Education: A grant is only the start for a student tycoon: People call me Arthur Daley

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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.

JASON O'FLYNN, 22, used a pounds 700 student loan and pounds 2,800 from the bank to buy an ailing suit-hire business from a fellow student at St Andrews University, Fife. He now rents out 50 evening and black-tie suits from his flat.

'I don't get a grant and my dad gives me my basic cash, so my student loan is essentially pounds 700 that I can play around with. For many students, it's a real lifeline: I'm one of those for whom it's just a big bonus.'

Jason's business, called Dress Higher, will deliver to the doors of those keen to kit themselves out for one of the university's 20 balls each year. His cheapest suit is rentable for pounds 13 a night, his classiest costs pounds 22 - 'but that includes a silk scarf'. Each ball brings in anything from pounds 100 to pounds 400. Annual turnover is now pounds 2,000.

'I'll probably sell on my business when I leave for around pounds 4,000. I could sell it for about pounds 6,000 or pounds 7,000, but I think I want to keep it in the hands of students. At the moment I'm looking at expanding it and franchising a huge segment to Edinburgh. By setting up another set of books in Edinburgh for a year we can sell the franchise and make twice the cash. It's a great set-up. I can make pounds 20 in 20 minutes. Trouble is, it doesn't happen every 20 minutes.

'I was definitely influenced by the Thatcher years. Although I'm not a huge supporter of hers, I did admire very much the feeling of independence that she created in people's minds, the feeling that people could go out and do their own thing, that they weren't wholly dependent. I realised that I really don't have to slave behind a desk all my life.

'I don't think university is the place to turn yourself into a business tycoon. It's the place to gain a bit of experience and knowledge, not screw your fellow students over. There's plenty of opportunity to do that later.

'My entrepreneurialism started young. When I was 14 this local supermarket was closing down and selling sweets at half-price. So I raced in with all my savings and bought pounds 60 worth, came into school, and charged everyone 25 per cent off the retail price. The kids were delighted and I made about pounds 30. Only the Spangles were past the sell-by date. I knew that sweets are fine for the first week after that, but the punters might have raised an eyebrow and started haggling, so I rubbed it off and pencilled in the week before. Someone found out, but they were fine about it. That's when people started calling me Arthur Daley.

'I'm not your Wall Street Gordon Gekko character. I'm not much of an intellect to be honest. It seems likely that I'll do something in finance because I'm studying French and economics, but that's not really me. I could be an entrepreneur in so many different capacities. Maybe I'll own my own channel on the TV. Maybe I'll have a newspaper. Maybe I'll go into partnership with somebody who's high in politics, and touch people's lives in a way that they see how shit their lives are, and how easy it is to be happy. I mean, just in the sense of time-management. Carpe diem - you're only 20 or 21 once.'

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