Entrepreneurs are depicted as visionaries, wealth-creators, even as “Superhuman”. But what is the reality facing people starting out? Does a recipe exist for successful business enterprise? Derry Nairn finds out…
When it comes to entrepreneurship, it”s generally assumed that it takes a certain type of person to make a success of it. But what are the essential attributes that make it more likely for one individual to succeed over another?
"Tenacity! And lots of it!" exclaims Laura Thorp. She left her degree course to run a food company making biscuits, shortbreads, and other bakery products made with spelt flour. "You don”t need a business degree. Just do your research, plan it properly and remember that cash-flow is everything!"
"Faith is key," claims Tom Minter. He set up BuddaBag in Manchester while studying. The furniture company has now opened outlets in Dublin and London. "If you take the first step in faith, the next step will unfold before you. You do not have to see the entire journey, just take the first step."
"Some entrepreneurs probably have a lot of arrogance," argues Charlotte Fraser. While studying Anthropology at St Andrews University she established and ran her own airport-transfer company, St Andrews Direct. "But, at the end of the day, arrogance can work against you. I”d argue that everybody”s got the potential to run their own business."
"Even if your idea seems silly," she continues, "don”t give up on it. A really good stimulus is to say to yourself: “If only this was true, if only that was true…” Then realise that most things are achievable."
The advice from these young entrepreneurs shows that anyone can start a business if they believe in it. Craig Murdoch couldn”t agree more. After working for larger companies, he set up his own courier firm, Rush Couriers, three years ago.
"Have a vision," he advises. "I started my business knowing where I wanted to be in the end. My vans run on gas, our office is carbon-neutral, and we use sustainable partners as much as possible. Driving profit should not always be the priority."
James Eder concurs: "It”s not about the money," he says. While still studying in Birmingham, Eder set up studentbeans.com, a website offering half-price restaurant and shopping vouchers. "I feel like someone who writes a hit song and then hears strangers humming it. What was a small idea has become something bigger and touched people. For me, it”s a creative process."
"Basically, it comes down to wanting it enough," observes Kirill Makharinksy, the 2006 Real World Graduate of the Year. With multiple projects to his name, Kirill”s most prominent achievement has been Enternships, a social enterprise organising internships for students. "Never give up," he advises. "You need to be able to finish and execute tasks. And be prepared to always be thinking about the business."
BuddaBag”s Tom takes a more prosaic approach: "Just start," he says. "Just do something. Buy some wholesale t-shirts. Sell them for a profit. In one week of looking for suppliers, negotiating the deal, and marketing your product, you will learn more about business than a year at business school."
But should potential business-starters really drop out of education? "Of course not," says Kirill, "What my education did was allow me to get to know other people who were interested in the same things that
I was. It made a huge difference and really shaped what I”m working on and who I”m working with now."
The spare time that university allows can be helpful. "Just let ideas come to you," claims St Andrews Direct”s Charlotte. "Starting a business is all about the initial idea."
So where did online casino these business-starters receive their inspiration? "I wanted to buy a big beanbag for my front room and couldn”t find one," remembers Tom. "I thought “It can”t be that difficult to make one”. So I did. Then I thought, “How can I make it better than a beanbag?” So I cut up an orthopaedic mattress and stuffed it inside. Suddenly all my friends wanted one!"
It goes back even further for Studentbeans” James: "When I was 13, I was taking black and white photos of dogs and selling them to the owners," he explains. "Studentbeans.com was a natural progression."
Be under no illusions though, entrepreneurship is hard work. It can be a lonely occupation: no water-cooler gossip; no secure monthly pay slip. Going against others” advice for an idea you believe in is a tough choice too.
"The hardest thing for me was actually taking the leap," Charlotte remembers. "In the beginning, I went to an insurance company. The man spent the whole time laughing at my idea from behind his desk. But I didn”t take it to heart because I had enough confidence in both me and my idea."
If you are keen to set up a business, support may be closer than you think. "I”d set up a stall in a market, selling biscuits, one summer during college," recalls Laura. "I did it because there was very little on offer for those off-wheat who wanted a nice treat. Then the local Enterprise Board gave me a grant towards equipment and renovations. This gave me some extra credibility with the banks who also gave me a loan. The rest came from family and friends. It was such a success that I gave up my degree."
In the UK, the Prince”s Trust runs regular enterprise-themed award schemes. The British Library”s Business Collections has lots of advice on patents and protection for the small start-up, too.
Starting a business can contribute to other areas of your life too. "It”s the most holistic and broad education you can get," says Laura. "You are continually becoming stronger mentally and emotionally, more confident and much more knowledgeable than you would in any PAYE job."
Practical business experience looks very impressive on a CV as well. "Most questions I”ve been asked in interviews are about the business. It has definitely made me stand out from the crowd," asserts Charlotte.
"And on a personal level, I reckon my boyfriend was impressed by it too," she laughs. "I won his heart thanks to St Andrews Direct!"
For more information about becoming an entrepreneur take a look at the resources below.
Useful resources for young entrepreneurs:
Startups offers free – and very readable guides – to starting up all sorts of small businesses, from a fish & chip shop to a florists.
Small Business Advice is run by the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies and features lots of useful information.
Start Business has more than 800 guides to starting a small business as well as links to related books on Amazon.
Oxford Entrepreneurs is a society aimed at young Oxford University entrepreneurs. The advice and links section is useful. Why not set up a similar society at your university?
Business Gateway is a Scottish government agency designed to help out the young and intrepid business starter.
Enterprise Ireland is a similar venture in Ireland.
The British Library Business Collections, near London”s King”s Cross, holds a huge collection of market research, both online and in its business section. Best news? It”s free!
The Small Firms Loan Guarantee is a government-backed low-interest loan for small businesses.
Shell LiveWIRE aims to help 16-30 year olds to develop their own business and hosts a national competition for new business start-ups.
The Prince”s Trust offers advice, support, low-interest loans and grants for young people who are full of ideas but perhaps low on resources.