6 reasons why being a student entrepreneur rocks

ElephantBranded founder James Boon on how to run a business successfully while you’re still a student

Right now, students are being told that the job market is tough. They’re fighting over ever-more competitive graduate positions, and starting salaries are under pressure.

So, if you’re a student, take a look at the alternative: now really is the best time to start your own business.

The precedents are excellent: Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook while at Harvard, Google was originally a PhD research project, and Michael Dell started his eponymous business while still a student.

I set up my company, ElephantBranded, while I was a student – and I’m still studying now. ElephantBranded sells ethically made, recycled bags and related products. For each product it sells, it donates a school bag and kit to a child in Africa or Asia.

A straightforward enough concept and here are six reasons why you should consider what you can do:

You’ve got nothing to lose

Being a student and setting up a business means you’ve got less to lose and you can take risks. With no family to support, you can live cheaply and afford to run a business without taking a salary at the start. You might end up losing a couple of hundred pounds if it all goes wrong, but you’ll still have a roof over your head.

You’ve got transferable skills for business

I’m studying architecture – not the most obvious route to being an entrepreneur. But my degree has given me analytical skills that help me to look at a business in detail and also to think holistically. Being a student teaches you to think, to analyse, and to process information – all vital skills to running a business.

You can do business on the move

What about time pressures? I don’t know exactly how many hours a week I spend on ElephantBranded, but it all fits somehow. Packing and shipping the bags is handled from a warehouse in Bristol, and I’ve got a team that helps with many aspects of the business.

The beauty of the business is we can use technology to make best use of our time. A lot of my work is answering emails – but I can do most of that on my phone when I’m on a train or have a spare few minutes.

My tutors – and some of my fellow students – do think I’m crazy to run a business, but they’ve been completely supportive. For example, I went to the One Young World conference in the USA, and the lecturers didn’t mind me missing a few days from my course.

You can build a low-cost workforce

One of the best things about being a student entrepreneur is that you’re surrounded by a support network of people and resources. We run a student rep network for ElephantBranded, which enables reps to earn a little bit of money as commission. Initially, we recruited just through word of mouth and our friends. But as we’ve become better known, we now get hundreds of applications.

Universities want you to be noticed

Universities also have people and organisations that are there to help budding student Bransons. In my case, I get advice and mentoring from the University of Bath and from SETsquared, a partnership that promotes enterprise in five universities, and I’ve participated in various competitions and activities.

For example, I took part in an event called SETsquared Uni Popshop this summer in London. This was like the part of The Apprentice where they have to go out on the street to sell something.

Pop-up ‘mentors’ are everywhere – if you look

At the Uni Popshop, ElephantBranded bags completely sold out which was great, but the process of selling was more difficult than I had previously thought. Overall, it was really good to talk to the general public and get their views on our products, where they had no prior knowledge of what we did.

No matter what sort of event you go to, it’s the people who go along who make it worthwhile. Every time I attend something, I meet someone who knows useful things, or with whom we could collaborate.

In the end, if you’re a student and want to be an entrepreneur, my advice would be just to go for it. Even if you don’t end up running your own business in the long term, it will give you incredible experience that’s invaluable when you want to get a job, and you may just make your fortune. James Boon is an architecture student at Bath University and the founder of ElephantBranded.


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