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Student entrepreneurship – why it’s worth it and how to make the most of it

Tue, 06 September 2016

In 2015 research found that 24% of students were running a business alongside their studies.
With this in mind we hosted a special blog series around student entrepreneurship where we hosted blogs from five successful Shell LiveWIRE winners who all started their businesses as students.  
 
In this blog, we’ve pulled together the best bits of advice our alumni had to offer – whether you’re a student who has already started up, a student who has a business idea, or a recent graduate who wants to turn your student project into a business, our alumni have some great advice and practical tips that will help you develop your business further, or take that initial leap into entrepreneurship.
 
Turning student projects into businesses
Many of today’s most successful businesses started when their founders were at university. Imagine how different our lives would be without Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Like these big businesses many of our award winning businesses start as student projects and our alumni can give you a lot of reasons why it’s worthwhile for students to develop their student projects further and turn them into profitable businesses. Solveiga Pakštaitė believes that ‘if you have an idea that could benefit society, you owe it to the rest of us to make it happen.’

‘Think of all the amazing ideas that may have been forgotten about because the individual who thought it up didn’t think they were capable.’ Fergus Moore (Revive Eco)
 
‘It is an absolute sin that the top science, technology, design and engineering universities are tasking their students with spending the most part of their final year solving a really important problem and then leaving the finished solution to collect dust on the shelf. We’re talking about many thousands of brains working super hard to make something better. Why on earth are we not making most of these solutions into realities!’ Solveiga Pakštaitė (Design By Sol)
 
 
University resources
As a student entrepreneur, you have an advantage over many other businesses in that you have access to a huge amount of university resources. All of our student entrepreneurs highlighted the benefit of taking advantage of the resources your university has to offer, as these can provide vital assistance in helping you research, test and develop your product.

‘Research and development costs are one of the most expensive processes that any business, regardless of size, will encounter. Undertaking these costly tasks whilst at university can save you or your team, literally, a small fortune.  Whilst at university, a vast array of resources, materials, machines, and technical knowledge surrounds you, so make the most of it. Use your time at university to get a head start on developing your ground-breaking idea, because once you are out of the university system, it can be extremely expensive to re-access those same world class facilities’. Sam Etherington (Aqua Power Technologies)
 
‘University is a fantastic time to start a business as it gives you access to various support networks such as student business incubators and, depending on your university, potentially top class academics who may be interested in collaborating with your start-up. By taking advantage of these, your start-up gets a boost not easily accessible to those outside of academia!’ Matt Anderson (Edible Bug Farm)

Ravi Toor highlighted that starting up at university means you also have access to another resource in the form of your fellow students: ‘With tens of thousands of students, university campuses allow young entrepreneurs access to a large market, and many business ideas flourish as a result of exploiting market niches that benefit their peers.’

As Fergus Moore pointed out, most universities have dedicated enterprise departments that can offer you help with most, if not all, aspects of running a business, with many offering free advice and courses and sometimes mentorship. Many universities also have office space available where you can work on your business alongside other like-minded entrepreneurs and experts. Additionally, there may also be university grants, competitions and awards that you can apply for.

As a student you can also access funding from outside your university. There are many dedicated competitions that are only open to students and recent graduates such as NACUE’s Varsity Pitch, The Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Prize, Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards and the James Dyson Award.
 
Striking a balance
It can be easy to get lost in the excitement of creating and running your start-up, but it’s important to remember that you also have a degree to work toward. Our student entrepreneurs know first-hand how difficult it can be to find the right balance between studying and working on your business and they’ve provided some great tips to help you manage your workload and create a better work-study balance.

Revive Eco’s co-founder Fergus Moore talked about the importance of entrepreneurs having targets and deadlines and sticking to them: ‘You shouldn’t think of these as restrictions. Think of them as motivators. Think of them as a way of keeping your mind focused on building something great’

Matt Anderson and Adam Routledge of Edible Bug Farm are currently a small team who run all aspects of their business. They found that using a project management tool helps them manage their time and keep on top of their projects, tasks and meetings.

Sam Etherington, founder of Aqua Power Technologies, advocates ‘minimal input for maximal output’. His top tip is to be efficient with your time and to try to make your business part of your course if possible.

Practical business tips
Sam Etherington’s blog provided a wealth of practical tips for early stage entrepreneurs, including advice on where to look for funding, structuring your business and protecting your ideas. ‘The likelihood is, if you are developing a project, there will be intellectual property within it somewhere. It may or may not be patentable, but there will be technical knowhow that has value. It is important to be aware of your worth and value. It ultimately cost me the chance to commercialise an award winning design, due to exposure removing the opportunity for a patent. My advice would be to seek support in this area at an early stage.’
 
Entrepreneurial mind-set and personal development
If, after university you decide not to take your business idea forward, or that entrepreneurship isn’t for you, your time as an entrepreneur will have provided you with an abundance of transferable skills, and an entrepreneurial mind-set that will make you stand out in the job market and help you in whatever career path you choose to peruse.

‘As an added bonus, when you do eventually finish your studies, your work ethic will have developed to such an extent that the thought of running your business and nothing but your business no longer seems as daunting as it once did at the start.‘ Matt Anderson (Edible Bug Farm)

‘Whatever your career ambitions after university, it is important to develop as a person first and foremost. Whatever the outcome of your business venture, you will undoubtedly gain from the experience. If all goes to plan, you will be able to make a living doing what you do best, and even if you do not see success with this idea, the experience and knowledge you have gained from running a start-up will no doubt place you in a better position to succeed, whether that is in academia, employed work or your next business idea!’ Ravi Toor (Filamentive)

‘Do not underestimate the value of personal projects whilst at university. It is important to be realistic and consider that so many individuals now have a degree, so how can you stand out? Setting up a company and developing a project whilst at university possesses huge benefits. Firstly, you are both developing your project, and learning how to set up and run a business. In the instance that your idea doesn't work out, the process of founding your own business is a hugely credible accolade. It certainly provides that extra 'something' above and beyond your fellow students, if you need to get a job to make ends meet.’ Sam Etheringon (Aqua Power Technologies)

‘When you call all the shots in a company, you start analysing and questioning the decisions of other companies too. You become a fluent critical thinker and a far more useful asset to any future endeavour you’d like to pursue.’ Solveiga Pakstaite (Design By Sol)
 
It doesn’t matter if you’re a design student, student engineer or a business student, if you have an idea or a student project that can help make tomorrow smarter and more sustainable we would encourage you to take that idea and develop it further.

Although entrepreneurship may not be for everyone, it is an extremely rewarding career and, as Solveiga Pakštaitė says ‘the day you decide to do something for yourself, your destiny is as good as the job description you write for yourself.’

Our final advice comes from Sam Etherington: ‘Be relentless in your efforts and realistic in your projections, and most importantly, just do it; ultimately you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.‘

If you’ve been inspired by our alumni’s start-up stories and have a business idea that can help create a smarter, more sustainable future, apply for the Smarter Future Programme online now.

You can find more advice from past Shell LiveWIRE winners here.


About Us

Established in 1982, the Shell LiveWIRE programme offers free online business advice and funding to young entrepreneurs in the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

The Smarter Future Programme supports young entrepreneurs with smart and innovative ideas that meet the energy and resource needs of a fast-growing population. The new programme awards a start-up grant of £5,000 each month to one 16-30 year old entrepreneur with an idea that addresses sustainable living challenges through smart innovation. 

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