Student entrepreneurs: How to start a business alongside studying

7 September 2017

Students have a myriad of things to balance, such as managing their grades and a social life simultaneously. But this doesn’t have to hamper you from launching your own business start-up.

There is always a gap to fill in the ever-expanding consumer market – could your business idea fill this void?

How to get your business up and running

If you’ve got a business idea, a good place to start is the NACUE (, a charitable organisation working in partnership with Tata to promote student entrepreneurship and the development of skills.

Its website has a host of information on it, such as ‘The Business Start-up Checklist’ and ‘Make the Most of Your University Social Network’.

But NACUE also holds an annual Varsity Pitch competition – a national early stage business pitching competition – seeking the very best student and graduate business ideas.

All finalists are mentored to help them iron out any flaws in their plan, plus the winner receives a grant of £10,000 with the addition of considerable networking opportunities, which are vital for any business.  

Here’s what some of the past winners have achieved. 

Ryan Robinson and Elena Dieckmann (pictured above) co-founded Aeoropowder, which won the NACUE Varsity Pitch competition in 2016. Their business idea was to utilise chicken feathers - which are typically disposed of – for insulation.

Winning the competition has aided the financing of their business and Ryan and Elena say having mentors and advisers has also greatly helped with the growth and development of their business.

The best advice Ryan offers for student entrepreneurs who wish to start their own business is to face problems head on and “think on your feet.” He adds: “It’s not as scary out there as you think.”


Having won the NACUE Varsity Pitch competition in 2011 Joanna Montgomery (pictured above) launched her business – Pillow Talk – which concentrates on developing technology that interacts with people. Its first product enables users to hear the heartbeat of their partner.

Like with most things, problems were bound to occur, but Joanna believes that entering the competition was the best decision she could’ve made at the time; given her level of knowledge and experience.

What stood out for her during the NACUE competition was the press coverage and credibility that it provided her business with, which ultimately helped towards raising investment, and of course, the £10,000 grant aided the development of the company’s prototypes. 

Her top tip for fellow entrepreneurs is to: “Show up every day and do something, anything, to move your business forward.”

Twin sisters, Joyce and Raissa de Haas, won the ‘Creativity and Design’ category in 2016 (Aeropowder won the overall competition that year). They now sell their own range of bottled drink mixers, called Double Dutch, with an impressive customer list.

NACUE provided them with the ability to think more critically about their strategy and helped them to ensure all the legal paperwork was solid.

The twins would highly recommend other students enter into the competition as it “forces one to think about the whole business and you get very valuable advice from the mentors”.

For all those budding entrepreneurs out there they say: “Just launch your product as soon as you have something, even if it’s not perfect yet.”

Who can enter?

Varsity Pitch is open to students currently at a UK college or university, or those who graduated after 2012.

Applications for this year’s Varsity Pitch Competition opened on 22 August and close on 4 October 2017.

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