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The Independent: How to start your own business

EXTRACT: Other organisations like Shell LiveWIRE – which is aimed specifically at the 16-30 age group – provide online support.


By Kate Hilpern

Over two-thirds of students say they would consider setting up on their own or with others in the future, according to Barclays Bank research. Even student debt is not a deterrent, the study found. Lorna Collins, director of the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship’s Flying Start Campaign, is pleased this entrepreneurial spirit is growing. “NCGE was set up 18 months ago to encourage more graduates to consider starting up in business,” she says. “It was Gordon Brown’s decision after he discovered that 35 per cent of graduates in the States set up their own businesses straight from university, whereas here that figure was less than eight per cent.”

Of the NCGE’s programmes, Flying Start is the most accessible to young wannabe entrepreneurs. “It has three parts to it,” says Collins. “One is Flying Start online, which is a one-stop-shop where graduates can get expert advice and resources. Then there is a series of one-day rallies, which we run across the regions. Having been on this, people who wish to can apply for the three-day residential programme, which has the added benefit of mentoring and follow-up for the next 12 months to help you get your business off the ground.”

You’ll need passion, determination and independence to succeed in going it alone, she insists. You’ll also need a good idea. But if you’re armed with all of these, a whole host of organisations are on hand to give advice.

Business Link is among those that provide face-to-face support. Stewart Masterton, one of its business advisers, says success doesn’t come from having all the right answers, but from being able to ask the right questions. “Some people estimate that 50 per cent of businesses fail in the first two years. I wouldn’t put the figure quite as high as that, but I’d say those that do make it are those that do their homework to ensure that their idea will generate a viable and profitable business.”

Other organisations like Shell LiveWIRE – which is aimed specifically at the 16-30 age group – provide online support. Spokesman Fraser Edgar, says, “We have an online business library, as well as a free business tool kit – an interactive CD-Rom which enables people to build a product line from their idea. Also popular is our online discussion programme, which is used by approximately 2,000 young entrepreneurs who discuss anything from the fact that they’re having a bad day through to any tips on completing a tax return.”

Both these companies – alongside many others – can also help financially, pointing you in the direction of grants, funds and loans. If you’ve got an outstanding idea and are willing to relinquish some ownership over it, you can even approach venture capitalists and as Hannah Marshall, 28, points out, there are competitions too. Marshall, who is in the process of starting up a business in womenswear, says, “I’ve just applied for an award that is worth £35,000 and with Shell LiveWIRE awards programme, I could win thousands more pounds.”

Satish Shewhorak, 25, who runs moShine Animation Studio, adds that many business ideas don’t need a huge amount of money. “We didn’t have too many overheads, so money wasn’t really an issue for us,” he says.

The high street banks are worth a visit too, although most are likely to help graduates practically more than financially because young people don’t tend to have a track record or collateral behind them. Mike Harding, who works in business banking at Lloyds TSB, says, “We run business clubs around the country on a range of aspects of running your own business.”

Meanwhile, Fraser MacKay, who heads up customers for local businesses at Barclays, says, “We run seminars for people who have just had come up with an idea for a new business through to people who want to know more about what it’s actually like to run your own company through to people who are ready to go. We had 9,000 entrepreneurs who used them last year and 90 per cent said they found them useful or very useful.”

Many banks provide business support software and some, like NatWest, provide one-to-one advice via a business manager. “You don’t even need an account with us to see one of these managers,” says Elaine Hartley, head of NatWest business marketing. “The kinds of things they can help you with are how to research your market and find out who your customers are.”

Margaret Danes, chief executive of AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) adds that universities themselves are a good port of call. “Most universities now have enterprise units and many work closely with careers services,” she says.

She believes in a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” attitude. “If your idea looks really likely to fail, at least one of the support organisations will tell you. Even if they think it will work and it winds up failing, all is not lost. It doesn’t mean another idea won’t work next time and you will have gained valuable experience along the way.”

Neil Ferish, 27, who co-founded a company called Lightweight Medical three years ago – which designs and develops medical products and then licences them to manufacturers in return for royalties – believes it’s incredibly easy to start your own company if you ask for the help that’s out there. “But you have to be very, very committed,” he says.

‘Youth is on your side’

Last May, Spencer Craig, 26, set up Pure California, a healthy food and drinks outlet in Soho, London.

“Having graduated with a degree in politics and economics, I became increasingly keen to set up my own business, especially when I realised there was a gap in the market for healthy foods.

I set up the business with a friend. You need a relationship that will withstand disagreements and where you can really communicate.

We asked everyone we could for advice. Some people protect their idea for fear of it being stolen, but my belief is that you need to take advantage of the university network you have, as well as the opinions of literally anyone you know.

Youth is on your side. You’ll have more energy, which you’ll need because setting up your own business means working very long hours, at least at the start. Also, people are more likely to open doors for you. Many organisations exist just to help young people start up.

Our business is going from strength to strength and it’s incredibly satisfying to see people enjoy the experience of a concept that you thought up in your head. There are no downsides to owning your own business, as far as I’m concerned.”

Master classes

The range of postgraduate courses for entrepreneurs is growing

“Among the benefits of postgraduate study for those wishing to set up a business are the network of people you get and the expertise of staff,” says Kate Stewart, who heads up the MSc in marketing entrepreneurship and strategy at the University of Ulster.

Michael Jenkins, who runs the Up and Running athletics equipment franchise in Belfast adds,”My participation in the Master’s at Ulster has made me question and challenge the way I approach my business. I am now thinking on a much bigger scale. Almost every class and module I do has a strong connection with my business.”

The range of postgraduate courses is growing, with options from Masters courses in entrepreneurship to diplomas in business studies. “But they can be expensive, so be sure to check the course will provide you with skills you can’t gain elsewhere,” cautions Lorna Collins, director of the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship’s Flying Start Campaign. It’s also worth asking how many previous students are successfully running their own businesses.

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