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From Classroom to Boardroom

Tue, 03 May 2016

Contributed by Fergus Moore, Shell LiveWIRE Winner and Revive Eco co-founder
This blog is the first of a special Shell LiveWIRE series celebrating and demystifying student entrepreneurship. 
Becoming an entrepreneur – a daunting task for anyone. Abandoning a steady paycheck, sacrificing your personal time (and health) for the good of the business and taking the risk that the entire venture could fail completely.
It’s a scary thought isn’t it? Try adding the additional headaches of being a student with assignments and exams to think about, zero savings, no experience of running a business and even less experience of the market you found a gap in. Now I’m a pretty laid back guy, but I challenge anyone to look at that situation and not feel a little stressed!
We first began developing the idea for our company, Revive, in a second year class at the University of Strathclyde, whilst we were all studying in the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship. We took the decision, as increasing numbers of students are nowadays, to become student entrepreneurs, developing our business whilst finishing our degrees. 
There are a multitude of advantages to being a student entrepreneur if you do it right. Whether you have an idea that you think will change the world or simply that will help cover your student loan, an entrepreneur’s journey is filled with excitement and promise but also comes with its stresses and tribulations. It certainly isn’t something to be taken lightly, but with the right mentality and organisation it is possible to balance your degree and your fledgling start-up business.
A Work-Study Balance
Since founding Revive, we’ve juggled university studies, part-time jobs and developing the business. With working on a business alongside your degree, you can easily end up losing focus on getting good grades. Therefore, finding a good work-study balance is hugely important. For us, this meant setting out three specific half-days a week to meet in our office to work on Revive. Regardless of how busy we were, we would make sure to be in the office for those times and to set aside other times in the week for our university assignments. Managing your time effectively is a good asset to have regardless, but it becomes essential while starting a business at university.

Take Advantage of Being a Student
Being a student comes with a wide array of benefits! Cheap booze in the union and money off in Topman aside however, student entrepreneurs should take advantage of the many start-up opportunities being at university offers. Scotland has lots of start-up grants and competitions aimed at student entrepreneurs (I’m sure England and Wales will have similar programmes).

Yes, the applications are laborious and monotonous, but small start-up funding could be enough to get your business off the ground and trading! 
On top of this, your own university will have a huge range of resources and networks that you can tap into. By communicating with the University of Strathclyde, we have been introduced to some of our most influential advisors and mentors. We also got free office space for nearly a year and have met a vast number of potential clients and distributors at networking events set up by the university. You may also find that the university themselves could provide you with some funding. You also have free access to a huge library of journals and research papers that the general public has to pay huge amounts of money to read. This not only helps with studying for finals, but it allows you to research the market you’re wanting to target your business towards. Take advantage of the benefits of being a student because you’ll very quickly find yourself in the ‘real-world’ where people aren’t quite as open to giving you a helping hand!
Entrepreneurial Mindset
When we founded Revive we didn’t know anything about gardening. We didn’t know anything about biofuel, or oil extraction, or financial planning, or being real-life adults! It can all become too much to deal with, fast! 
We have been asked by many undergraduates and even Master’s students how we managed to start a business based around chemistry, with so little scientific knowledge ourselves. Many of them explained that they had ideas but had given up on them because they didn’t have the technical knowledge or experience. 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. We at Revive are very strong believers in looking at everything with an entrepreneurial mind-set. This is finding yourself faced with a problem and working until you find a solution. If... no, sorry... when you find gaps in your knowledge, the first step is to simply go out and learn about that subject; do online research, read books about it, watch informational YouTube videos about them, do anything you can to plug the gap as much as you possibly can yourself. However, if more in-depth expertise is required (which you undoubtedly will find to be the case in multiple areas of your business) then we have found it extremely useful to create a ‘virtual board of directors’, i.e. a group of people that you can call upon for advice, each for a specific area of the business. For us, this meant creating a ‘board’ of bio-chemistry experts, liquid-analysis experts, logistics experts, financial planning experts etc. It is important to understand that you cannot and will not know everything to do with running your business. However, it is even more important to identify the gaps in your knowledge as, if you don’t, it will undoubtedly come back to haunt you. As a student, you are in the best possible location to access such expertise. You will find that as a student, people are far more willing to help you out. 
Take advantage of that while you still can!
Give yourself targets, set deadlines and stick to them!
As a start-up, you may find yourself wanting to avoid things like targets and deadlines. Deadlines are for Uni. Targets are for big corporations. ‘I’m an entrepreneur, I don’t need deadlines, the only goal I have is to be rich, I work by my own rules. ’ You’re wrong! Targets, goals, objectives, whatever you want to call them, are essential to the progression of your business. This is something I personally feel very strongly about. After graduating from university in July 2015, we began working full-time on the business. We ran a pilot study, had chemistry testing done, made it to the final of a few competitions... but I found myself in January 2016, looking back at the six months post-graduation, thinking ‘we have not accomplished nearly enough in that 6 month period!’ And this was massively down to the fact that at no point had we sat down and discussed the direction we wanted to push the business. Since then, we have developed an in-depth set of medium and long-term goals and we set ourselves short-term goals every fortnight.
These goals alone are not enough to increase the progression of your business, you should also give yourself strict deadlines to meet. People often say to us ‘but if you miss a deadline, it doesn’t really matter because you just answer to yourself.’ Again, you’re wrong! For one, if you’re passionate enough about your business, missing a deadline will feel like a personal failure (if it doesn’t feel like a personal failure, you probably aren’t passionate enough about your business to succeed anyway). Secondly, having three co-founders as it is in our case means that we hold each other accountable for missing these deadlines. No one wants to be the one letting the team down. As a student, you should already be used to the mind-set of working to deadlines. Without deadlines, it becomes easy to become distracted and that simple piece of work that you could get done in a day, suddenly ends up taking a fortnight. 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. 
Being a student entrepreneur can be difficult and put a strain on your time and bank balance, but you get back so much more. Being able to look at the money you’ve made over the last month and say ‘I created that from nothing’ is a truly life-fulfilling feeling. It can be tear-your-hair-out-and-scream stressful. But James Watt, founder of Brewdog (also a past Shell LiveWIRE winner), says ‘The most genuinely innovative concepts often scare the s**t out of yourself’. If your dream doesn’t terrify you, it probably isn’t big enough. The younger generation are often called out for having blindly naive dreams for their futures. Entrepreneurs have the chance to create that lifestyle for themselves. So, student entrepreneurs, take those ‘blindly naïve’ dreams and go out and make them a reality. 
About Fergus Moore (Co-founder of Revive Eco)
Fergus Moore the co-founder of Revive Eco, a start-up that offers a unique waste recycling service and a range of environmentally friendly products, derived from used coffee grounds. Revive will allocate coffee refuse bags to coffee shops which will be collected by waste management companies and returned to Revive’s Coffee Biorefinery. After being processed, a number of products will be created, firstly, oils will be extracted to be used in biodiesels and cosmetic products. From the residual grounds, the business will create Revive Bio-Fertiliser and biomass pellets, which can be used to heat buildings and create energy with low carbon emissions.   
You can follow Revive Eco on Twitter.


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