June 24, 2019

Small British case study: We Connect Students

The time spent at university is rigorous for most people, with new and interesting learning processes being experienced alongside frequent opportunities to meet new people and enjoy social events.

For Oliver Dickenson, though, simply studying wasn’t enough. During his second year studying international business at Plymouth University he formed a start-up, We Connect Students, a company that allows businesses to quickly and easily find graduates to fill roles and internships.

A winning idea

Speaking to The Start Up Donut, a subsidiary of the national enterprise network, Oliver explained that the initial idea for the concept came from when university colleagues of his were searching for internships:

“Such was the competition for places, they were having to apply for many schemes, which meant employers must have been receiving many awful ‘copy-and-paste’ applications from people who weren’t genuinely interested. I thought, ‘if the employer could find students who better matched their needs, the process would become significantly more efficient for both parties’.”

It worked. By coming up with an idea that spoke to all parties in the graduate recruitment process – offering employers massive reductions in the time spent looking for new employees, and graduates the ability to centralise their CV-building and application processes – Oliver cornered a market and invented a service that captured imaginations.

Marvellous mentoring

Upon entering and networking within an angel investor community online (groups of businesspeople and investors who actively help out entrepreneurs), Oliver was approached by Clive Banks, an ex-Citibank and BNP Paribas investment banker whose large amount of experience in companies’ hiring processes proved to be a goldmine.

Joining up with an established businessman such as Clive enabled Oliver to access information, experience and investment avenues that far exceeded his initial, classmate-focused research and student loan start-up money. The pair raised £500,000-worth of finance, speaking to lawyers who were able to give advice on how to proceed with the development of the business.

Networking is key to the success of a start-up: “My advice to an undergraduate thinking of starting their own business? Go to relevant activities and events your university hosts. They can be excellent networking opportunities or maybe just a good opportunity to practice your networking skills.

“Sharing the workload will help you to get more done, probably quicker, too. It’s also great to have someone to bounce ideas off and it can prevent you from feeling isolated.”

Keep innovating

We Connect Students wasn’t enough for Oliver, though. After four years of success he moved on, joining up with an ex-classmate and forging a new global business, Wow Chia. A world apart from the technological focus of his previous start-up, the health food business comes with its own challenges, although the ever-resourceful entrepreneur is undeterred.

Speaking to his alma mater, Oliver noted: “The most exciting part of being an entrepreneur is being able to make things. It’s important to ride and enjoy the highs as much as possible and one of the best things is when you finally get to see your product or concept in your consumers / users hands [sic].”

The change in business direction shows that start-up owners should constantly push themselves, developing businesses in sectors outside of their comfort zone and learning new entrepreneurial skills in the process. In business, any idea worth its salt should be pursued – great ideas always have a chance if enough effort and vision is placed behind them.

Bloomberg recently published its top 50 innovators to watch in 2016, a list of UK start-ups that are doing something different in their respective fields. If you think you’ve got the know-how to build a thriving business, take a look at GSM London’s Enterprise and Small Business Development programme here.

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