Learn from those who have done it before

The future is now: why it’s time to start your business

The Cube at the University of Southampton Students’ Union was a hub of activity last week for ‘The future is now: teenage millionaires, entrepreneurs and innovators’, a packed Freshers’ Week event that set out why there is never a better time to think about starting a business.

Experience the excitement from the event above, or read on to find out key points Future Worlds mentor Ben Clark took away from the inspirational session. Ben’s article has been generated with support from the Synote University spinout transcription tool.

There’s a story about a little boy in Mississippi.

He’s sitting at a station on top of a hill. It’s rained, in fact, it’s poured and there’s water everywhere. The water’s flowing into two little streams, one either side of the railway.

So the little boy is sitting on a rail quietly spooning the water from one side of the track to the other. It’s all he’s doing, for ages he’s just moving the water carefully from the little trickle on one side to the little trickle on the other.

An old man walks up to him and asks, “What are you doing? Why are you spending all day just moving bits of water?”

He says, “Well, this little trickle just runs down the hill into that little pond where it disappears. It goes nowhere. But this other little trickle runs down there and joins another trickle. Those trickles become a little stream, and that stream joins a bigger stream. I’ve noticed that stream joins another bigger stream and that biggest stream flows right into the Mississippi River.

“So if I spoon the water from this side over to that side then, instead of going nowhere, instead of just evaporating in a stagnant little pond, it becomes part of the Mississippi River. It becomes part of this mightiest of rivers that rolls all the way to the ocean, it becomes an amazingly powerful force.”

I shared that story in our Freshers’ Week event because it’s the same for people when they’re thinking about business ideas. Most of the time they’re just kicking them around. Often, like the trickle of water running to the pond, the ideas just sit there and go stagnant. Nothing happens. It goes nowhere.

We were lucky enough to be joined in last week’s event at the Students’ Union by a group of amazing entrepreneurs and mentors who shared their stories of launching startups while they were young. Two of the startups were launched by students while at the University of Southampton and Josh Valman launched RPD International while he was still at school. In light of these real-life stories I challenged everyone to be like that little boy, to take the water and spoon it across onto the other side of the track. Because once there, you and your ideas can join with others, you can tap into something that’s bigger than yourself and who knows what might happen. Who knows where it might lead.

It’s been said that if you want to make a difference in the world then one of the best things you can do is start a company, because companies transform the world. Companies have an impact on millions, even billions, of people’s lives. Companies can and should be a force for good in this world. At Future Worlds we really buy into that idea.

I believe there is no better time to start a business than when you’re at university. There is no better time.

As you get older you start losing your hair and you start accruing children, mortgages and any number of different responsibilities. It gets harder. Here at the University of Southampton there are the skills, talents, resources, network and opportunities that enable ideas to become a reality and make it the best possible time to think about starting a business.

Just look at the stories we heard from our entrepreneurs and mentors at last week’s ‘The Future is Now’ event.

We heard from students Maciej Szpakowski and Przemek Zientala and discovered the exciting story behind the Researchably startup. “I used to think that once I’d got a job and learned all this complicated stuff then maybe in 20 years we could think about starting a business,” Computer Science student Maciej explained. “Then, after a Future Worlds Dragons’ Den event on campus, we decided that actually the time to start is right now.”

“A year later and we secured an investment of our own from the dragon investors,” Przemek added. “We’ve received great motivation and encouragement from mentors and are using the Future Worlds incubator space. The main reason startups fail is that they don’t start. So stand up and launch your business – you learn really quickly and pick up stuff you would never learn from any book.”

Proofer co-founder Sharif Alvis also returned to campus last week to share how he raised £135,000 for his startup through the Future Worlds mentor network and is now building his platform with a growing team of developers in London.

“I hope it shows that despite how intense your studies may get you can always do more,” he said. “It’s changed my life, so take advantage of the resources you have at Southampton.”

RPD International Managing Director Josh Valman also took a chance in business at a young age and has gone on to grow a manufacturing firm that has built connections across the globe. Now offering his expertise to entrepreneurs as a Future Worlds mentor, he shared the value of the network’s offer in his time on stage.

“What you need to be competitive in this world is people, connections and process,” he explained. “I’ve been a mentor on the programme for over two years now and it’s all about being able to connect you to the right people and the right mentors who can support you. I’d like to give an opportunity once a month for people in Future Worlds to come up to London so we can sit together, discuss the challenge and help you get the opportunity to meet clients that might be interested in buying that sort of product.”

The lesson to learn from each of these entrepreneurs is you have to try. You have to get out there and do something. Too many of us sit there and we think this might be a problem or that might be a problem. Or what about this or in four years’ time, or 10 years’ time, what might happen then?

It’s a little bit like if you’ve tried to learn a new skill like sailing. It can really hold you back when you’re nervous about what happens if the boat capsizes, thinking it would be a disaster. This kind of fear of how bad it might be when it goes wrong holds you back from trying.

Then at some point, while you’re being really careful, you make a mistake and a gust of wind blows your boat over. You fall in the water, you get wet and realise that actually it wasn’t that bad. You’ve got a bit wet, climbed back in and carried on.

It’s the same with businesses. You try things and often they don’t work. Then you try something else, and you try again, and you just keep on trying, and you realise that generally it’s fine, it’s part of the learning process. Very, very rarely is a mistake or failure all that bad, particularly when you’re here at university and you’ve got so much support. You’ve got so much opportunity that it really is the best possible moment to be trying something new, to be trying something different.

Future Worlds exists because we believe in this great opportunity.

We believe that it is just amazing to see something created out of nothing and become something that gathers a momentum all of its own. That’s why we encourage people across the university to explore their ideas and take action. Come and speak to Future Worlds, get involved in the exciting events we run on campus, connect with our amazing network of mentors, take that first step because you never know where it might lead.

We exist to help aspiring entrepreneurs here on campus change the world with their ideas. We invite you to get involved as we build a US west coast startup culture here on the south coast of the UK.

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Ben Clark

Director, Growth Shack

Ben is a specialist in taking companies from startup to scaleup, most recently with Southampton-based Snowflake Software. His passion for business began during an MBA at the University of Southampton’s School of Management, which led to cross cultural experience with venture capitalists and startups in Africa and a post as Chief Operating Officer at software as a service company, iPresent.

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