Students excel at enterprise challenge

Students excel at enterprise challenge

Released: Tuesday 10th January 2017 at 14:12

An innovative Sunderland venture is helping to develop the brightest business brains in the region via practical learning.

Mix together a dose of entrepreneurial talent, a university education and several dollops of hard work – and it could be the perfect recipe for a successful business venture.

This exciting blend of ingredients has allowed Jane Wimpenny to cook up her own thriving start-up, an eco-friendly fashion label that sells clothes made from organic and recycled materials and donates 10% of revenues to charitable causes.

The 24-year-old’s passion for fashion, the environment and philanthropy is a driving force behind the venture, Joined in Life, which she launched in 2015. But she acknowledges that the University of Sunderland, where she had previously completed a sports and exercise sciences degree, provided the vital support that allowed her to get the venture off the ground.

She is one of several people to have benefited from the university’s Enterprise Place, a “creative hatchery” where students, graduates and staff can research, test and trial their ideas and launch their start-up ventures.

She said: “The support I’ve had has been invaluable. I did business studies at school but I needed more help in terms of running a business and all that goes with it. Just having a passion for something isn’t enough.

“I’ve always been interested in fashion and when I was at university I was looking for eco-friendly fashion items but couldn’t really find any. After my degree, I was struggling to find a job that would suit me so I thought: why not start my own venture?”

Jane aims to promote Joined in Life through social media, widen the product range, launch her own production facility and eventually take on extra staff.

While she’s busy doing all of this, other budding entrepreneurs at Enterprise Place are developing their ventures.

Andrew Robson, James Watson and Austin Spinks are the graduates behind Tri-Aperture, a video production enterprise that includes Hitachi and Shepherd Construction in its client portfolio. After securing cash from Sunderland's Future’s Fund, the trio are now looking to grow the venture and have invested in drone technology and training to diversify their offering.

Meanwhile, Mathew Johnston and Ian Horabin are providing affordable sports and activities for local children through their community interest company, I Am Sports, which they launched in 2014. Their dual aim is to keep youngsters active while providing an affordable childcare solution for time-pressed parents and carers.

Ian, from Sunderland, said: “Business is thriving. We’re able to reach more and more customers all the time in new areas of the city and it’s great to hear the positive feedback we get from the work we’re doing.”

Sunderland lecturer Dr Ian Whyte recommended Mathew and Ian to Enterprise Place and said their strong work ethic, resilience and positive outlook had prepared them for success.

He said: “The two former students have become role models, showcasing what can be done with some vision, diligence and, importantly, support from the university. I’m delighted to hear of their continued success and the part that the university is playing in it.”

Backed by European cash, Enterprise Place originally opened its doors in 2012 to students with any business idea in any sector. In the space of three years, it helped almost 200 aspiring entrepreneurs, spawned 60 businesses and created 48 jobs.

In 2015 the initiative was widened to include internships as well as enterprise. It has also been extended until 2018 following a further £2.36m cash boost from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.

During this period the aim is to offer more company internships and create another 50 start-ups.

The scheme is helping to fast-track the launch of several innovative ventures, particularly in the region’s vibrant creative and digital sectors.

Laura Foster, Enterprise Place manager, said: “We’ve got a strong creative strand coming through and good links with Software City and other digital businesses. But it’s important to remember that Enterprise Place is open to students who want to operate in other sectors too.

“We offer a safe environment for students to try out their ideas and we provide access to business advisors who cover a whole range of essential topics, such as accountancy and finance.

“We also try to get students to think about business planning and business modelling. This can help them to quickly identify flaws in a particular idea and find ways of making that idea better.”

Ms Foster acknowledges that not every idea will blossom into a full-blown, successful business venture – but even the ones that don’t work out are viewed as positive experiences for the students.

“It’s not about failure,” she said. “There’s much to be gained even if they don’t go on to set up their own business. They acquire softer skills such as the ability to pitch, present and network. It can be quite a lonely experience launching a business, a real rollercoaster ride, but if you have other people in the same boat, that can take the fear factor out of it.”

Her words will strike a chord with Jane Wimpenny, who hailed the networking opportunities provided by Enterprise Place as a key benefit of the scheme. Now she’s determined to use her developing knowledge and skills to improve the lives of others. Currently 10% of her revenues are donated to Mary’s Meals, which provides much-needed food to some of the world’s most poverty-stricken children.

She said: “At the end of the tax year I’m excited to see how much we’ve raised for Mary’s Meals. The charity helps to bring our business into the spotlight and we help to give the charity some positive exposure. It works for both of us so it’s a win-win situation all round.”

This article appeared in The Chronicle

The Internships and Enterprise project is receiving up to £2,359,457 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. ‌The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. ‌Established by the European Union, European Regional Development Fund funds help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.