. But instead of treating yourself to a well-deserved nap or night out, you’ve got other things on your mind; meetings with clients, business plans and marketing strategies.

For most of us, the idea of running a business whilst still at uni is unthinkable, as we struggle to balance our degrees with whatever form of social life we can cobble together on the side. And yet, with graduate employment prospects looking increasingly grim, and student debt creeping up, more and more students are turning to entrepreneurship both as a way to start earning and to gain valuable business experience.

Students spend a hell of a lot of time on the Internet, so it comes as no surprise that many of the big online giants were conceived on campus; Facebook, Google and WordPress were all started by students. Who knows what you too could achieve by turning hours of idly browsing the latest cat pictures into the start of a business plan? Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest places. One example is Insomnia Cookie, a company started by a University of Pennsylvania student and born out of a desire for 3am essay fuel, wich is now a successful business delivering late night snacks  to over 20 universities.

For the creatively-minded amongst you, blogging is one of the best ways to use the Internet to kickstart your career. It requires both effort and commitment, but the perks can be vast. Lincoln first-year and fashion blogger Dina Tsesarsky (shelovesmixtapes.blogspot.co.uk) explains, “Being asked to feature in magazines or work with well-known brands is very exciting – I’ve had some amazing opportunities which would otherwise have completely passed me by.” Dina recommends using other social media for publicity and finding an individual take for your blog. She says, “The blogging community is now a painfully overcrowded place. Yours has to offer something different; something unique.”

This mantra can be applied to businesses in more general terms, and often the best way to come up with a unique idea is to find something you have a personal interest in and are passionate about. Graham Fisher founded Inspiring Imagery with his friend Liam Neal when he wanted to start printing photos taken on his new DSLR camera. They noticed a gap in the market for high quality, low cost printing onto canvases, and soon formed a business plan.

Neither of the pair had experience of the industry, and both Liam and Graham had to work part-time jobs to get the money for a start-up. But Graham advises students to keep at it, “If you work hard enough, are willing to take massive risks and enjoy a challenge the outcome can be great fun and extremely rewarding – there’s no better than seeing something that you created from nothing prosper into something big.” Inspiring Imagery is now a year old, and Graham and Liam are in their final year at Keele University.

These sentiments are echoed by Oxford-based entrepreneur Tom Ellis, who set up his company, First Class Products, while studying at Exeter University. The company imports champagne to the UK, and is a supplier to many of Oxford University’s Colleges and balls. Tom had always been an entrepreneur at heart, having started out selling tennis balls at school and constantly reinvested his profits back into the business to restock, until finally he was able to buy his first pallet of champagne.

Tom advises, “If you have a business idea then you should give it a go. You never know how it will develop. There have been many highlights since starting up First Class Products, however a favourite is being invited to meet Lord Alan Sugar personally, after he heard me on a BBC radio broadcast!”

Elizabeth Greenberg majors in entrepreneurship and marketing at Elon University, US, and was able to put what she learnt in the classroom to good use when she set up her own business. Her idea came when visiting a friend who was in hospital with cancer; flowers weren’t allowed on the ward due to the allergens and bacteria, so she created an arrangement of origami flowers, each with an inspirational message. It wasn’t long before other patients and hospital workers were asking where they could order one, and Non-Scents Flowers was born.

Although she says she’s missed out on aspects of the “traditional student experience”, Elizabeth highlights the benefits of starting a business whilst studying, “Use your University’s resources. Your network will also get you a lot further than Google and email so really ask for help when you need it.”

She told the OxStu, “The best advice that has been given to me before is never go into business just to make money. If I didn’t see how this company helped people and solved a problem that was so personal to me, I don’t think I’d be as happy as I am now. It takes a lot to start a business … a lot of perseverance, strength, patience, and endurance, so without the passion and the meaning behind it, it will wear you down.”