Sheffield Hallam University students

More than 170 students and recent graduates from eight universities are on course to launch and grow their own businesses after taking part in the first inter-university start-up Bootcamp run by straight-talking entrepreneurial support service, UNpreneur.

The UNpreneur Bootcamp was conceived in response to the challenging job market* resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic. It allowed new graduates to explore the alternative career path of self-employment.

Following the success of the pilot project, which included universities from the four nations of the UK, UNpreneur and lead partner Sheffield Hallam University are already planning an expansion of the Bootcamp for 2022, to include more universities and in-person delivery. 

The Bootcamp was fully funded by all eight partner universities, and so was free for the students and graduates who took part. Participants attended six weekly workshops which covered a range of themes: develop the right mindset to run a business; finding customers; market products and services; setting goals through increased self-awareness; build and develop a team; making connections to gain advice and investment.

The eight UK institutions included: Sheffield Hallam University, Birmingham City University, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, University of Glasgow, University of Liverpool, University of South Wales, and the University of Sunderland.

Many businesses across the UK benefitted from the support of the inter-university Bootcamp, just some of which included Freedom in Waves, Footsteps Theatre and FinP Circle.

As the harsh impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on frontline workers became clear, full-time anaesthetic associate, Emma Hughes, launched Freedom in Waves to add a pop of colour to quality outdoor clothing, spreading positivity through fashion and encouraging people to seek freedom outdoors.

She said: “My goal is to create a positive, powerful, and supportive community through our clothing design. The logo – a bold forward-facing arrow – conveys the powerful message to keep going. Wear it, and you inspire others to do exactly that.”

“The intention is to use that vision of a stylish design incorporating forward direction to encourage everyone to keep going, even on days we feel we can’t.”

In a similar vein of boosting positivity, Sheffield College student Naomi Conway began Footsteps Theatre with the aim of bridging the gap between a person and their happiness.

She said: “We support our members in the development of life skills with an emphasis on self-confidence. All of our classes work towards performing live production, meaning we are active, exciting, and continuously provide the opportunity for our students to be whatever they want to be”

Meanwhile, Sanjeet Bezalwar has found a way to apply a social media model to financial services, providing financial advice without the huge costs normally involved.

He said: “FinP circle is a portal designed to help people upgrade their understanding of personal finance by connecting them to finance professionals. Many people are not comfortable talking about their finances in public, but through its closed network, FinP circle provides a platform for people to speak confidentially with financial professionals about their concerns.”

Kallum Russell, Chief UNpreneurship Officer at UNpreneur, co-founded the Dundee based business in 2017 to provide the entrepreneurial support he wished he’d received when he launched his own businesses after graduation.

He said: “The damage that the coronavirus restrictions have done to our economy means that it’s harder than ever for graduates to find employment.

“We know from previous experience that bringing together participants from a range of backgrounds and regions can help support and accelerate their business journey through shared learnings and collaboration. 

“As we build back better following the coronavirus pandemic, we need young companies with innovative ideas, who will create the jobs and wealth we need to rebuild our economy.

“We want to share the learnings we’ve built up over several years of running business incubators and enterprise training in universities, to help budding business owners learn the skills they need. These tricks of the trade can turn a good idea into a viable and thriving company.”

Darren Chouings, Business Incubation Manager from the lead institution partner, Sheffield Hallam University, commented: “We want to send a clear message to students and graduates that setting up their own businesses is a feasible and exciting option.

“Together with the team at UNpreneur, who are leaders in student enterprise, we brought together seven other universities across the UK to give students and recent graduates the skills and confidence they need to launch or grow their own companies.

“If you’ve got a great idea for a business and you get the right support then being your own boss is hugely rewarding and a valid alternative to a traditional graduate job. The workshops helped students and graduates develop the confidence and gain the skills needed to launch or grow a business venture.”

* A bad time to graduate: April 2020 Institute of Fiscal Studies