Student start-ups - Fuel for tomorrow’s economy


Coronavirus has forced us to redefine how we work and how we engage with other businesses. Yet whilst larger organisations have been slower to adapt to shifts in demand, it has been the small business who has taken the lead in evolving and reacting to the world’s pandemic writes Lucy Beddall...

Performing Arts graduate and founder of Stage8group

Smaller businesses have been able to transform their operational processes to meet changes in their customers’ behaviour. They don’t have the expensive overheads, rigid manufacturing processes or immoveable capital that has proven restrictive to more established organisations.

Tomorrow’s world of business will be very different, much of the economic effects of Covid-19 will force significant change. And some of this change will open up opportunities for small businesses. The role of start-ups and SMEs will be more integral, with new respect and support being given to our entrepreneurial thinkers.

The pandemic has also reinserted social mission into the heart of many businesses. Rather than merely being a buzz word, we can now attach a real meaning to it. Small businesses have demonstrated this in their quick diversification of product – clothing manufacturers making scrubs for the NHS, a gin distiller making hand sanitiser. There’s a better appreciation of the community we work and reside in. The benefits of shopping locally at a time when supplies from overseas are compromised, will build resilience into local supply chains.

How we do business with other people has been economised with our speedy adoption of technology; online video conferencing software, selling on Facebook and Instagram, e-commerce. Again, the smaller business has been able to utilise and react to this faster and easier.

Our students and graduates will start to look for alternative ways to work. With Covid-19 impacting employment opportunities, there will be more of an impetus to start a small business, or to work as a sole trader. We may also see a trend towards blended-work choices with graduates choosing a combination of regular paid part time work and self-employment/running their own business.

UWTSD has always championed the start-up. Our students are encouraged from an early stage to think entrepreneurially about their studies – enterprise is embedded in all the courses offered. There are also talks from entrepreneurs, workshops, advice sessions and even a pop-up shop that they can book to try some of their ideas out (Creative Bubble).

We’ve caught up with a few of our graduate businesses to see how they have been affected and how they have adapted. They have also shared some tips with us to help other students who might be thinking of starting their own business.

Alix Charles (Performing Arts graduate)

Alix Digital

  1. Keep learning. When you stop learning, you stop moving.

“Thankfully we predominantly operate online, so working from home is possible. To help us, we have made more use of video calls for any consultancy work and to have regular catch-ups. Our plans for the near future revolve around helping more businesses and improving the service we provide them. I have been impressed by how well people have adapted to video conferences and remote learning through Covid-19. It has really shown me that we can hold training and meetings with people anywhere; whether they're just down the road or in another country. With that in mind, I'm looking to include further online training and consultancy where possible.

"I was fortunate enough to work for a few great Welsh marketing companies prior to setting up on my own. During this time, I absolutely loved what I did, and my favourite aspect of the job was helping businesses succeed. However, working for larger companies meant I rarely worked with smaller companies as they often couldn't afford it - yet it's today's small businesses that are tomorrow's big brands. I figured that if I could go my own way and help smaller companies get the marketing they deserve, I could make a real difference.”

Alix’s top tips:

* Everyone makes mistakes (I definitely have). This is fine so long as you learn from them.

* Stay connected. Networking has been a huge part of growing my business.

* Give yourself a break. Working all hours sounds like the way to get ahead but it leads to burnout which is not sustainable.

* Most importantly, when you are passionate about something, follow it. Passion is what sets us apart from the everyday. I particularly like the quote, 'do what you love and never work a day'.

Martin Eastwood (Music Technology graduate)

Wide Variety Events & Marketing

  1. Think big, you can do so much more than you currently think is possible. 
  2. Go all in for at least the first 5 years. You need to give it everything you have and nothing less. 
  3. Don’t quit no matter what – every entrepreneur will face road blocks and failures along the way, but it is how you deal with those failures that define whether or not you will be successful, or just another statistic.

“It’s been a challenging time to be at the helm of an events and media company as all of our events were immediately cancelled or postponed. However, I quickly shifted my focus to what we could do right now to be successful. On the media side of things, our primary service is managing digital/social media marketing for other businesses to increase their sales. I went heavy on marketing and immediately began picking up new clients for our services here. The key adaptation I made to ensure client success (and our own success by proxy) was to change our targeting to serve the needs of front-line workers who are still in employment and this move proved to be a huge success. I asked myself what is needed right now and then I simply provided exactly that.

"Right now, my immediate focus is on growing my company and preparing myself to enter the world of real estate investing in 2021. I have a wealth creation strategy in place and I am extremely focused on this right now, I am throwing the majority of my energy into actions that support this. Another key area I am working on is continued growth of my personal brand. When Covid-19 stuck one immediate action I took was reaching out to Irish Tech News and I have since secured a writing position which is great and allows me to share my knowledge and establish myself as an authority in my space.

"Opportunities are everywhere, you just have to look for them and more importantly, take action. Holistically speaking and as crazy as it sounds, I am doing better now than I was before Covid-19 struck”.


Performing Arts graduate and founder of Alix Digital

Martin’s top tips:

* Think big, you can do so much more than you currently think is possible.

* Go all in for at least the first 5 years. You need to give it everything you have and nothing less.

* Don’t quit no matter what – every entrepreneur will face road blocks and failures along the way, but it is how you deal with those failures that define whether or not you will be successful, or just another statistic.

Jay Smith (Performing Arts graduate)

Stage 8

  2. Don’t be afraid firstly, whether that be of starting, running or failing at a business, I’ve failed more times than I care to admit but that’s part of the learning process.
  3. Set goals and work diligently towards them.
  4. Don’t compare yourself to others in business - trust me, this is the most toxic mindset to be in, you are on your own path and journey, just stick to it, look forward and don’t focus on others, know your market yes but don’t spend your time fixated on other businesses, it will kill your business. 

“Covid-19 has had a profound impact on our business and an impact we will no doubt continue to feel for some time after restrictions are lifted. Overnight our income completely stopped, and we knew we needed to do something to keep some income and retain clients. As soon as the lockdown was in place we had to adapt pretty quickly to a new normal for the business, as well as in our personal lives.

"We decided to move classes online, this came with many challenges, insufficient tech knowledge, encouraging participation in a time of complete social confusion and transitioning our work from real life to online, that’s the hardest thing as so much of our work in theatre school relies on us working directly with children.

"We have decided to run classes and workshops online, operating a pay as you like payment term which is working well, it’s keeping our students engaged and retained and that’s the most important thing. Opportunities have opened up, perhaps not super lucrative but we have definitely made changes to the business to continue to work in this climate and ultimately this time has given us the opportunity to do vital works in our spaces which we didn’t have time to before, upgrading our facilities gives us an improved space when we return and a more commercially attractive space too. It allows us time to work on our business model, update accounts and to do some much-needed admin. There has to be the odd positive right?

"I’ve been employed before, I had a graduate job straight out of UWTSD, but I’ve always known deep down that I’m a square peg in a round hole, I’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit that is inside me. I find it difficult to conform to the restrictions of an employed job, especially if I can see there are ways of improving things that aren’t being explored. I wanted to be successful, that’s what’s always been my driving force in business, I wanted to be completely accountable for my own successes in life. It’s a hard road if you choose it, I’ve never known such a testing time as the times we are currently living through, but I know that with the right attitude and mentality my business can and will survive. I wanted to make my mark in the industry I work in and there’s no better way than to bring a service to market that you truly believe in and you put your whole life into.”

Jay’s top tips:

Make connections everywhere you go - If you’re in Uni, that’s the best place to start. I made solid and meaningful connections whilst at University with staff, students, visiting dignitaries etc and I still call on those connections to this day, some 7 years after graduating and they still call on me. If you show yourself to be passionate, driven and a hard worker now it will serve you well in business.

* Don’t be afraid - I have a quote I live by, ‘what’s the worst that’s going to happen? Will the birds fall out of the trees? No. Will the world stop spinning? No. Will someone die as a result of what I’m doing? No.’ If I can answer no to those things you know if it goes wrong, which sometimes it does, it’s really not going to be the end of the world. It helps me take calculated risks, which in business, you need to.

* Have a good support network at home - this is key! Without my ridiculously supportive wife I would never have even started my businesses. You need people cheering for your team at home, you’ll find yourself working all hours, taking over the spare bedroom as your ‘first office’ and using your family members as sounding boards. You want them to be on board with your ambition, they don’t have to agree with everything you say and every idea, you want honesty, but it needs to come from a place of true support and love.

If you are a student or graduate and would like some advice starting up your own business (or just want to chat through your ideas), please email


Music Technology graduate and founder of Wide Variety Events & Marketing

Further Information

Rebecca Davies

Swyddog Gweithredol Cysylltiadau â’r Wasg a’r Cyfryngau

Executive Press and Media Relations Officer

Cyfathrebu Corfforaethol a Chysylltiadau Cyhoeddus

Corporate Communications and PR

Tel: 01792 483695

Mobile: 07384 467071