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Student entrepreneurs – why wait to finish uni?

Did you know Microsoft, Facebook and Snapchat were all started by students either during or straight after college or uni? In fact Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg never even made it to graduation. They dropped out of college to pursue their dreams and it’s fair to say those particular billionaires probably don’t have many regrets. We did some digging on the subject and caught up with a student entrepreneur hoping to replicate this success:

The good news is that there is plenty of entrepreneurial spirit this side of the pond too. Researchers at YouthSight interviewed 2,000 full-time undergraduate students in the UK and discovered almost a quarter of them were already running a business or planned to start one in the near future. We’re not talking about second hand computer games and fashion cast-offs here – these businesses are collectively turning over more than £44 million a year.

So what drives these young men and women to juggle student life and sales spreadsheets? We met one such entrepreneur – Tim Brazier.

Tim was an Energy Engineering undergraduate at Leeds University when he founded My Student Venture, a web-based platform that links businesses and start-ups to talented local students who have the skills to help them succeed and grow.

How did it all start?

Like a lot of ideas it started by accident. My initial idea was light-up skis, using the energy created while skiing to power the illuminations. The problem was, I needed a designer and despite being surrounded by students my university didn’t know any that had design skills. That led to my next idea – My Student Venture. We now have around 200 students with varying skills who’ll work on a brief if it suits their talents.

How hard was it to fit in around your studying?

I’ve always been someone that likes to be busy and student life has certainly taught me how to pull late nighters when needed. I did have to be disciplined though. TV box sets were out of bounds and I certainly didn’t sleep as much as other students.

Was the university environment a help or hindrance to your entrepreneurship?

I’d say it was a definite help. For a start, I was surrounded by talented people – both students and lecturers – and there was a lot of support out there. The spirit of My Student Venture is collaboration so I was also lucky to have students who were prepared to help me design my website and logo.

Do people take you less seriously when you are a student?  

Generally people have been very encouraging and supportive of my decision to start a business so young. Of course there have been some doubters, particularly from the older generation, but I just remind them how Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg started out.

What advice would you give to a student entrepreneur with an idea?

The best place to start is with your university enterprise service, careers centre or enterprise society. I’d also recommend NACUE (The National Association of College & University Entrepreneurs). I’m always happy to help other young students that want to do a start-up and they’re welcome to email me at tim@mystudentventure.com or follow me on Twitter @mysventure or @tim_brazier.

So what sort of help can NACUE offer? We decided to find out.

Holly Knower is NACUE’s Head of Community. She told us a little bit about what they do.

“At NACUE we want to help students understand that entrepreneurship is for everyone. For many, entrepreneurship seems like a daunting prospect. We want students to understand that it is ok to take risks and to make mistakes, and in fact, education is often the perfect time for this.”

She explained that the organisation gives students the opportunity to trial entrepreneurship while they’re still in the safety net of their college or university.

Holly’s keen to point out that age is no boundary to entrepreneurship. In fact she believes that anyone can be an entrepreneur if they have the drive to succeed, a pro-active approach to life and a flair for creativity. “Entrepreneurs tend to be excited by new opportunities and meeting new people,” she adds.

“We find that students often have the perfect conditions to explore entrepreneurship and self-employment,” she says. “They generally have fewer responsibilities and more flexible time, which they can use to develop and test their ideas. They are also surrounded by a network of peers that they can collaborate with and learn from.”

If you’d like to learn more about NACUE, visit www.nacue.com.

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