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The entrepreneurial edge

Some ambitious young university-leavers prefer to get off to a flying start, says Lucie Greene

The number of young people launching their own businesses has more than doubled since 2002, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an annual assessment which explores the role of entrepreneurship in economic growth.

The number of young people launching their own businesses has more than doubled since 2002, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an annual assessment which explores the role of entrepreneurship in economic growth.

Competition and uncertainty within the graduate job market, in addition to a growing distaste for corporate recruitment schemes, has led many to see the benefits of job satisfaction, freedom and individuality gained by becoming an entrepreneur.

Marcus Cherry, a recent graduate, comments: "Every job that I applied to with a graduate scheme would be dressed up in fancy language about how great and rewarding it was, but they all seemed to be exactly the same. You'd sit behind a desk working for somebody who you'd never meet. It didn't seem right to spend all that time slaving your guts out, to then go home at the end of the day not knowing what you'd achieved or what you'd added to the bigger picture."

Cherry, 23, and his business partner Pierre Wooldridge, also 23, graduated in June last year from the University of Nottingham, and formed Transmission Films International, an independent film distribution company which offers online rental and download purchasing of independent and rare films.

"It's been hard work, but it is so satisfying when it's going well. I did management at university, but it hasn't been massively helpful. We had to get up to speed on everything very quickly. The worst bits are the long hours and being constantly in debt. Ten months after leaving university I still owe money - in fact I owe considerably more now! I don't mind though, because I know that something good has come of it."

Tristan Cowell, 23, graduated in 1993 from Nottingham. To date his ventures include forming a Village People tribute-band, The New Recruits; becoming a professional masseur (a money-earner for the ski season); property developing (a six-figure profit "hobby"); and designing a unique Christmas card display device, which he's successfully mass-manufactured under his company ic innovations. After much hard work, and consistent faith in his product, Tristan is now in negotiations with several national retailers to launch it across the UK in 2005. He explains: "Last year, 1.6 billion Christmas cards were sent in the UK alone. I worked out that if 1 per cent of all Christmas cards were displayed with this product, you'd sell over 300,000 of them. The hardest thing, as a young person, was actually getting through to people and being taken seriously. To legitimise myself I set up a limited company and a website." He remembers, "In the early days, when I spoke to buyers, I'd also try to recreate a busy office atmosphere by making calls when my dad was in the background working, and scrunching bits of paper. I had to be quite cheeky!"

Marie-Louise Mortensen, 22, has a degree from University College London and Masters from Oxford University. She and her sister Antonia, founders of Nail Addict, prove that successful entrepreneurialism isn't a strictly male domain. "We lived in St John's Wood and couldn't get our nails done anywhere. We knew that lots of people would demand the service, so we thought it would be a good idea to set up a nail salon." With a bank loan and investment from their mother, Nail Addict was born. "It's been really good!" says Marie-Louise. "We've been up and running for six months now. Most businesses take time to start up a client base, but because we were dead-on when it came to the demand, we've been really busy."

Equal success can be seen in Chester Chipperfield, 21, who formed media post-production company Emak Mafu immediately after completing his architecture degree at University College London. He started doing web design and film post-production at university, and by his final year was working on a full-length feature aside from his studies. After leaving, it seemed like an obvious choice to set up his own company. Now Emak Mafu has clients in retail, fashion and design that come to it for all their post-production needs. "I wanted to get somewhere with something quickly. Architecture is slow; most architects don't make it until they're 45, and I'm too impatient for that," he says.

The Government has been keen to encourage entrepreneurial activity, and the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship (NGCE) was formed in November 2004, dedicated to supporting youth enterprise. In March it plans to launch its nationwide Flying Start campaign, targeting university students and graduates across the country. Ian Richardson, its director, explains: "The aim is to take every single person and move them a step forward." Some individuals will also have the opportunity to be part of the Flying Start Programme, which will see their business idea guided with direct assistance from the council through every stage until it's a viable, investment-ready concept.

So what would these pioneers say to those thinking of following suit? "It's not easy, I can tell you!" says Tristan Cowell. Marcus Cherry adds, "You learn so much, so quickly. It is hard work, but it's a proper adventure!"

For more information about the Flying Start campaign and the NCGE, visit www.ncge.org.uk. For further advice, see www.starttalkingideas.org. Featured start-ups: www.transmissionfilms.com; www.ic-innovations.com; www.emakmafu.com; www.nailaddict.com