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A guide to Starting a company whilst at university


Whilst at university, students get more time than ever to think and discuss issues that are relevant to themselves, their peers, and society and the world in general. There is a reason that students are some of the first actors to react to government policies and are so central to our culture and society. They are places of academic learning, but also a place where young people begin to experience the wider world.

These students can offer fresh perspectives not just on society or politics, but also in business. Many of the world’s biggest companies were started by students in their dorm rooms, in their garages, or anywhere they can find space to develop their idea. You can change the world by entering politics, but the disillusionment that has been instilled in students over the years means that more than ever, those trying to change the world do so by starting businesses – from technology companies that better connect people around the world to eco-tourism to improving the efficiencies in local food. There are plenty of ways businesses can change the world and your own company gives you the control to do so.

How to start a company?

Many people get hung-up on finding the “perfect” name, or making sure that their website makes use of the fanciest new tools, but in reality new businesses need a single focus and that is on the product. You are there because you want to build something or change the way something works – and that should be 99% of what you spend your time doing. Working this way lets you develop your minimum viable product (MVP) which is something you can test in the real world. Here you will find out if your product or service has a market or whether you need to pivot into a slightly different field.

What about Co-Founders?

If you share a passion with another person or even a couple of other people, then co-founding a company together will help you share the burden and stresses that come with working on a start-up and will let you divide up the workload into tasks at which each of you perform better – one co-founder could be in charge of running the company (the CEO), whilst the other could be in charge of developing the technology (the CTO) for example.

Do remember, however, that whilst you all agree one everything now, that might not be the case in the future as the company develops. Make sure that you all have that awkward conversation early on as to how the ownership and control of the company is split between you (equity shares) and how much time and commitment each of you need to put in to maintain that role and that share going forwards. It may be awkward, but this is much easier than avoiding the conversation and then facing serious issues later on where no common ground can be found and the company stalls – this can be fatal for a startup.

Registering a company

Whether you plan to run the business on your own as a sole-trader, as a partnership with another co-founder, or as a company – you need to register with Companies House. The price and complexity of registering at Companies House has reduced massively in the last decade, with the process now as simple as filling out a few online forms and then paying the fee – current £15.

To fill out these forms you will need to add details about who owns what shares in your company anyway, so that awkward conversation has come in useful already!

Finance

If you’re a student and have student loans to cover your housing and basic living and have all the relevant skills in your founding team then the costs of setting up your company and developing an MVP may be relatively low. Nevertheless, it may be useful to start by opening a business account to keep your business finances separate from your personal accounts. Many of the high street banks offer a year or more of free business banking services, a personal business finance manager, and access to various tools to keep your finances in check.

Some people prefer to keep their startup financed by taking other jobs for money which they can then plough back into their project. This does, however, take time away from actually developing the product and so other look to get finance from elsewhere such as loans from family and friends, but business loans may be worth looking into as well. Throughout the life of a company it is important to keep a handle on your finances and ask for help when you need it, whether that advice is for getting venture capital investment or filing for bankruptcy.

Building Buzz and Getting Your First Customers

Your product may be world changing, but people need to know about it to succeed. It should be second nature to be making relationships with relevant people and influencers across Facebook and Twitter, but also don’t be afraid to turn up to the various start-up events held across the UK each week, and discuss your company with like-minded people. You may be even able to convince your university to publish something in their newsletter to their current students and alumni – which is a huge potential market.

The first fifty customers are always the hardest to find, but if you manage to keep these early adopters happy you may just have found some of the most vocal advocates for your product or service. Make sure that you take their feedback on board, and keep them in the process as much as possible – early adopters want to be part of new movements and ideas, make sure yours is one of them.

It may be a long and difficult road to go down, but it can be immensely rewarding. GOOD LUCK!

Photograph by Ildar Sagdejev

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