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

It’s no wonder that business owners are getting younger. At a time when graduates are finding it tougher than ever to get a job, facing fierce competition and the prospect of a potentially lengthy period of unemployment, entrepreneurship is fast becoming a viable career option. Whilst many graduates head off travelling after university, the more driven will consider starting up and having a mini adventure of their own. If nothing else, they will acquire a host of practical skills that could give them the edge over other candidates and impress prospective employers if they need to look for a job in the future.

Nick D’Aloisio is one of the UK’s youngest self-made millionaires. At the age of 16, he sold Summly, an artificial intelligence technology, to Yahoo for a reported $30 million. And then of course there’s Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. With a great deal of publicity surrounding young and successful entrepreneurs, more graduates are being lured into the idea of making it big in business and what have they got to lose?

Well, there’s certainly more help and support available than there’s ever been. Start-ups and SMEs are seen as an important factor in helping to speed up the UK’s recovery from the recession. In the 2014 budget, George Osborne revealed plans to increase support for start-ups and small businesses in order to boost enterprise and reignite growth through innovation. These plans include the continuation of the ‘Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme’ and an increased focus on R&D and manufacturing. 

We’re also seeing that universities are increasingly supporting entrepreneurship as a viable career option for graduates. Many now have student enterprise support where graduates considering this path can receive some basic guidance, even if it is just a sounding board or a point in the right direction. 

It is tough entering the world of business and incubators like the Catalyst Centre here at the University of Southampton Science Park are a great starting point for graduates with innovative business ideas. Quite unlike other sources of help for start-ups, the role of an incubator is to increase the chance of success and achieving growth while shortening timeframes and reducing costs. They do so by providing access to physical resources like office space, help to secure funding and investment, relevant networking opportunities and business coaching. A word of warning though, this support often comes with a catch, with 10-15% of a business’s equity typically sacrificed on entry. For any early-stage business, giving up equity so early on can cause myriad problems further down the line which is why the Catalyst Centre does not take any equity from the companies it supports. 

Three graduate businesses have entered the Catalyst Centre over the past two years. Zack Young started Cherry Bird whilst at university after he saw a gap in the market for an online student lettings agency that would take the hassle out of student lettings and create a fair marketplace for both students and landlords. The resulting website allows students to find a house, sign contracts, approve guarantors and pay rent and bills. 

Parsly is a concept developed by University of Southampton students Robin Bilgil and Simon Edwards, who, whilst at university, identified a gap in the process between finding a tempting dish online and actually getting around to buying the ingredients and creating it at home. They entered the Catalyst Centre and keen readers of this blog will know how successful they’ve been as a result. 

Mike Santer of BluPoint started his business on the back of his PhD research project. He knew he had a great concept; what he needed was the support, mentoring and business expertise to help him get his start-up off the ground commercially. Mike was encouraged by his PhD supervisor to apply for the Catalyst Centre programme following the completion of his PhD.

Often, graduate businesses are started on the back of a previous university project or something that has come to light during study. However, it’s key to bear in mind that due to intensity of the programme, starting a business whilst studying is a huge challenge, as several of our Catalyst Centre tenants have found out. You may find that you have to choose between your business or furthering your education. If you do, remember Parsly’s parting words: “We’ve learnt more during our time at the Catalyst Centre than we did during three years at university!” 

In next week’s blog, we have some top tips for those entrepreneurial spirits who are considering taking the brave step into business after graduation. In the mean time, if you’re just about to graduate and think that starting a science or technology business is for you, why not apply?