About a year ago, my partner sat me down, looked me very seriously in the eye and said,"Gemma, I'm going to start a company."
At that point, we had just finished our second year of university and had a whole year left of higher education; I my Bachelors in History and he, his degree in Law and Politics. The idea, now I look back on it, seemed a bit far-fetched. For a while, I don't think neither he nor I really knew what he wanted the company to specialise in, not to mention what types of products it would market and sell and all the other important things you need to consider when setting up your own business. But, he did have a name, he did have partners who were interested in his ideas and he did have the drive, so we went with it.
A year later and Mayfly Tech is going from strength to strength. Since that day when we sat down and discussed the company, he has gone on with fellow directors (myself included) to establish a strong and close knit team of university students and is starting to get contracts and payment in at this early stage. They are doing incredibly well for themselves already and to say I'm proud is an understatement.
The fact that they've achieved this whilst at university makes it all the more exciting and special. Balancing your work life with your social life is never an easy task, but to throw managing a business in there too? It's pretty impressive.
Ultimately, what I'm asking is, is it possible to run a company whilst you are a university student? And should you?
Student entrepreneurship has been around for a very long time. It was Harvard students who founded Facebook, an MBA student who set up a fancy ice cream parlour in London, Undergraduates from The University of Virginia who set up Reddit and Newcastle students who now manage their own lingerie business. We're in a recession here in Britain, but student entrepreneurship, wherever you look, is thriving.
When we think about it logically, university is a pretty good starting point for setting up a business. The pressures that non-student entrepreneurs face to make a profit really aren't as essential when you are a university student. Sure, extra cash would be nice, but while you are a student, paying back your student loan is in the distant future and with careful use of your loans and overdrafts, you are given a chance to somewhat forget about the financial aspect of your company, and to focus on the products and management of it instead.
Secondly, like they have done at Swansea University with Mayfly Tech, the business department of the university are often on hand to help out. The people in this department are professionals; they know how business works, they know a good idea from a bad one and they can guide you in the right direction if needs be. Their advice, (and in our case) their guidance has been invaluable to us. If you are considering setting up a business during or even after studying at university, it is essential to utilise the facilities and freely available professional advice. It really does make a difference.
University is an ideal environment for students to develop as people, with freedom to test various career choices. It is also an ideal time for trial and error; a luxury that those who aren't students, and with full time jobs, do not have. You get several opportunities to work on your business and, if it doesn't work, you have the freedom to start again in an environment where your ideas and thoughts will be nurtured and supported. The first business a student launches might well not be a success; statistically, it is likely not to succeed. But the experience not succeeding and starting again is invaluable, and is one that you have more freedom to gain by starting a business at university.
The notion of using your time at university to actually study is a valid argument for not setting up a business during your time there. But let's think about it; the flexibility students have when at university is astronomical, and is a flexibility that you wouldn't be able to get if you were employed in a full time job, nor is it likely that you'll ever get that same flexibility again.
And if you're fearful of not being taken seriously, remember all the students of the past who I mentioned above who set their respective businesses up at university. They all probably felt exactly the same, and look where they are now. Any idea is a valid one, and students who want to set up their own businesses must remember and be confident in that.
Starting a business can be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. Of course, it's not for everyone, nor should it be, or the world would be full of entrepreneurs and there would be no diversity in what we decide to do with our own lives. If starting a business is a direction you want to go in, the best time to do so is during university.
Of course, I'm not saying that university is a waste of time. Degrees are not useless; they give you a solid grounding, it's always a positive thing to try to further your knowledge and university life matures you drastically in a very short period of time. If university is the right path for you, it is a very enjoyable period of your life, with the freedom to experiment and become your own person. In a way, I suppose Mayfly Tech was an experiment to start with, but it has now thrived into something much more. Students shouldn't have to wait for opportunities to come along. It's a common misconception that a degree automatically guarantees a job, or that we students have to bide our time and wait three or four years before we can start looking for our dream jobs. We are in the driving seats and we mustn't become passengers in our own lives.