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WestFocus paves the way for graduate start-ups

WestFocus paves the way for graduate start-ups
Enterprising students and graduates have solid business support through schemes like WestFocus

Start-up ventures and entrepreneurs are on the rise in the UK. Research suggests that many workers are turning to entrepreneurship as a result of the recession, as redundancies and unemployment levels continue to rise.

However, a growing number of start-up ventures signal that many individuals are turning to self-employment, and are taking advantage of an otherwise negative position. This is further backed up by figures, which shows that enquiries for one-person offices were 42% higher over the first half of 2009 than the same period in 2008 (Jan-July).

Graduate support

New graduates are not immune to the downturn either, and many skilled University-leavers face unemployment as a result of diminishing job availability and increased competition in the recruitment market.

Figures by High Fliers at the beginning of the year show that the UK’s leading graduate employers have reduced their recruitment targets by 17% since September 2008, while figures in April 2009 show that just 36% of final year students believe they will either start or be looking for graduate jobs after leaving university.

Such sentiment acts as an incentive for an increasing number of University graduates to enter self-employment this year, many of which start their ventures whilst still in education. Further encouragement for young enterprises can be found in improved levels of support for students and graduates within the higher education network.

WestFocus is one such example of a support system that exists to bridge the gap between higher education and the business world. Promoting supporting activities, knowledge exchange networks and entrepreneurial backing, the scheme assists both students and post-graduates to help set up or improve their business.

It also gives young entrepreneurs help to acquire funding, find employment or placements, and gain new skills.

Award schemes such as Bright Ideas, the Enterprising Business Awards, and networking schemes such as Knowledge London are all designed to help encourage and support University students and graduates to further their business models.

WestFocus runs learning events and activities through which students can learn to generate ideas and develop them to the point where they may become enterprises.

For instance, Bright Ideas is the annual ideas competition, which attracts over 150 students each year. The competition involves Masterclasses in creativity and ideas development, as well as sessions on how to communicate ideas, and is complemented by online materials through which students can learn about investigating the feasibility of an idea. The competition is open to students across the WestFocus network of seven universities.

Dr. Martha Mador, Head of the WestFocus Entrepreneurship Centre says:

“We provide a safe learning environment where students can aspire to be and do more. It’s important for students to see entrepreneurship as a valid career choice, and also for them to be ready to be entrepreneurial within the over 3,000,000 small enterprises in the UK.”

The success of the WestFocus network at supporting entrepreneurship is shown by an increasing number of graduate startups. Kingston University, for instance, has about 120 startups among recent graduates each year. The Enterprising Graduate Awards help to support this, by providing small sums of money, a structured programme of support, and a peer learning network.

There are currently 31 graduates engaged in the scheme, pursuing ideas as varied as online communities, property companies, tennis schemes, and a social enterprise supporting schools developing their enterprise activities.

Recession puts positive spin on student enterprise

As highlighted in a report earlier this year, young entrepreneurs are using the difficult economy to their advantage. Student Steve Barnes, who set up his own business during his second year at Warwick Business School, said:

“The number of graduate start-ups will definitely increase because of the recession. With the graduate job market as it is, anyone who’s got a business idea will be more incentivised to go and implement it. As there are less safe jobs out there it’s a good time to take that risk.”

Mark Parry is a Kingston Graduate in Computer Science. While a student, he supported himself by doing web developments and small scale programming for small firms. He developed several businesses linked to the catering trade, including an online booking service for independent restaurants, and a business which supplied the IT needs for catering outlets in large exhibition centres.

He sold one of his businesses when he was 23, and hired managers to run the others, while developing a new enterprise in the developing WiFi networks market. His expertise and his strong entrepreneurial networks have been essential to developing his enterprises, enabling him to bring in partners and sub-contractors along the way.

Research shows that young start-ups have a more competitive edge too, as they have generally had less time to accrue an expensive lifestyle, and generally don’t have dependents or high overheads. Later on in life the stakes typically increase, as entrepreneurs start to take on mortgages and bank loans.

While the economic outlook throws up extra challenges for SMEs, enterprise expert Mike Southon argues that start-ups can gain enormously from today’s economy:

“Now is the perfect time to start a business. Recessions come in cycles. During a recession people and things are cheap, so it’s a good time to get deals on office space and suppliers, then you’re in a good position when the economy picks back up again.”

Serviced offices offer tailored solution for graduate start-ups

As per Southon’s reference to cheaper office space, the average price of serviced offices in the UK has dropped in many regions. In Central London for example, statistics show that the average cost per workstation dropped by 26% over the first half of 2009 when compared to the same period in 2008, offering enormous cost-saving potential.

Serviced offices are ideal for start-ups, as they operate on consolidated monthly costs which typically include everything from rent and rates to car parking and meeting room hire. Tenants can occupy anything from one desk upwards, for a matter of weeks or a number of years.

Furthermore, maintaining an office can help to project a much more successful business image, and when occupying a desk in a shared office environment, tenants are exposed to other like-minded professionals which opens up plenty of free networking opportunities.

Find out more

If you’re a graduate or young entrepreneur, and you’re looking for help with your idea or to grow your business, visit WestFocus for expert help and advice.

To find out more about office space to rent for your business, search online at, or get free, helpful advice from our team of regional experts.

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Author: | September 18, 2009 | 0 Comments

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