Just over a year ago, a team led by the Dean for University Enterprise (Prof Brian Tanner) and including Abz Dawar, President of Entrepreneurs Durham, was successful in winning a grant from the Intellectual Property Office to raise student awareness of the importance of intellectual property. We used student focus groups we distilled the key topics and messages to go into a 4 minute video. One of these formed part of the Level 3 Biology Enterprise module and the other took place at Entrepreneurs Durham’s “KickStart Weekend” in November, courtesy of Alpesh Mapara, its organiser.
It became clear that the topic of Intellectual Property had a lot to do with all students, even if they were not thinking of starting their own business. [Did you know that copyright is automatic on your dissertation?] It also became clear that students were extremely interested in case studies and examples but uninterested in stories of global companies having legal battles with each other. [Did you know that you can trademark a colour?]
The video is designed to give you a very brief introduction to trademarks, copyright, patents and design rights. You don’t become an expert by watching the video but in an engaging way, actress Yemisi Oyinloye describes the key rights of authors and inventors with just enough detail for you to want to know more. The aim is to leave residual memories such that students and graduates will think “Is there an Intellectual Property angle here?” when they meet a new professional situation.
Getting up for my morning lecture on Monday wasn’t so fun but by some miracle I made it. I am still completely and utterly shattered. I got a little more sleep than I had expected, but my adrenaline has now run out. The past three days at Kickstart Weekend - the biggest event in Entrepreneurs Durham’s calendar - have been unbelievable. If you did not make it, then all I can say is that you must do it next year.
Before I go into any more detail about the event itself I will explain to you in more detail what it is. Kickstart Weekend takes place from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. The event aims for the teams to ‘set up’ a business in a weekend. Ambitious right? Surprisingly doable. Now when I say business I don’t mean a business you could then launch on the next Monday (although you and your team could choose to launch the business together). The aim is more to take an idea, suggested on the Friday night, and develop it as a team and with the help of mentors, to be able to pitch the idea and your progress to a panel of judges on the Sunday afternoon. As you can imagine it is a task which requires a lot of effort. However what surprised me most was how easy it was to rise to the challenge. I am not saying the process was easy. But I was impressed the amount my team and I were able to achieve. My team got further with our idea over the weekend than I have with my own business idea over the last six months. The reason for that was because you were put in an environment where you had one thing and one thing only to focus on. The deadline was so tight that, as a student, I felt that my previous all nighter experience came in handy. Thankfully the event was supplied with large quantities of tea and coffee.
What was it like to participate? It was an experience. I know, a total cliché. But it was exactly that. An amazing experience. I learnt all sorts of things. Not all good. I realised that sometimes I should give my teammates a little more space to voice their opinions. I learnt odd things as well like the US wholesale candle websites are a lot easier to use than the UK ones. I learnt the Gates Shopping Centre is only open at 11 o’clock on a Sunday. I learnt useful tips (which I plan to share with you in the coming weeks) from the mentors. Mentioning the mentors, I must give a huge thank you to all of them. The mentors were immensely helpful to chat to. They challenged my teams’ idea by questioning us and taking different perspectives. Some of which, my team had not considered or foreseen. My favourite thing about the mentors was their enthusiasm for business and especially for start ups. Their insistence that planning, positivity and persistence were the key skills for us to take from the weekend. Now I can’t speak for the rest of my team or the other participants (although I hope they feel the same way) but I came back from the weekend with a lot of spark. After the weekend I just wanted to go home and work on my business idea. I wanted to see if I can test it, see if it works. The weekend also taught me the importance of having a team and a network to support you who can offer advice as well as play devil’s advocate. This was frustrating at times but I think we developed a better product because of it.
So all in all, would I so it again? Yes. I would not only repeat the weekend but also attend the event again. Why, you ask? Simply because the experience of a different team with a different idea would be a new challenge.
The two are possible. I know that deadlines, lab reports and essays loom constantly however students do set up businesses. It will be tough and it will be time-consuming, but there are an abundance of useful tips in the wide world of the Internet. What follows are the distilled essentials of being a student entrepreneur for your perusal.
1) Have a story and vision to your business. Why did you want to set it up? How did the idea come to you? Being a student can be a great place for that story to begin.
2) Look after yourself. Setting up a business is stressful and time-consuming. Especially if you are balancing it with a degree. Work hard, but give yourself a little bit of slack every now and again. Enjoy a night in Shack, an evening run or maybe some Mean Girls.
3) Look after your ideas. You are valuable and so are your ideas. Whilst making sure your ideas have not already been developed is crucial, it is just as important to prevent anyone else from taking them. The government website is a great starting point for finding a whole load of information on IP.
4) Be humble. Listen to advice. There are many skills you may need to learn. Yet depending on the cost, there are some skills that it may be more time effective to outsource, such as web design.
5) Make the most of being a student. Being a student means you (probably) have fewer responsibilities than you will do in later life and therefore you have a lot less to lose. Also, as a student you have a huge network and community to help you out - often for free too!
Rest assured, alongside your degree, your societies and your sports, building a business at Durham is possible. To give you even more insight, Entrepreneurs Durham interviewed a few of Durham’s student entrepreneurs at one of our latest events.
Here are their tips:
Gillian Mcloud: 2nd year, Economics, Snappy G
· Never give up. There will be many ups and downs but don’t give up.
· Contact departments. If your product or idea has a technical element then certain departments may be able to support.
Robin Murch: 2nd year, Chinese, Signal North East
· Be confident
· It will be hard work. Work hard. Don’t give up at any obstacle.
Matt Miller: 4th Year, Politics, Unireach
· Speak the customer’s language. Try and think what the customer wants to hear about your product rather than launching into a long passionate description.
· When constructing a team get people who have complimentary skill sets on board.
I hope these little insights inspire, help and encourage you to develop your ideas and businesses even further.
It is early February, we all know that the diet has gone out the window and you may or may not have given up on all those other New Year resolutions. Or possibly, in a mode of realistic cynicism, you have refused to commit to any. Whatever the state of your new year’s resolution, it is only February and you have many days left to try something new or reform the old. Therefore, I have a suggestion to make:
Consider some of the tips below to make your student life a little more entrepreneurial.
Now although it is possible to debate what makes a good student entrepreneur (possibly a future blog post) there are some key ideas that reoccur. So here goes a few ideas and tips of how can you improve your entrepreneurial mind-set as a student.
1) Punctual: Read your emails daily, reply immediately if necessary but try not to use them as a tool for procrastination. Using a spare five minutes between lectures could make all the difference.
2) Networking: Sit next to someone you don’t know in a seminar, on the bus or in a bar. Say hello and introduce yourself.
3) Failure: Be reflective and learn from your mistakes. Each day write down two things that went well and one thing you wish to improve. For the item you wish to improve on, write down a solution. Keep these items small such as ensuring that tomorrow you go for a run, put those business ideas on paper, get started on that summative or call your mum. The aim is not to make major reforms but to make small cumulative improvements.
4) Productivity: Write a to-do list and limit yourself to only nine tasks. Rank them from the most important to the least important. Cross the three least important off. Complete your new to-do list and allow yourself a small reward. Bear in mind that at this point you probably aren’t still adhering to your “no-chocolate” New Years resolution.
5) Money: Students are often skint and so are start-ups. However saving, planning and budgeting is important. One interesting trick that is suggested is getting piggy bank (one you can’t open) and then putting a £1 in it everyday. By using your loose change you don’t feel like you are making a massive dent in your budget but by the end of the year (if you start on the 1/2/2015) you will have £334. Not bad. You could use it for many things. Possibly even use it to invest in your own business idea. If you are thinking that you’ll forget, my suggestion is to keep track by writing a £1 sign in your planner on each day you have paid. Even better, the Market in Durham are selling tin piggy banks for a £1. PS. If you aren’t using a planner, start immediately!
So there you have it, a few useful ideas to bring a flying start to your February. I’d love to hear how you make your life a little more entrepreneurial. Why don’t you pop along to Entrepreneurs Durham’s next Beers and Business at the New Inn, 08.02.15, 19.30, to have a chat!
Entrepreneurs Durham would like to welcome you back to Durham for the start (well mid-January) of the New Year and a new term. We hope that you have settled in and are enjoying the snow.
We also are looking forward to inviting you to our upcoming events. This term is very busy on the event front. What are these events going to be and when you ask?
Our first event of the term will be Durham student Entrepreneurs held at The Library (formerly Varsity) at 7.30pm on 20th January. Come along to hear quick fire chats with six student entrepreneurs. The event will be a chance for you hear about their experiences as well as a chance to ask questions over drinks.
Entrepreneurs Durham’s biggest event is held this term.
Kickstart Weekend (20th – 22nd February) lasts 36 hours and is an opportunity for you to build a business and pitch it to six judges in five minutes. Although this may sound a little intimating, don’t worry. You will be in a team of three to four people who together will come up with a business idea and develop it. You will be supported by several mentors over the weekend. The weekend is for anyone. From any discipline and level of business experience. If you are interested in getting more information or buying your ticket then please go to the website: http://www.durhamkickstartweekend.com/about.html
So there you have a little snippet of what is to come. Another exciting feature is that Entrepreneurs Durham are going to launch a regular blog. The aim is to update you on our events, interviews with entrepreneurs, letting you know of opportunities with in the North East as well as giving some hints and tips for setting up your own business. However if there is anything you think we are not writing about and should be, then let us know!
“Entrepreneurs Durham chatted to the Durham Computer Science graduate turned Entrepreneur, Matthew Strafford on entrepreneurship, networking and Durham life.”
On 20th November, Matthew Strafford talked to Entrepreneurs Durham about networking, business building and how to be a student entrepreneur. Since graduating he has gained an extensive network of people, including the Queen, and set up several businesses. 9others, (www.9others.com) the one he discussed in most detail aims to gather a group of entrepreneurs over dinner to discuss innovative ways to solve their businesses issues.
Matthew Strafford’s 8 ways to Work Your Network
1) Get businesses card: specifically plain, rough paper
2) Sharpie pen: use it to write on the business after an event. Who were they? Where did you meet them? Something memorable.
3) Get and use Twitter
4) Get Linkedin. It isn’t perfect but it is expected once you start looking for jobs.
5) Invest time and effort
6) In Q&A sessions note down who speaks. Go chat to them afterwards. They are the talkative ones and will probably be up for a chat.
7) Have an email signature. Include Name, Telephone and Twitter ID.
8) Reply to emails within 24 hours.
Afterwards we asked him a few questions about Durham and Entrepreneurship.
ED: How did Durham prepare you for starting your own business?
Matthew: While starting a business wasn't really thought of by me or Durham as an option when I graduated in 2006, Durham was great in hindsight because of the way it encouraged hard work and confidence. I studied computer science, which was great in that it taught real problem solving, logic and decision making, which are essential for running a business.
ED: If you could give university self some advice what would it be?
Matthew: Encourage students to make money - going to university is very expensive but resourceful students can start a business and make money alongside their degree and in the holidays. Sometimes students and recent graduates think too academically about business but the truth is that a business has to make more money than it spends by having customers that see value in the product.
ED: What are your three tops tips for anyone wanting to start a business?
1) Try something with a friend - just do it - and do it offline and without tech for 24 hours - what can you sell and to whom? This makes sure you don't 'hide' behind 'needing' a website, an app, investment, staff etc.
2) Think of an idea as a 'project' and not a 'business' so you focus on getting quick validation.
3) Make decisions, iterate, learn and begin again to progress but never give up.
There you have it and insider’s guide to becoming a networking pro. However if you have any questions then you can tweet Matthew at @mstafford