Go to university, secure an internship, get a degree and land a job. That is the trajectory that has been drilled into our heads. Undoubtedly, the benefits of pursuing a degree are supported by reams of evidence in terms of higher employment and earning potential.
Supplementing a degree program with a healthy number of extracurricular activities while staying active in the summer seems fulfil the expectations that come with tenure as students at university. But for a number of reasons, that course seems to be old-hat, unfulfilling or insufficient for a growing number of students.
At the same time, a growing culture and support structure is emerging to encourage students’ entrepreneurial endeavours. Perhaps the tools to create products and services are becoming more accessible to the point that a young person with the skills, expertise and ideas can simply do it.
Whatever the reason, the growing consensus is that student start-ups exist and should be encouraged. To celebrate young entrepreneurs, organisations such as the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards and the Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship recognise and encourage students – be they in high school, university, or graduate school – who create their own start-ups.
Relationship building and net- working services are available, offering the chance to meet like-minded people, hear speakers who have ‘been there, done that’ and connect with other ambitious young people.
Indeed, new trends and methods in capital financing schemes – the main stumbling block in getting a new business off the ground – have provided new opportunities for the university entrepreneur. Startup Loans, the Prince’s Trust, and Student Upstarts are all such schemes.
Beyond the advice, support and financing structures out there, students have a vast number of advantages in pursuing entrepreneurial endeavours. First, there is lower risk: a student-run business of modest proportions means that a university entrepreneur simply has less to lose: no dependents, no nine-to-five job that one has to sacrifice to spend time with their own company, and it is always going to be valuable learning experience no matter what the outcome.
Furthermore, students have a built-in network of fellow students and professors to recruit, communicate and work with. Perhaps most saliently, university students innately have their finger on the pulse of a large consumer demographic – that is, people like themselves. That, combined with the free time available to us, means this may be the best time to turn an idea into a commercial reality.
I sat down to talk to two such groups of students at St Andrews who did exactly that, and discussed with them their idea, their product, their experiences launching a new service, and their advice for any budding entrepreneurs.
YoQo consists of co-founders Sebastian Ohrn, Joe Palau and Matthew Keliris-Thomas, who sell and market quark, or “really awesome white stuff”, to UK consumers. Quark is described by Mr Ohrn as “a pretty Swedish / German thing that… is not as popular [here] as it is over there.
“Basically, in Sweden it’s used as a yogurt substitute, but as a healthy alternative: it has zero fat, no sugar and the highest protein content amongst dairy products. It is very popular in the fitness industry.”The team aims to “take it to the next level” – Mr Palau contends that “fitness people have it, but it’s not really branded as a fitness product. What we are doing it is taking it, and branding it as a fitness, health, and lifestyle product. It’s quark 2.0.”
Angling quark as a lifestyle product came to the duo as “a bored thought outside the library”. When asked about turning that into action, they responded casually: “It was really just get out and do it… To date, we’ve spent just under £1,000 getting a product developed, flying to England to meet our producer, getting samples made, getting our distributor, finding retailers. It’s not actually that difficult.”
Mr Palau said: “A lot of people have the idea that entrepreneurs of having a lot of great ideas, but when you think of it, anyone can come up with a business idea. What makes an entrepreneur different from a regular person is that they get out and do it.” The “just do it” mentality is shared by those in charge of another service, the St Andrews Travel Collective, which is a travel website set up by students Kelly Bertrando, Kajsa Johansson, Chris Andrews and Megan Evans.
The main thrust of the StATC is that it utilises existing social media services. as well as its own website, to provide a collaborative platform for St Andrews students an opportunity to review, recommend and share their travel experiences with others – and offer helpful tips for anyone who may be treading a similar path.
“I thought it would be kind of a shame, given where we are, to have a travel blog just be about my own experiences,” Ms Bertrando said. “When we come back from break, people have so many different experiences to share from so many places. It would be nice to have tips when going someplace, or to see if you can connect with someone who lives there, or if someone else is traveling there at the same time.”
By keeping the collective insular, the site aims to remain unspoiled by rigged reviews and provide a relatable standard of quality. “Sometimes student travel blogs are too student-y if you know what I mean,” Johansson said.
“With St Andrews students, though not always, knowing people who went there and had a great time means that you have something in common with them.”
The main thrust of my talks with these groups was that the barrier to entry is almost always smaller than you may think, and that the best way to start something is to simply push for it.
Mr Ohrn put it simply: “When doing business, people are often afraid that ‘people won’t want to work with us, we are just a couple of students and they are a big corporation.’ But, actually, from my experience, people are more willing to help than you would think. Most people want to do business.”