With the economy still in a fragile state and competition for jobs fierce, more university graduates are looking at setting up their own businesses. Around 9% of recent graduates were unemployed last year, according to government figures – a lower figure than young people without university degrees, but depressing nonetheless, especially if you’re saddled with high student debts.

But the recession has created a new generation of young entrepreneurs eager to build their own business careers, with a big jump in the number of firms set up by young people.

Today’s graduates are no longer waiting for big firms to start hiring again and, inspired by successful entrepreneurs such as moo.com’s founder Richard Moross and Innocent Drinks’ Richard Reed, they are eager to set up their own firms.

They have the ideas and the energy, but often not the money or the expertise, to get started and to navigate the world of business. But help is at hand. If you’re thinking of starting your own business, here are some places to look for help and inspiration.


A number of universities are encouraging their students’ entrepreneurial instincts, by teaching them how to set up and run their own businesses. Some offer formal courses or informal lectures, where they can get an introduction into the world of business and rub shoulders with entrepreneurs.

Cambridge University, for example, does both: its Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning offers a Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship, while it also organises Enterprise Tuesday, a series of free and open lectures, where students (of all universities) and members of the local business community can listen to speeches and panel sessions featuring academics, entrepreneurs and investors.

Young Enterprise

Founded in 1962, by Sir Walter Salomon, the Young Enterprise is the UK’s largest enterprise education charity. It runs a scheme that allows university students to create their own business while studying. They plan, start up, and run their own company over an academic year under the watchful eye of business advisers. As a result, many graduate with their own business already up and running.

Santander Universities Entrepreneurship awards

These awards, created in 2011, are to encourage university students to become entrepreneurs. Graduate and postgraduate students at participating universities submit their new businesses ideas to their universities, which then choose the best two ideas to pass on to the bank, where a judging panel from its business and corporate banking divisions will compile a shortlist, which is then sent to a judging panel made up of university tutors, who will pick the best five ideas.

These budding entrepreneurs then pitch their ideas to the judges, who choose the best three that will then be given cash to help develop their ideas into businesses. The top prize in the postgraduate category is £20,000; second is £15,000; third is £10,000. The best idea from undergraduates will earn the winner £5,000, the second placed will get £3,000 and the third £1,000.

The bank also runs an internship scheme, to give students thinking of becoming entrepreneurs a taste of life working in a small firm. Undergraduates (or recent graduates) at its partner universities can apply to work full time at a business for three months.

Santander will pay £1,500 to the student’s university for each internship, a sum that will be at least matched either by the university or the small business.


Start-Up Loans Company

Start-Up Loans is part of the government’s policy to reduce unemployment and boost economic growth through encouraging people, particularly those aged between 18 and 30, to set up their own businesses. It was formed out of the entrepreneurship taskforce led by Lord Younger.

Started in 2012 it offers help through repayable loans and mentorship to budding entrepreneurs throughout the country. Its success has exceeded expectations. Since it was set up it has lent nearly £95 million to nearly 19,000 businesses. The average loan it offers is £5385.

Shell LiveWire

The oil company sponsors what it calls “the UK biggest online community for young entrepreneurs.” It offers free online business advice and offers start-up awards of £1,000 and £10,000 to young entrepreneurs.

The winner of its 2013 Young Entrepreneur of the Year award was Jermaine Hagan, who developed a revision app to help school children learning for their exams. He got a cash prize of £10,000 and sessions with a Shell executive to help him to develop his business.

New Entrepreneurs Foundation

The Foundation’s vision “is to transform UK business by developing the entrepreneurial leaders of the future.” If you’re accepted on its year-long programme you will learn how to set up, build and run your own business from experts such as lastminute.com’s founder Brent Hoberman and Talk Talk CEO Dido Harding.

Prince’s Trust

The charity’s Enterprise Programme offers help to unemployed or underemployed (working less than 16 hours a week) people aged 18-30 interested in setting up their own business. It will offer one-to-one support to test your business idea, support to apply for a low-interest start-up loan of up to £5,000, and receive training and mentoring to help your business to succeed.

The scheme is not open to gap year students, those who have graduated less than six months ago, or those with a postgrad degree or professional qualification.

Regional programmes

Certain parts of the country offer schemes to encourage local young people to set up their own businesses, as a way to kickstart economic redevelopment in their region. For example, in Northern Ireland there are the Advantage NI and Bright Idea Programme.

The enterprising spirit is alive and well in today’s students. Research by The Prince’s Trust and RBS has shown that 30% of young people expect to be self-employed in the future, while 25% believe they will be their own bosses within the next five years.

Many young people prefer to try to start their own businesses, rather than continue to look for jobs. The feeling that they have nothing to lose, but possibly much to gain, is spurring them on to follow their dreams and become entrepreneurs. With government initiatives and other support programmes now on offer, there’s probably never been a better time for graduates to start a company.

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