Faced with a decision about what to do after graduating the ‘sensible’ option may be applying for a graduate scheme, post-graduate study or maybe thinking about an internship to get some experience. All potentially good options but what if you think the right move for you is to work for yourself?
Recent research of 2000 undergraduates undertaken by Youthsight found that almost a quarter of university students are already running a small business or plan to do so. So it would appear that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in our universities and increasing numbers of graduates and undergraduates are involved, in some capacity, in entrepreneurship. It seemed the time was right to put the spotlight on Enterprise.
Whilst starting your own business sounds incredibly exciting it is also for many of us an intimidating and frankly downright scary proposition! As a result many of us retreat to the relative safety of a 9-5 job with its annual holidays, monthly salary and the luxury of having someone else (your boss) calling the shots and handling the risk. So what, if in fact anything, makes entrepreneurs different from the rest of us? What does it take to start a business straight out of Uni? And, crucially: how do you know if your idea is likely to fly or crash and burn?
Turning an idea into a business can be a complicated process. You will need to be tenacious, resilient enough to handle the knock backs that will come your way and have a real belief in your concept – after all, if you don’t passionately believe in your idea, why will anyone else?
Skills that you have developed at university such as the ability to plan and organise tasks, communicate effectively with a wide audience and present ideas in a professional and engaging way will stand you in good stead. Business acumen, a strong sense of commercial awareness and the ability to critically analyse a problem (and innovate to find solutions) are also prerequisites for anyone serious about starting out on their own.
People often worry that a lack of experience in running a business will hold them back – but you have to start somewhere, right? The good news is that University of Hull Students do not need to face this alone. The University of Hull Enterprise Centre offers a range of help and advice to help you turn your business concept into a business reality. The centre (over on the West campus – go past the new library entrance and keep going) is a real hub for start-ups that are taking advantage of the facilities and expertise on hand to develop a wide range of businesses from marketing services to psychological consultancy and even designer pet products!
We spoke to Vladislav Ogir, a University of Hull graduate and Hull Enterprise Centre tenant, about his experience setting up his business Web Assistants which provides ‘bespoke application development’ to local SMEs.
Hi Vlad – Can you tell us a bit about your current business and projects?
I run a small business called Web Assistants. I started out primarily offering web design services, but having developed my client base and portfolio of work, I am now branching out into software engineering. At the minute a lot of the work that I am involved with is around developing software for the web – workflow tools in particular are doing really well. Overall, my aim is to provide clients with a solution that reduces costs and improves profits at the end of the day.
That sounds really interesting and it seems like you are in a real growth area. Can you explain why you chose to start your own business?
I had the idea of self-employment before starting University but this was just an idea in my head at that stage – it was one thing to say I wanted to do it and another actually doing it.
During my degree in Web Design and Development, I was really keen to get work experience and develop my contacts in the industry. So throughout my studies I started to work for various agencies. Through this I made some connections with a variety of businesses, developed a portfolio of my work and some great contacts. I began to develop my confidence and recognised that there was a realistic opportunity to work for myself. I just decided to have a go and find out if I could actually turn my experience into a business.
And here you are! So what do you think makes a successful entrepreneur?
Well, firstly I am still learning and definitely see myself as still working to achieve my goals. But I think it is often about accepting that you need to start with small steps and learning from them. Ultimately a good entrepreneur is someone who is able to take risks, learns from their experience and applies this learning in the future.
Does the environment at the Enterprise Centre help you to do this?
Yes. There are lots of interesting events that you can get involved with and this provides good opportunities to network with some of the other start-ups. It is a great place to collaborate, share ideas and learn from each other. If you have a problem you can share it with the others and most of the time there will be someone that has already been through it, so it is really useful in that respect.
So what lies in store in the future then Vlad?
To date I have built a really good portfolio of completed projects. A barrier in my sector is that clients may not trust you to undertake projects without a proven track record, so now that I am building my portfolio, the next step is to expand my business and take on bigger projects. I hope that over the next six to nine months, I will be in a position to employ someone to support me.
Thanks, Vlad. Really inspiring to hear about your business and the ideas you have for the future. Finally, for any of our current students considering self-employment what would be your five top tips?
1. Choose something you love
Starting up a business can be really difficult and require many hours of hard work. Doing what you love can just keep your passion will keep you floating when times are tough and help you to power through those difficult times.
2. Get help from others
It is always much better to learn from the mistakes of others. People that have been through it are great at helping you to avoid those hidden pit falls rather than end up in one neck deep!
3. Keep on learning
Just like learning from others, there is a lot of information around us that we might not be aware of but this hidden information could be the missing part that separates us from the next step in our business. (Editor’s note – Vlad, that sounds quite a bit like point 2, but we will let you get away with that seeing as it is worth repeating!)
4. Trial and error
You can’t always know if a new product or service that you want to offer is something that will work. So you must be prepared to take a risk and don’t be upset if it doesn’t work out. Remember it often takes time to find the right solution and it is often a process of trial and error.
5. Stay patient
Unless you have a lot of money to finance your business it may take a while to kick start your business, and I mean a while: not a couple of months but a couple of years. Doing what you love and some planning would definitely help in this long journey of business.