‘We saw an opportunity’: postgrads who turned study into startup success
Worried about job hunting after graduation? A growing number of alumni are choosing to start their own business, en route to self-made success.
Studying a master’s can open doors into industries that otherwise often remain closed to those without a postgraduate qualification. But for some postgrads, the holy grail isn’t necessarily securing a permanent job with an employer. Instead, many are taking the tools and knowledge they’ve learned from a year of digging deep into their chosen subject and using it to start their own businesses.
The lightbulb moment for Hannah Myers came while studying for a master’s in product design at Nottingham Trent University. She had worked in a bike shop after university, and saw an opportunity for a womenswear cycling brand after feeling frustrated at the lack of options. The brand was a continuation of her final master’s assignment on female-related products in the mountain bike sector.
“I didn’t set out to run a business but my master’s project involved making a brand,” says Myers, now 28. “It was back in 2012 and I realised that there weren’t many womenswear cycling products around. If there were, they tended to be stereotypical – a “shrink it and pink it” approach – and the rest of the products were masculine in style. I ended up designing my whole brand out of the project.”
Before Myers had even graduated, she had registered the business with Companies House and started looking for manufacturers. Her company, Flare, is now selling products online and is wholesaling in the UK and Europe, which now includes a men’s range. “My master’s gave me the mental space to concentrate on one topic and delve deeper into it,” says Myers, who graduated in 2013. “It spurred me to start my own business.”
Jordan Phillips met his future business partner Saul Johnstone while studying a master’s in strategic digital marketing at the University of South Wales. A former business owner – he’d run a ski business after working seasons at various ski resorts – Phillips returned to university after he decided he wanted to retrain in a different area. He thought that the course could help him stand out to future employers, but when they were researching marketing businesses in the local area as part of their master’s research, the pair soon discovered another possible route ahead for them post-study.
“When we focused on south Wales as part of our research, we realised that there were no agencies providing our skill set,” says Phillips. “We saw an opportunity to launch a marketing agency offering everything from strategic planning to website build.” The duo launched 11:FiftyNine in 2016 – while they were still finishing their dissertation – and even picked up their first client before they’d graduated.
Holly Knower, chief executive officer at the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs, says there does appear to be an increase in students manoeuvring away from traditional employment routes. “We’ve found that recent postgraduates are looking for more creative and innovative ways to make their mark within their chosen disciplines, and this includes starting their own business,” she says. “The current labour marker is not what it once was and therefore we will see a reduced number of young people fulfilling long-term careers in one dedicated role; instead they’ll be making their own dream careers by starting up their own companies.”
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