Starting a business
Whether you are interested in becoming the next James Dyson or you just want to make a little extra money on eBay, starting your own business or social enterprise is an exciting way to work and develop your skills either during or after your degree at Imperial.
Entrepreneurship gives you the freedom to become your own boss but it takes dedication, hard work and willingness to take on some financial risk if you wish to make it your career.
Furthermore, entrepreneurial skills are greatly valued by many graduate employers, so if you set up a business while at college you may gain both money to help with living expenses and some valuable experience to write about on your CV.
Below is an introduction to some of the major factors you may want to consider if you set up a business and a list of links for further sources of help. Please note that this information is most relevant to UK or EU undergraduate or taught postgraduate students looking to set up a business in the UK. If you are an International student or a postgraduate student on a research course, there is further information available below, in particular on the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa.
Firstly, you need a business idea. This may come from a hobby, your course or from somewhere else entirely – such as the media or your friends and family.
You then need to evaluate your idea according to three basic business principles: feasibility, demand and innovation.
Ideas - colour block
The most important aspect of your idea is that it has to be feasible. This means making sure you have or can have access to the right technology, skills, funding and time to make your idea a reality.
An idea only turns into an opportunity if there is an unsolved problem, a need or a real (perceived or actual) demand from a market. You will most likely need to do some market research to establish this.
A business cannot thrive if every other business is doing exactly the same thing. To stand out from the competition, innovation of some sort is fundamental. The innovation may be small, such as a new method of marketing or operating or it could be large, such as an entirely new product or service.
Protecting your idea
You may need to make sure that no one else is able to copy your idea, especially if it is a brand new product or invention. These processes, in particular patenting an invention, can be an expensive and lengthy process and you need to decide if protecting your idea or the speed in which you can get to market is more important to you in the long term.
Here is some further reading so that you may consider what kind of intellectual property protection is right for you.
I have an idea - what next?
Writing a business plan
A business plan is an essential requirement of a modern business. It is a document that you need if you want to approach banks and investors in order to start your business but it also can be a useful exercise in helping you decide the short and long term strategies of the business and to fully realise any shortfalls in skills, funding or research.
A useful introduction for business plans is available on the GOV.UK website.
The Prince’s Trust has also produced an excellent guide and template from which to start.
Money is the lifeblood to any business, whether the organisation is a charity or a large scale corporate entity. You need to work out exactly how much money you have (from yourself, family, friends, loans and investors), how much money you will need and how you believe you will use the money. Keeping accurate records and receipts is vital, right from the beginning.
Registering a business
Registering your business
Registering a business is surprisingly easy once you have a bank account. There is lots of information available on GOV.UK, which will describe the differences between being a sole trader, limited company or partnership, and you can decide which one is right for you.
Also, you may be interested in reading up on your tax responsibilities as a business owner at the HMRC.
Starting a business as an international student
International students are not permitted to be self employed as a condition of their Tier 4 student visa. However, there is now a specific visa called Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur for MBA and other UK graduates who have been identified by Higher Education Institutions as having developed genuine and credible business ideas and entrepreneurial skills to extend their stay in the UK after graduation to establish one or more businesses in the UK. To apply for the visa the applicant is endorsed by Imperial College London and there are a number of dates for applicants to be considered from July-November. Applications are made via the International Office and more information can be found here.
Postgraduate students on a research course
If you are starting a business during (or after) your course which has in any way been inspired by your research you may be affected by the College’s or your funder’s Intellectual Property policy. Please speak to your academic supervisor if you are looking to go down this route. There is College help available to help you if you wish to create a College spin-out with your research. The best place to find out more is by approaching the College’s Research Office.
Further resources available
There are a range of different places you can go both within College and outside agencies if you want help to pursue your business idea.
- Imperial - Enterprising Students - Imperial's portal for the latest enterprising students news, events and activities across College.
- Imperial Enterprise Lab - Runs events and hosts resources to support entrepreneurship within Imperial.
- Imperial Enterprise - Runs regular skills and information sessions around developing entrepreneurship abilities. Also runs the annual accelerator program to develop and in some cases fund business ideas.
- Imperial Entrepreneurs - Student society dedicated to Entrepreneurship at Imperial running regular networking and information events as well as challenges and competitions to develop skills.
KnowYourMoney have partnered with top universities to create The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Business as a Student Entrepreneur.
We also have a section of paper resources on entrepreneurship in our Information Room including printed materials collected from useful websites and a range of reference books related to starting a business. Titles include:
- Start It Up (Luke Johnson), 2011, Portfolio-Penguin
- Start-Up Smart (Robin Bennett), 2010, Harriman
- The Smart Entrepreneur (Bart Clarysse & Sabrina Kiefer), 2011, Elliot & Thompson
- How to Start Your Own Business for Entrepreneurs (Robert Ashton). 2009, Pearson