Education: A grant is only the start for a student tycoon: My company car is a Mercedes

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The Independent Online
WHILE most students just manage to eke out a living, their entrepreneurial colleagues prosper. Some of them run their own businesses as self-styled free marketeers; others do it simply to boost their meagre incomes. Gareth Davies, Steph McKeown, Emma Peacock and Rachel Powell-Ford spoke to four students who have used grants, loans and other borrowings to earn themselves a more comfortable life than the archetypal undergraduate.

LORENZO WOOD, 21, is a final year undergraduate reading computer science at Christ's College, Cambridge. He is joint managing director of his own graphic design and computer consultancy, KBW Consulting Ltd.

'I started when I was 15. The first thing I did for money was just a little job. My mother was working for a small insurance company and they wanted some computer work done. She told them her son knew about computers.

'The next time, I walked into the office with a much more professional image. When I sent them a bill it was itemised with lots of small print that I just made up, and they paid me. It surprised me at first that people paid, but I realise now that people are perfectly happy to pay you to tell them things they don't know how to do.

'Our consultancy shows firms where they should use computers and where they should not. There is some graphic design - we've developed that - and now I'm doing some work for an optical company which designs contact lenses.

'I did a long job for a company called Majestic Films and as a result they offered us a deal to set up KBW Consulting Ltd. My partner and I are joint managing directors; since July we've employed three people. If it is successful we hope to start looking at other areas, producing products of our own.

'It's quite a useful way to make money. We computerise businesses on a fairly expensive, professional footing and charge about pounds 100 an hour. We justify that by being very good and very efficient.

'It was at university that I first had the time to do big projects. In the beginning, this was during the summer vacations, but a term into the third year the Majestic job was still on, so I took a year out before coming back to finish my degree. I still expect to get a First; I'll look pretty stupid if I don't.

'My college reacted fairly well to my year out. I explained the situation to my tutor, which is that I live with my mother and my grandmother, who are not at all wealthy, and I contribute to the household.

'Financially I'm not in a bad position. I get a small salary from the company at the moment which keeps me going and comfortable. My partner and I each own 34 per cent of the shares in KBW and if the company is successful we will pay ourselves accordingly. There are lots of trappings - company cars and mobile phones and so on. I drive a Mercedes and my partner drives a Lotus, although they're both second-hand.

'I do get a student grant. It's not a full grant, it's about 90 per cent. I got a student loan the first year they were offered, but haven't paid it back yet. I've also got one whopping credit card bill that I can't afford to pay.

'I try to integrate my interests into business, like graphic design. I've designed posters for student societies and so on, and I used to do them for nothing. Now I charge a nominal pounds 50.

'I actually have very little regard for people who make money out of money. I justify what I do because people are getting a service, and if it's worth it they'll pay. Making money by pushing it around seems pointless.

'I have no particular wish to accrue wealth. I only want to be secure. I don't regard myself as someone with much business acumen at all.'

(Photograph omitted)

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