What do Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have in common with each other? Apart from being incredibly successful businessmen, all began their companies during the period that they should have been in college – and all dropped out to do so. Indeed, a look through more recent history gives numerous examples of Americans who have also begun their great adventure while still at university.
It is harder, though not impossible, to find a similar list of Britons who have done the same thing. But this simply means there is a clear opportunity to find such people within our university system and not wait for them to caught up in the corporate life on graduation.
Step forward, Student UpStarts.
Student UpStarts is a relatively new accelerator that sets itself apart by being focused entirely on students. Founded by Christian Jakenfelds and Matthew Stafford – both former Imperial students (Christian studied Biochemistry and Matthew graduated from the business school with an MBA) – they realized that students should be presented with the opportunity whilst still pursuing their studies.
So, last year they started by offering an accelerator designed for students still in full-time education looking to start a company in the tech, media or telecoms industries. At Imperial College, these sectors account for most of us! For around 8% equity in their startups, these student-founders received up to £15k investment and are entered into a 13-weeks hands-on program. Industry-specific mentors provide guidance on clearing the hurdles that often put off first time entrepreneurs: incorporation, share structures, taxes and accounting.
And it has caught on even more than they had imagined – “the response we have gotten from the students accepted into the program has been fantastic. In the coming weeks one company is heading off to Stanford to showcase its work, and two are currently working on final applications to Y Combinator,” says Christian. This is all the more impressive when you realise that there are only three companies in this current cycle, with a target of 10 to 15 for this summer.
When asked about why they got involved and decided to set up UpStarts Matthew is clear in his beliefs, “For me it’s because when I was studying software engineering I saw the potential of the super-bright coders but there was no support from the university.” Matthew studied Computer Science at Durham. “Then again at business school – all entrepreneurial sounding but not one lesson on sales or how to set up a company. And the winners of the business plan competition got £10k but that was useless without further support/network. That’s what pissed me off. I’ve worked for the corporates and I just found them too restrictive and slow moving.”
Christian points out similar flaws in the UK system, “The best students aren’t offered help from their universities and so look at the big corporate jobs in consulting and banking instead, telling themselves ‘I will do a startup later’. The problem is, before you know it, you will have a mortgage, wife and kids and a tough time trying to start a company. However, as a student, you are in the best position to start something with next to no risk attached. Absolutely nothing is holding you back.”
The UK has four of the top ten universities in the world (QS World Rankings 2011/12) and one of the greatest and most diverse urban centres – London. However, until very recently, there has been a huge gap in the market for a venture that backs student entrepreneurs. Which, when you think about it, makes little sense.
That scene is now starting to change. University entrepreneurial societies have been growing organically. In addition, last year the Prime Minister announced that any higher institute without such a society would be assisted in its establishment by the end of 2012. With the European debt crisis, there is clear government support to back entrepreneurship as a driving force of creating new jobs and reducing unemployment. In this coming budget, the UK government is set to announce a new investment option for business angels, the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme. Through this, they can get up to 78% of their investment deducted from their income tax. Meaning it has never been a better time to be an Angel investor, and therefore, the best time to seek out these Angels.
So what’s next for Students UpStarts? Right now the current batch of companies are incorporated and being mentored by strong, relevant mentors as well as getting exposure to Business Angels and VCs, while networking into the London start-up scene and they are loving it. In the summer this could be you.
Christian and Matthew are currently in the process of getting office space for the summer startups around Shoreditch and the Silicon Roundabout, home to the new Google offices (and more hipsters than you have ever seen before!). If this sounds like something you want to be a part of, applications opened this week and you can apply online atwww.studentupstarts.com. The brilliant part is, your company can still be at the idea stage. So what’s your excuse to not apply?