I graduated from Durham University last summer 2018. Throughout my three years at uni I played football/hockey for Van Mildert College and was an executive member/Co-President of Entrepreneurs Durham. So far, nothing too out of the ordinary. However, during my second year myself and a friend decided to start a business. Our idea was to bring together students and businesses in a way that hadn’t been done before, by providing a legally and financially secure platform that would enable businesses to employ students to perform freelance work.
Motivation for ‘My Student Expert’
Myself and my business partner decided to start the business My Student Expert, after a conversation we had about students working to fund themselves alongside their studies. We realised that most of the people we knew who had jobs while at Durham and other universities across the country, were working in low skilled positions – waitering, bar work, admin jobs, etc. When in-fact these students have other skills of value, coding abilities, graphic design skills, language skills, marketing and management experience.
On the flip side of this, through my own degree (Economics) I was aware of the growing skills gap in the UK and the impact on small businesses of not being able to find, or afford the skilled individuals they needed to grow and develop. So we decided that between the two of us we could build a solution and bring the two groups together, proving in the process that if we can build a website, a brand and a business, then other students can do the same. We divided up the tasks, my business partner is a computer scientist, so worked on building the website and I did some market research and began building the brand. We both worked together on the design of the website and finalising the branding elements. Once we had the idea finalised and the basics of the website planned out we began to try and find feedback, using the careers service as well as friends and family to get honest reviews of the plan.
Work study balance
Finding time to work on the business varied in difficulty throughout second and third year, depending mostly on when each of us had summatives and dissertation deadlines. We mainly used the term times to get small tasks done and to make the most of the time we had together to get solid plans in place for work out of term time. We found that this worked well generally, however, finding time in third year was particularly tough as the uni workload increased and the business became more serious. This also wasn’t helped by my commitments as co-president of Entrepreneurs Durham. Having said that, on the whole we both found that by strictly managing our time we had enough to work on the business, study and maintain some semblance of a social life.
We were often dealing with a mountain of tasks, including all our usual university responsibilities – seminar work, reading, formatives, summatives and dissertation work. As well as helping design the website (I had no idea how complex this would be), working on the legal aspects of starting a company and the legal elements specific to our platform, market research, marketing and LOTS of asking for favours from friends, family, family of friends, university staff and so on, to help fill the gaps in knowledge and the skills we lacked (of which there are many!). I also had many jobs to do for Entrepreneurs Durham such as managing the exec team, organising and attending events as well as working with other student entrepreneurs.
Financing our business
We financed the business through a £500 grant from the University Careers Service. We knew that by doing the brunt of the work ourselves we could keep start-up costs to a minimum. We have also relied heavily on free social media marketing and content generation both before and since we launched, just over a month ago. Focusing mainly on awareness and interest with students, which is something that we hope to continue with, alongside more paid marketing going forwards as we shift to raising awareness with small businesses who we have less access to personally. We are focussing our efforts on the North East of England to start with and hope to expand from there, using feedback to refine our service as we go.
So far it is going pretty well, the website is up and running as we wanted (but feedback is always appreciated). The idea has been well received by students, we have over 100 Durham students on the platform and a couple of businesses signed up too. No big success stories as of yet, but now we have a base of talented students we are hoping that will change very soon!
The last two years have been highly rewarding and I would recommend that any student with a business idea, or a desire to work on someone else’s idea, should give it a go. The worst case (assuming you don’t invest all your money), is that even if it fails, the experience and knowledge you gain and the feeling of knowing you at least tried, is in my opinion, considerably better than never trying and never knowing either way. On top of that, there is a lot of help and guidance available at the University. I would strongly recommend getting in touch with the Careers & Enterprise Service or reaching out to Entrepreneurs Durham to find like minded students and support.