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Graduate to Entrepreneur: 6 key ingredients

What are the key ingredients for making a successful transition from graduate to entrepreneur, and getting your business up and running?

University has long been an ideal breeding ground for start-ups. Think about all the notable entrepreneurs in recent years who have found success having first developed their idea whilst still on campus or just after graduating. Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook), Evan Spiegal (Snapchat) and Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) are just some of the most obvious ones that spring to mind.

There are many reasons for this. The self-discovery that comes with living away from home for the first time, the concentration of so many creative and talented individuals, the culture of fresh thinking and challenging convention… and that’s before we get on to your actual studies.

But, it’d be foolish to think that every campus-based entrepreneur ends up on the Sunday Times Rich List. The fact is, many of the most successful entrepreneurs to come from university didn’t find success immediately. Some of them had to fail before they struck gold.

Business advice experts at Informi state that “starting your own business, whether that’s as a limited company, a sole trader or even if you’re starting a business from home, is a realistic career plan that isn’t always destined to fail.” So, what are the key ingredients for making a successful transition from graduate to entrepreneur and getting your business up and running?


You need a viable business idea

University is a place where innovative and forward-thinking ideas often formulate, but it doesn’t mean your business concept needs to be a completely unique or original idea. The key thing is that it needs to be viable. This essentially boils down to whether people will be willing to pay for your product and the market demand will generate enough income to cover your costs. Until you’ve found an idea that does this, it’s not viable.


You need to do your homework

Any graduate should be pretty comfortable carrying out research – and those skills will come in handy when you’re evaluating the viability of your business idea and writing a business plan. Whether it’s gathering insights online, checking out the competition in person, reading reports and economic forecasts, you need to be aware of all challenges and opportunities that your business will face. Not only will you potentially uncover unexpected nuggets, but you’ll be well placed to overcome any obstacles later down the line.


You need to start small

Whether you’re still at university or just graduated, it’s unlikely that you’ll have an abundance of money to invest into your business idea. That’s fine. If anything, the best move is to invest little or no money until you’ve seen proof of concept. Build a prototype version of your product and see the response. What works? What doesn’t? Once you can see your business has traction and you’ve built an understanding of your live product that’s when you should consider investing more funds. Or not.


You need to keep plugging away

If you struggle to motivate yourself to go to a 9am lecture, you’re going to need a different mindset. Getting a business off the ground requires a great deal of effort – and that’s before we get on to the day-to-day tasks once you’re up and running. As Steve Jobs once said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the most successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” If you want it, you’re going to have to work for it.


You need to self-promote

A lot of that perseverance will be invested into spreading the word. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you need to put any fears around self-promotion to one side. The fact is – no one will buy from you and you won’t find partners and investors if you can’t sell yourself or your business. Even if you’re not a natural at this, and you’re more of an introvert, by using social media and digital marketing you can raise awareness of what you do and get people to buy into your vision.


You need to have passion

Probably the most important characteristic behind every successful entrepreneur is passion. As we’ve outlined, starting and running a business is a lot of work. You’re unlikely to be able to keep at it if it doesn’t rouse your passions. So, to go back to the first point, when you’re picking your business idea, you need to make sure it’s something that you love and enjoy. That enthusiasm will seep into everything you do and make your chances of success so much higher.


And remember, you can get some free help through Start and Grow Enterprise and come along to one of our Start-up Weekends to set up your business with confidence.


Ella Hendrix

Writer, Entrepreneur and Hiker 

PLEASE NOTE: We are no longer taking on new clients under this programme from Friday 17th February 2023