Starting your own business – do PhD grads do this? 

GE-WEEKIt would have been difficult to miss the buzz round campus during Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).  And if you didn’t get along to any of our events or visit the makerspace to make a tote bag or use their machines you totally missed out! However, I got the sense that it took a bit more encouragement to get PhD students and postdocs along to these events than we did for the Undergrads. And maybe this is because it’s just not that obvious whether starting a business is something that PhD Graduates ever do.

One of the really nice bits of my job is that I’ve had the chance to see some fledgling PhD student businesses as they take off and have been able to help them find useful workshops, networking opportunities or even small pots of funding.

I thought I’d share some examples:

GEW kicked off with a launch event which saw Carla (@GameDrLtd) talking about her business with educational science games.

Carla received New Initiatives Funding a couple of years ago, when her game was still at the pilot (and paper) stage.  She has now launched a fully-fledged social enterprise, with funding and support from Firstport and was highly-commended in the Herald Awards earlier this year for ‘Outstanding contribution from a student’.

Also on the social enterprise frontMallika (Safespot) benefitted from both New Initiatives and Firstport funding, to support the launch of their Safespotters programme at a local high school earlier this year. An increasing number of PhD students are seeing social enterprise as a way to use their research and skills to make a positive contribution to society or the environment.

A key skill for any budding entrepreneur is building networks. This means putting yourself out there and trying new things, in order to meet new people. Two great examples of this are Widya, who runs her own Indonesian cooking company and Nick, who has just launched a content management strategy consultancy.

GEW15 volunteers


Widya (one of our GEW volunteer team, who helped make all the events happen during the week) also put her entrepreneurial skills to the test by taking part in the Social Storm, a 24hr hackathon during GEW designed to tackle social problems, in collaboration with teams round the globe.

Nick attended our very first Arts Enterprise programme (A Creative Enlightenment) and his blog outlines some of the other networks that he has taken advantage of during his time as a researcher, to help develop and test his ideas and get technical advice.

This is relevant to science and technology-based businesses too.  A group of PhD students came along to the our business surgery with some really innovative biotech ideas, to get advice on the best way forward.  And James (Scoop analytics) gave an inspiring presentation to new first year PhD students at the College of Science and Engineering induction day in October, as well as exhibiting at an Enterprise Campus event during GEW, where he made a 60s pitch to nearly 100 experienced investors and business mentors.

These are just a few examples of new businesses and social enterprises being set-up by PhD students with innovative ideas.  If this is something that you want to explore, take a look at some of the workshops we offer and competitions which are aimed at researchers (especially Converge Challenge, in which both James and Mallika were successful in reaching the finals in previous years).  The Student Enterprise Service also provides support and advice for students with an idea so get in touch to discuss your idea and see where it might take you.

What went down when the makerspace popped up?

What went down when the makerspace popped up?

PhD Procrastination: Piled Higher and Deeper

PhD Procrastination: Piled Higher and Deeper