Fund your Start-Up with Student Upstarts
Today's Q&A features a Student/Graduate entrepreneur duo (Christian Jakenfields & Matthew Stafford).
1) Hi Guys, tell us a little bit about Student Upstarts and how you come up with the idea?
Student Upstarts is a pretty simple proposition - we will invest up to £15,000 in exchange for around 8% equity in student run businesses. We help the companies get incorporated, assist with shareholders agreements, IP assignment, accounting and connect them with mentors, entrepreneurs and investors in London.
Matthew's answer nailed who we are.
Regarding how the idea came about, for me, the idea to start Student Upstarts came from being involved with Imperial Entrepreneurs in my first year at Imperial College. I met many smart students with brilliant ideas and tenacious attitudes, who were getting swayed by the big salaries at banks and consultancies, telling themselves 'I want to be an entrepreneur, but I will do it later'.
I realised if we could give them the sound backing of mentoring and advice to help them stay on track and learn areas outside of the core function of their business, they could become successful entrepreneurs right now.
Me and Matthew were introduced last September and we decided to make this happen for London students in Q1 2012 and now taking applications from all over the UK.
2) What is your background and what inspires you and drives you towards being entrepreneurs?
My background is fairly short! I left school after completing my A-levels and did well enough to attend Biochemistry at a choice of Universities. However, I wasn't sure I wanted to do pure science. I decided to take a year out, which looking back is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Unlike most 18 year olds I didn't go travelling to the east, but instead set out to find what I truly loved doing and find out the right career path for me.
I spent 6 months in the recruitment industry. By the end of the 6 months, I discovered that recruitment was great fun, but I wasn’t so keen on working a small part of a project, it didn't give me that sense of completion that I crave from work. However, a great by-product of this opportunity was the fact that I saw so many cv's of so many varied people. Here I was trying to map out my life, when I was presented with the blueprints for 100s!
So with 6-months still left of my break from education, I started working for a pair of entrepreneurs who were father and son near Baker Street. Every day was different and we were our own bosses. One day we would be sorting out investments, the next legals, then onto negotiations and business strategy for the next 5 years. The pace was incredible, and what I think I loved the most was the immediacy of decisions. Safe to say by the end of six months I had caught the entrepreneur's bug.
Fairly unconventional background – I worked for John Lewis after A-levels, and then I started a t-shirt business embroidering logos onto t-shirts for other businesses. After doing that alone in a damp, windowless basement in North London for a year, I went back to retail management for Austin Reed. Utterly directionless I got into I.T. in 1999 because RBS were recruiting anyone and everyone in preparation for the 'Y2K' bug. I hardly knew the front of a PC from the back but loved it and progressed well and within a year became a Consultant to a number of RBS's smaller clients.
I was doing well and progressing up the ranks but wanted to know more of the tech 'behind the scenes', so left the Bank to study Computer Science full time at Durham University. I graduated in 2006, moved to London and went back to working for financial services software companies. Wanting more of a challenge, I found out a friend of mine had recently done an MBA which had really boosted his career so I looked into that and subsequently started an Exec MBA at Imperial College. While the Computer Science was academically hard for me (it's half a maths degree after all) the MBA was hard in a completely different way - it wasn't rocket science but the quantity of work was the challenge (I still managed to work fulltime, do an ultra marathon and my daughter was born halfway through the course). While I thought that the MBA might show that I ought to go the traditional route of investment banking or consulting, I was studying in 2008/9 and the credit crunch was going on around us - a terrific time to learn. During the course, though, it became clear that I wanted to work with entrepreneurs and small companies. Starting with Pembridge clarified this even more - during 2011 I met with over 400 companies and set-up http://ycldn.com which was the catalyst for me to just 'get on with it'.
3) What steps did you take when the idea came to you?
I'd wanted to do something like Student Upstarts since my Durham days - my motivation was that I wanted to start a business out of University but realised after my t-shirt business experience that I needed a good team. After doing my MBA I talked to Imperial College about doing something, where talented techies in the undergrad world could work with commercial people from the business school and the university could invest some money, take some equity and offer space and mentoring. The business school couldn't/wouldn't do this but I was introduced to Christian who was trying to do something similar at the undergrad level. We talked things over, realised we were similarly motivated and Christian already had Nick (Wheeler, our investor) on board so we decided to set something up for all of London students, not just Imperial.
As President of the Entrepreneurs Society at Imperial College, Christian was able to reach out to other universities in London to get applicants for Student Upstarts and as I work for Pembridge (an early stage investor), had set-up http://ycldn.com and was forming what would become http://9others.com. I had a good network of people to help get Student Upstarts started!
Before it even had a name I was out getting support.
As Matthew points out, prior to him coming on board I had been connected to Nicholas Wheeler (Charles Tyrwhitt founder) by a mutual connection and presented the idea to him. Nick totally understood where I was coming from. Having initially started his own business while studying at Bristol University, he joined Bain consulting. However, within a few years he had left and started running Charles Tyrwhitt full-time. So he understands the potential of the students at University, having been one of them not so long ago.
While I was meeting everyone I could to try and get feedback and develop it further, Matthew was someone that several people said I should meet, and after our first meeting we ended up meeting several more times before Matthew came on board as a co-founder.
4) What has been the biggest struggle with getting SUS up and running? What’s been the greatest moment in the journey?
The legals are a challenge! We've had great help from our legal partners, Nabarro, but as an entrepreneur, things never happen quickly enough, so this is a challenge to both us and the Student Upstart teams. We also haven't had as many applications as we'd have liked - we have the quality but it would be good to increase quantity.
Building the brand and the name is always going to be a struggle at first, you feel so small but you just have to keep on going!
The greatest moment for me would have to be the first set of interviews we did. There we were sitting in the room together with Nick and Damien (our Technical advisor) with companies pitching to us. It was no longer on paper, it was happening right in front of us.
5) What advice would you give to students/grads that have established a business, and now seek finance to take it to the next level?
Apply! Apply! Apply! We can't invest if you don't tell us about yourselves.
Get in touch - email@example.com
If you haven't established a business you can still apply - we love people who have 'done stuff' - so start a project, sell something and make some profit - the hardest part is to begin.
6) Do you see the rise in entrepreneurship amongst students/grads continuing? If so, what else can be done to support them?
I think so. It has gotten a boost because of the tough economy but I think it was already on rise regardless. Groups like NACUE are doing an amazing job to support entrepreneurs and the government is slowly getting more involved.
I do and I hope it becomes the norm for students to run companies. Funding is important but a lot can be done without funding, just get 'entrepreneurial'!
7) You won the mentoring prize draw at our last event – how important would you say it is to have a mentor/coach?
Extremely, but it must be the right person for you, which you'll only know after the first few meetings. All athletes have coaches and we'd be surprised if they didn't - this helps them get to the top of their chosen sport, so why shouldn't an entrepreneur have one to get to the top of business.
Matthew's point here is fantastic. To be a top athlete without any coaching is impossible, so why is business any different? Obviously, you will have mentors that you can talk to and they will help, but it has been incredibly helpful to sit once a month for a few hours with Agnes our coach and work on developing ourselves and the business.
8) Lastly, what would be your top 3 tips for budding entrepreneurs?
1. Hang out with the people you want to be more like in terms of getting things done and being entrepreneurial. If you want to take risks and be entrepreneurial, you won't do that sitting at home.
2. Don't care what others think. People will tell you that you can't do something because they can't do it themselves.
3. Build a support network, be it co-founders or mentors, find people that you can talk to when you hit a rut. It will happen.
1. Find a friend and begin something - start a project that makes money - doesn't have to be grand and fancy, that's why I say 'project' and not 'business'
2. Network - just go meet people - there are so many networking events in London with free beer and pizza and awesome people so go do lots of this (email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info on these)
Thanks Guys. Students looking to raise finance for their startup, be sure to check out www.studentupstarts.com