Entrepreneurs profit from winning ideas

A host of awards provide start-ups with support, advice and inspiration, says Jessica Moore

Entrepreneurs are important. They drive new ideas, utilise new technologies, introduce new concepts. In fact, according to the European Commission, more than 99 per cent of European businesses are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), providing two-thirds of private sector jobs. In terms of our ability to compete globally, they have a crucial role to play. But setting up in business is never easy. Where can business-minded high-fliers turn for support?

Help is out there, not least from Santander Universities (santander.co.uk/universities). Set up in 1997 as a corporate social responsibility initiative targeting higher education, it now has agreements with 1,054 universities across the globe, including 66 in the UK. For the annual Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards, undergraduates and postgraduates from these UK institutions are invited to pitch business ideas for prizes of up to £20,000. Those shortlisted also gain advice, and the experience is great for building a network of contacts.

Meanwhile, the US-based Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (Gsea, gsea.org) support students who already own and run their own company. Selected applicants face a panel of judges, engaging with world-class entrepreneurs. Alongside a cash prize, winners earn a share in over $150,000-worth of donated business services. "All 30 global finalists get huge exposure," explains Adam Robinson, sub-committee chair for the Gsea. "They link to a network of people who just want to be helpful, and it has a huge impact on their career trajectories."

Interestingly, Gsea isn't looking for an exceptional business idea. "It's about the entrepreneur, not the business," Robinson explains. "These are remarkable individuals. They're taking on a full-time undergraduate workload and operating a revenue-generating business at the same time. We're looking at the way they think, how they're moving forward and what mentors they've identified. We want students who can admit what they don't know and ask for help."

Chris Arnold's latest idea harnesses social media. "I thought back to when I started my first business," he says. "How could I have been supported?" The answer? Global contacts.

"But I didn't know anyone in any different countries, which makes it difficult to think big and trade internationally. Frankly, I didn't even know anyone with a different outlook or experience set to mine," he remembers. The aim of World Merit (worldmerit.org) is therefore to create an online community, linking 18- to 30-year-old entrepreneurs all over the world.

Following a soft launch in April, the initiative drew over 60,000 members before officially launching on 26 June. Members sign up and use the service for free, earning credits by taking actions within their community or by completing tasks. With these credits, they can "buy" benefits – such as the opportunity to develop their ideas in a World Merit business incubator, the first of which opens in Liverpool this summer. Additionally, Arnold says "everyone will be eligible for mentoring and have access to online leadership tools and online education".

These kinds of resources are vital. And when it comes to competitions? "Just the experience of applying makes you reflect on your aims differently," says Kris McDonald, who runs photography and video company Keyhole Productions (keyhole productions.co.uk). He was named Best Young Entrepreneur 2010 by the Morgan Foundation Entrepreneurship Awards, which ran from 2007-12. McDonald won £10,000 and benefited from invaluable advice from Barclays. Since then, his business has doubled.

Other success stories include Santander Award-winners Radfan and Uni Car Ads – both set up by Newcastle University students. Radfan (radfan.com) won the postgrad category with an energy-saving device that redirects the flow of air from a radiator. A business placing advertisements on students' cars, Uni Car Ads (unicarads.co.uk), came second in the undergraduate section. Both received support from Newcastle University's careers service, which helps around 30 student start-ups to get off the ground each year. As well as participating in the Santander Awards, Newcastle receives a philanthropic fund from Santander Universities. This has enabled them to give business-minded students £15,000 in grants since 2011.

Meanwhile, the university runs various initiatives, including the Rise Up Entrepreneurship Programme, that gives students and graduates the basics of how to write a business plan and how to do cashflow forecasts. "It also introduces them to professional partners, such as solicitors," says Claire Adamson, entrepreneurial development officer at the university. "There's a growing appetite for these kind of opportunities."

Perhaps because of this, an increasing number of universities are working hard to help students set up in businesses. "There's an awful lot of effort made to support young entrepreneurs now," notes Simon Bray, deputy director of Santander Universities, "but a lot of it is at the bottom end. To encourage businesses to grow, the most important thing they need is a strong network of contacts and mentoring support."

"Young entrepreneurs need support from people who've been there, done that, and solved the problems 10 times over," echoes Robinson. It's not simply about giving advice, it's about sharing experience – and that's priceless to a young entrepreneur."

According to neuropsychologist Dr Anne Moir, women and men would do well at work to recognise and accept what she calls "the chemistry of difference" between one another. If women understand how their brain makes them react, think and communicate differently, this might go some way to addressing the enduring lack of women reaching the top in business. "Biology isn't destiny – understand it and you have a powerful tool for positive change," says Moir.

Case study: 'Through the exposure we got from the awards, a major chain took a significant minority stake in us'

Nick Troen and Frank Yeung launched the Poncho 8 Mexican food restaurant in 2009, while Troen was studying for his Masters at London School of Economics (LSE).

"Setting up a burrito restaurant was Frank's idea. We'd both spent time in America, where we'd seen the popularity of fast, good-quality Mexican food. We thought it could work here, so we went to banks, institutional investors, venture capital funds – but nobody wanted to give money to two 22-year-olds with no experience in the middle of a recession. Friends and family stepped in, and our first shop opened in 2009.

We weren't lambs to the workplace slaughter. Frank's parents own a restaurant, and I'd worked in marketing for Innocent. That had a really strong influence on us. We wanted to produce good, healthy food and have a quirky voice. We backed those ideas and experiences up with a lot of research. I did my Masters dissertation on new food brands, and we sought advice wherever we could. We made strategic decisions and planned carefully.

Coming second in the postgraduate category of the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards helped us a lot. A PR release about the awards was seen by a major national UK food chain, they took a significant minority stake to help roll us out from the five stores we have currently to 20 stores by the end of 2014. That exposure is life-changing".

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
News
In other news ... Jon Snow performed at last year's Newsroom's Got Talent charity event
people
News
i100
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
life
News
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

Foundation Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are looking for Founda...

Psychology Teacher

Main Teacher Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Teacher of Psychology An en...

Geography Teacher

£19200 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?