This September marks the implementation of the£9000 tuition fee tariff across England and Wales, and now more than ever the grim spectre of debt rears its ugly head. For those who scorn traditional part-time employment due to low pay or time constraints, there is always the option of going alone, and reaping the rewards of entrepreneurship.
The university environment is well suited to the budding entrepreneur, providing him or her with potential consumers, investors, contacts and a forum for sharing ideas. Social media provides the means to reach out to all these people with little or no advertising costs. Clearly, many students are taking advantage of these resources, and figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England say more than 2,350 businesses were started by university students or new graduates in the 2009-2010 academic year.
Perhaps the most famous example of student enterprise is the story of social networking titan Facebook, which this year was valued at over $104 billion. Yet, Facebook originated as a hot or not comparison site, not dissimilar to the FitFinder website launched in 2010 by UCL student Rich Martell.
FitFinder was a social networking website with a live feed on which users could post a location and a description of an attractive person who they had spotted. The website had 22,000 visitors in its first weekend but sparked national controversy, and UCL forced the computer science undergraduate to close down the site for bringing the university into disrepute. It was on the basis of FitFinder’s success that Martell went on to found the digital media company Floxx.
Less controversial is the story of ‘Thirstpass’, a discount card scheme created by four UCL undergraduates: Alex Emms, Finn Harries, Jonny Manfield and Gameli Ladzekpo, who invested £2,000 of their own money in the project. Based on their own experience struggling to save money during term time they designed a discount card that allows students to receive discounts at local bars, cafes and clubs. The scheme was hugely popular with both students and local businesses, and the team and their project reached the final of the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship awards. With money from a UCL bright ideas loan the team are relaunching the newly named Monster card at Fresher’s Fayre.
Another success story is the homegrown business Fox-Hunt menswear. This bespoke knitwear company is the brainchild of UCL engineering student Julija Bainiaksina. Established two years ago, the company will be launching their winter collection at stores in Notting Hill and Mayfair this year.
UCL boosts a number of organisations designed to help out budding businesspeople. For those interested in looking before they leap, the UCL entrepreneur’s society provides an environment to gain skills and experience before heading off to dragons’ den. They organise speeches from directors of successful start up projects, workshops to educate and inform, and even organise an Apprentice style event in which contestants compete to make money against the clock on the streets of London. For those looking to move further, UCL advances is the universities centre for business and entrepreneurship is able to provide advice, training, contacts and even funding. So, for those with entrepreneurial ambitions, university is your opportunity to bring them to fruition.