Many a candidate on BBC1 hit show The Apprentice cut their teeth as a student entrepreneur before pitching their business idea on TV in a bid to win Lord Alan Sugar’s financial backing.
And now it has emerged that nearly a quarter of students either run or plan to run their own business while at university, with estimated collective revenues of more than £44 million per year.
The report from Santander Universities – a social action arm of financial giant Santander, which supports student start-ups – found technology-based solutions and arts or crafts are the most common type of student venture, followed by clothing and textiles, catering and tutoring.
Online is by far the most popular channel for selling their products and services, with almost half doing so via their own website, 13 per cent via other websites such as eBay or Gumtree, and 11 per cent through social media sites.
The majority of students surveyed – 43 per cent – said their motivation for starting a business was to pursue a hobby or personal interest, while 38 per cent were driven by financial motivation, and one in ten hoped to gain work experience.
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Simon Bray, director of Santander Universities UK, said: “Students are generating significant sums of money and gaining invaluable experience as a result of their entrepreneurial ventures. The prevalence of these businesses demonstrates a great deal of skill and initiative from students across the UK, who are already under pressure to meet the demands of their studies.”
The Santander study also questioned students about any future plans they have for their businesses and found that 27 per cent expect to pursue it as a career when they graduate.
More than half said they would continue the business as a second job or hobby once they finish university and 8 per cent said the business would continue under the guidance of someone else.
Just 6 per cent said they would close it down once they had completed their studies.
Colin Borland, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: “This explodes the myth all students are walking around with their heads in the clouds and have no idea about the real world. It is good that while they’re at university, or even before, they have experience of running a business and get an introduction to business life.
“Whether or not they continue with it afterwards, or choose to go into business, they will have a head start as they already understand the realities of working life and what is required of them.”
Paul Devlin, enterprise development manager at the University of Edinburgh’s Research and Innovation arm, said various sources of funding and support are available in Scotland for would-be entrepreneurs.
“Starting a business as a student allows people to get into it in a risk-free environment and if it works, fantastic. If it doesn’t continue afterwards, then they have still learned useful skills,” he said. “The kind of skills that employers are looking for are identical to those learned by entrepreneurs. If you’re a self-starter and a good communicator, then it’s the same.”
The Apprentice candidate Solomon Akhtar graduated from Exeter University last year, where he set up Instabear, a service that allows event guests to share photos on social media while simultaneously displaying them on big screens at events.
The tenth series of The Apprentice was won on Sunday by Australian Mark Wright, an IT advertising sales entrepreneur.
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