Graduates – There’s no time like the present to start a new business! Part 2

In the last blog, we looked at why young entrepreneurs are becoming a force to be reckoned with. Not only do they have the drive and enthusiasm that is needed to get through the ups and downs that all early stage businesses face, but there’s an increasing amount of help and support available for start-ups which they can capitalise on too. 

Of course, anyone going into business has to be resilient enough, stubborn even, to believe in their idea despite the many setbacks that are certain to come their way. With a great deal of experience working with young entrepreneurs, we have come up with five top tips for anyone considering taking the leap. 

1. Have a great idea but think it through

Having a good idea is, of course, one of the best ways to start a business and that’s something that graduates aren’t usually short of! So, can you spot a gap in a marketplace? In order to find your idea you need to be able to solve a problem. Think about what’s going on around you right now, or issues you’ve faced yourself and brainstorm a few ideas. Often, great concepts come from your own experience of study, so think about your university projects and where they could lead. 

Once you’ve found a problem to solve, focus on your value proposition; in other words, what value will you deliver to your customer? Which one of your potential customer’s problems are you solving? How much will people pay for your product/solution? You need to make sure you can deliver this and also make a sensible profit margin or you won’t have a viable, sustainable business. 

Think about your market – how big it is (realistically) and what your market share is likely to be. When it comes to finance, you need to know how your business will make money. Depending on the scale of your business idea you could need investment and, if so, how will you factor that in and when will the investor get a return? 

Fundamentally, you need to stand out and differentiate your offering from your competition. If you can answer most of these questions then you should be well on your way to discovering if your business is viable and putting your plans into action. 

2. Get a business partner or a mentor 

Catalyst Centre tenants and business partners Robin Bilgil and Simon Edwards of Parsly said that having each other has been invaluable during their start-up phase. Not only do they get on very well, but they can bounce ideas off one another, make decisions and share successes. This isn’t to say they haven’t had their fair share of disagreements, but business can be lonely and scary, so having a partner to share the experience with can help make things a little easier and reduce the fear factor. 

If you do go down the partnership route, make sure you both have the same values, vision and work ethic. You don’t want to get yourself into a situation where you’ve met someone less committed and you end up doing all the work. Partnering with someone you’re not too sure about will cause major issues further down the line. 

If you’re scared to go it alone but can’t find the right business partner, or don’t want one, consider a business mentor, someone who has been there and done it and can give you sound advice. Mentor Phil Sharpe supports the Catalyst Centre tenants for six months and many of the previous winners have said how this has been one of the biggest benefits of being on the programme. 

Mike Santer of BluPoint said: “Catalyst mentor Phil Sharpe had been an invaluable sounding board for my ideas. Having someone who knows my business inside and out and someone who challenges and criticises has been very important.” Gareth Bristow of RocPro commented: “My time in the Catalyst Centre has been spent working closely with mentor Phil Sharpe to get my business plan ready for investors, refining my designs, and working to ensure that the brand is strong.”

3. Take criticism well

Not all advice is well received however! Our resident mentor Phil Sharpe has some sound advice on criticism and how to use it to your advantage. He says: “You must be able to exploit criticism. A lot of people who are passionate about their own businesses seem to take criticism very personally, but actually it can be really powerful stuff. Just by recognising that somebody else has got a different angle on your business – an angle you could never have because you haven’t got their experience of life could be vital – so it’s important to try and turn negative criticism around and exploit it.”

4. Persevere!

If you think you can put something off until tomorrow that can be done today then don’t even think about starting a business! You must be able to persevere in the face of adversity because you’re going to get a lot of it. But, being a graduate you’re more than likely to be young and fearless so you have time to make mistakes – the important thing is to learn from them!

5. Apply for the Catalyst Centre today! 

Finally, if you’re a graduate with an intriguing science or technology-led idea and the drive and determination to succeed, then we want to hear from you now! There are up to seven places available at the Catalyst Centre from September 2014 and entries are open now until 31st May.  

Visit www.usspcatalystcentre.org.uk for further information and to submit an application via a short online form describing your business idea. The chosen shortlist will be invited to pitch their proposition to a judging panel comprising already successful entrepreneurs.

Good luck!