Putting business before pleasure

Slaving away in a pub doesn’t have to be the only way to earn money at university. talks to the York students who are thinking ahead and cashing in on their prospects

When it comes to employment in the world of finance and commerce, university students are often thought of in the future tense: the future investment bankers, stock-brokers, or business men and women. At Careers Fairs, companies will offer you summer internships, promising to give you a taste of what life is really like in the hard-hitting worlds of business and industry.

We are thus rendered in a transitional phrase; somewhere between developing our skills and being employable. However, for some students, simply waiting idle while the Yeas or Nays of their internship applications stream through is not an option. Instead, these students choose to fast-track the system, actively putting their potential into practice and setting up their own businesses – living out what some plan as a future today.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown heralds our age as one in which the power of entrepreneurship should be “unleashed”. Second year Politics and Economics student, Oliver Blair, did just that, establishing his business, Lakes Logos, aged 13 years old. Lakes designs and embroiders the logos of companies onto their t-shirt uniforms, simply by using a machine that Blair connects to his computer.

Despite deep reservations from his family and peers, who questioned whether people would even “want to go into business with a thirteen year old”, Blair refused to compromise the faith he had placed in his business initiative. He persevered, raising the capital needed to purchase the £2,500 embroidery machine by washing cars on his road for £10 per vehicle for a year. By the time Lakes was 12 months old, Blair had broken-even; seven years on, Blair describes Lakes as being very “lucrative” and as enabling him to live out a comfortable student lifestyle.

Nonetheless, the measure of success for Blair is not necessarily by how heavy his pockets feel, but by how many people know about and use his business. He recalls when a few years back, a CEO of Earls Court Olympia asked him to produce logos for 200 shirts. Although Blair did not ultimately secure the contract, the fact that he was approached at all, was, as he points out, extremely satisfying.

According to the Entrepreneurial Survey 2007, 32% of students intend to start a business. YUSU Services and Finance Officer, Matt Burton, also decided to join the business world at a young age. At 16 years old, Burton worked in a café by day and fish restaurant by night. Using his earnings and money borrowed from his mother, he bought an internet server and started up his own website – ultimatedallas.com – all about the eighties hit television show, Dallas. Initially, Burton bought the server to save on his membership costs to other Dallas fan club websites.

However, once Burton had set up his website, he realised that he still had lots of space left on the server, and began selling this space to other companies. After a year, Burton’s company, B3 Hostings Ltd., had grown to have over 150 servers. With revenues reaching more than £1 million over the years, Burton is nonetheless adamant that his business remains small and manageable, and explains that B3 was derived through a sense of opportunism rather than a calculated entrepreneurial beginning.

Second year Management student Timothy Ngwena, has been a freelance web designer since the age of 18, and is now in the process of starting up his own official design, web and print consultancy business. Ngwena helped design the Viking Raid t-shirts, as well as being responsible for the graphics for Bad Taste and Fusion, to name a few. Doing as “much as possible within as many University societies as possible” is something Ngwena highlights. From an entrepreneurial mindset, his experiences in networking within the societies can be viewed as training groundwork for self-marketing – a skill which he feels will be of great value once he has started his business.

Ngwena recently entered the Entrepreneur of the Year category for The Real World Awards 2008, a nationwide competition that awards students for their entrepreneurial and social pursuits in aid of their university. The winners are decided by students who can vote online at realworldawards.com. If successful, Ngwena could stand to win £5000. When asked why he feels he should win, Ngwena states that the fact he has taken the initiative to turn his interests in graphic and web design into a profitable career plan, captures the essence of what it means to be a good entrepreneur.

The department of Enterprise’s Promotions Officer, Christopher Simpson, states that there is a lot the University can do for students who are thinking of setting up their own businesses. The CETLE (Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Enterprise) Zone on the first floor of Vanburgh’s C Block, for instance, has rooms which are equipped with computers, presentation boards and video conferencing facilities, and can be booked by students for meetings.

Students can also register any company they set-up under the CETLE address. Moreover, the Enterprise department’s Proof of Concept Fund means that you can apply online for a grant of up to £1000 from the university by submitting a business idea. Applications are then judged by an external panel of professionals such as business advisors and lawyers.

The ample number of Careers Services courses available means that developing the skills needed in the business and entrepreneurial world is becoming increasingly easy for York students. Ngwena emphasises that all you need to do is “get involved. Find something you enjoy and nail it.” Sticking to your convictions even when those around you criticise your idea is really important: as both Blair and Burton are testament to.

Ngwena even purports that in the entrepreneurial world, there is no such thing as “failure”; one only learns from one’s mistakes and “does better next time”. It is never too early to start thinking about how you can make your mark on the business world. So while you wait to hear back from companies about whether you have landed that summer internship you applied for, why not think about starting up your own business? The world may just be yours for the taking.

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