How to get business ideas at University

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I’ve done a bit of research around this, and most of the stuff I’ve found have been outdated, traditional (and quite frankly, boring) ways to earn money at university.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.

My ideas: 

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.

3. Time-management

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! 

 

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“No” is the New “Yes”: Four Practices to Reprioritize Your Life

I just had to reblog this as I- as I’m sure some of you-can relate to this more than other things which catch our eye in our chaotic lives.

 

I was sitting with the CEO and senior team of a well-respected organization. One at a time, they told me they spend their long days either in back-to-back meetings, responding to email, or putting out fires. They also readily acknowledged this way of working wasn’t serving them well — personally or professionally.

It’s a conundrum they couldn’t seem to solve. It’s also a theme on which I hear variations every day. Think of it as a madness loop — a vicious cycle. We react to what’s in front of us, whether it truly matters or not. More than ever, we’re prisoners of the urgent.

Prioritizing requires reflection, reflection takes time, and many of the executives I meet are so busy racing just to keep up they don’t believe they have time to stop and think about much of anything.

Too often — and masochistically — they default to “yes.” Saying yes to requests feels safer, avoids conflict and takes less time than pausing to decide whether or not the request is truly important.

Truth be told, there’s also an adrenaline rush in saying yes. Many of us have become addicted, unwittingly, to the speed of our lives — the adrenalin high of constant busyness. We mistake activity for productivity, more for better, and we ask ourselves “What’s next?” far more often than we do “Why this?” But as Gandhi put it, “A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

Saying no, thoughtfully, may be the most undervalued capacity of our times. In a world of relentless demands and infinite options, it behooves us to prioritize the tasks that add the most value. That also means deciding what to do less of, or to stop doing altogether.

Making these choices requires that we regularly step back from the madding crowd. It’s only when we pause — when we say no to the next urgent demand or seductive source of instant gratification — that we give ourselves the space to reflect on, metabolize, assess, and make sense of what we’ve just experienced.

Taking time also allows us to collect ourselves, refuel and renew, and make conscious course corrections that ultimately save us time when we plunge back into the fray.

What follows are four simple practices that serve a better prioritized and more intentional life:

1. Schedule in your calendar anything that feels important but not urgent — to borrow Steven Covey’s phrase. If it feels urgent, you’re likely going to get it done. If it’s something you can put off, you likely will — especially if it’s challenging.

The key to success is building rituals — highly specific practices that you commit to doing at precise times, so that over time they become automatic, and no longer require much conscious intention or energy. One example is scheduling regular time in your calendar for brainstorming, or for more strategic and longer term thinking.

The most recent ritual I added to my life is getting entirely offline after dinner each evening, and on the weekends. I’m only two weeks into the practice, but I know it’s already created space in my mind to think and imagine.

2. As your final activity before leaving work in the evening, set aside sufficient time — at least 15 to 20 minutes — to take stock of what’s happened that day. and to decide the most important tasks you want to accomplish the next day.

Clarifying and defining your priorities — what the researcher Peter Gollwitzer calls “implementation intentions” — will help you to stay focused on your priorities in the face of all the distractions you’ll inevitably face the following day.

3. Do the most important thing on your list first when you get to work in the morning, for up to 90 minutes. If possible, keep your door closed, your email turned off and your phone on silent. The more singularly absorbed your focus, the more you’ll get accomplished, and the higher the quality of the work is likely to be. When you finish, take a break to renew and refuel.

Most of us have the highest level of energy and the fewest distractions in the morning. If you can’t begin the day that way, schedule the most important activity as early as possible. If you’re one of the rare people who feels more energy later in the day, designate that time instead to do your most important activity.

4. Take at least one scheduled break in the morning, one in the afternoon, and leave your desk for lunch. These are each important opportunities to renew yourself so that your energy doesn’t run down as the day wears on. They’re also opportunities to briefly take stock.

Here are two questions you may want to ask yourself during these breaks:

1. Did I get done what I intended to get done since my last break and if not, why not?

2. What do I want to accomplish between now and my next break, and what do I have to say “no” to, in order to make that possible?

Carpe Diem.

 

Originally Posted in the Harvard Business Review by Tony Schwartz

 

It’s very likely that you-as I probabily will too- not take this advice, and keep hammering along the daily grind. Nonetheless, some food for thought.

Who knows, maybe by reading and depositing this into your mind, it’ll come back to you one day when your looking to reprioritise your life for the better.