If you wait for opportunities to occur, you will be one of the crowd – Edward De Bono
I hear from a lot of students at university that they want to start a company in the near future, either once they’ve graduated or in a couple of years, once they have experience in one particular area, such as graphene engineering (what even is that?).
In my experience, it’s easier to start a business in a particular field once you’ve already set up and worked in a business beforehand. There are opportunities all around us, especially at university, and it has become increasingly important to not necessarily engage in enterprising activities; but to at least identify opportunities (although the former is a huge leverage point, and it’s one thing to identify, and another to act upon your perspective).
This is something I’ve spoken to many people at Manchester Entrepreneurs about; many individuals wish to start something, but have no idea what to start. Therefore, this post isn’t directed to individuals who are THINKING about whether starting a business at university is a good option- I hope most of my readers already understand that it is, and are just short of a little inspiration.
I’ve done a bit of research around this, and most of the stuff I’ve found have been outdated, traditional (and quite frankly, boring) ways to earn money at university. I like to think people in the UK have a bit more ambition than just mowing someone’s lawn for a fiver or finding unnecessary clothes and selling them at a car boot sale (considering these to be actual businesses are questionable at best, but nonetheless you can make a living out of them. Someone is, somewhere in the world).
How to find ideas:
1. What’s your problem?: University students have problems all the time. For most of them, university is the first time they’ve had to leave home and live somewhere permanently. Things which we take for granted such as regular cooked meals, heating, travel and much more. Your friends are constantly having problems, and you can identify them by finding those keywords they may mention…”I wish X was run better”, “I honestly think I could do a much better job than they are at managing Y”, “I don’t understand why they don’t supply/serve Z”. Finding clear and simple solutions to everyday problems has much more scope to expand if you know of people who share the same problem. That usually means a vast majority of individuals in the same segment at least, may have the same problem. Most students I know complain about the amount of time they waste, or their sheer inability to track their spending.
It still holds true that man is most uniquely human when he turns obstacles into
opportunities. – Eric Hoffer
2. Latching onto trends: A friend of mine recently set up a website where you buy Christmas Trees. Now, this might not be one of my pressing needs in March/April, but during November and December you can be sure many students, especially 2nd and 3rd years with houses, are probably looking to invest in affordable Christmas trees to go along with Christmas festivities. While he made a small profit out of it, he learnt a lot from the experience (I can testify to this, he was complaining to me how his supplier massively increased the wholesale price without informing him in advance and he had to react quickly to this setback) whilst being able to say he built a credible website, used social media tools to boost awareness, and even engaged in content creation in order to improve his own SEO. So Valentine’s day is coming up….
3. Look around you: Glasses Direct Founder James Murray Wells started his business, which sells glasses online at rock-bottom prices, by actively keeping his eyes peeled for opportunities. He reiterated that being able to flick the switch in your mind which involves harnessing the mentality of keeping your mind open to problems that need to be solved. Seriously, I can’t cook- if someone can either teach me/provide me with meals, I’d consider paying depending on the end-value creation and whether it is sustainable for me to do so. In all seriousness, I believe many students suffer from the same anxieties (aka “laziness”), and it’s worth delving into a bit more.
4. Leverage what’s out there: In The Straight Story, the 1999 filmabout a 73-year-old man who drives a lawn mower 300 miles across Iowa, I’m pretty sure he could’ve found a young snapper who would’ve done that for him for less than $10. In the 21st century, however, we’re thankful to have apps such as PocketMUni and Sooqini, which can help students indefinitely earn extra income. If you want to write a press release, teach a class, cook meals- you can pretty much do anything on these platforms and get paid for it. Now, this blogpost isn’t entitled “How to get more money at university”, but I merely point out these services as they demonstrate demand- if it’s something people want, you have a market to sell your product or services to.
“Opportunities are multiplied as they are seized” – Sun Tzu
I’ve listed a number of my own ideas which I feel there is potential to expand and to think about and at least conduct some very basic market research.
1. Library books
As a student of social sciences, I’m supposed to be checking out a large number of books per week, but its increasingly difficult to find these books in one of the largest university libraries in the UK. People misplace books, put them on the wrong shelf, or throw them out the window (OK, I made that last one up, JRUL is really an orderly place). One idea I thought of would be a service which collates all my library readings/books/e-books/journals all into one document, or all in one shelf or area for which I’d pay a £5 service and have a range of books varying in depth and topic.
2. Confessions/Spotted and Matchmaking
After being part of the Hottie In The Library craze during June 2011/Jan 2012, there have been numerous University “Confessions” and “Spotted” sites enter the fray, and as I mentioned to my friend who created the HITL site, there must be something in matchmaking, or building a strong community ( or even a social network) around this concept. I currently see all of these pages and sites pop up, but I just see a large number of users accruing, and the owners seem content with this for now. I’m eager to see how they attempt to monetize their coveted platforms.
This is one of the biggest problems for students (myself included), and I feel there is a real innovation here. Whether that be condensing lecture notes more efficiently, helping students learn efficiently or just organising my time by tracking and monitoring how often I perform badhabits or encouraging me to adopt good ones. There’s much I can delve into, but I feel I can write another blog post on this.
What untapped ideas do you feel are left behind or where do you think there are the most problems at university that students can simply solve? If you’re a current student, or a graduate I’d love to hear your answers in the comments!