Music Teacher – Progress Update

Six months on from launching the national database of music teachers, known as MusicTeacher.co.uk, I thought I would be a good time to give a progress update on the development of the platform, both from a business and design point of view.

It has been an exciting first half a year of fast paced development: the teaching community has grown rapidly, with 208 music teachers, across a wide range of different instruments, joining the website during those first six months. We have had student enquiries coming through as well, the first ones coming in as early as the 26th March, with consistent enquiries coming through Drum Lessons Leicester and Guitar Lessons Manchester, far more than I could have hoped for in what remains an incredibly early stage of development.

The website too is able to interact with users from social media in a way that is entirely new for me, both as it is able to service users located anywhere in the UK, as well as music teachers wanting to use their profile pages to promote themselves via their own social media streams. This inadvertently helps to promote the websites as a whole, generating more enquiries for the wider teacher community every time a profile or article is shared. The MusicTeacher.co.uk blog has been a real creative outlet for myself, enabling me to promote some of the more interested items of news that pass across my desk to the teacher community – from competitions at Marshall Amps HQ in Milton Keynes to local festivals, music teacher job opportunities and educational resources.

Nonetheless, there have been setbacks too – from decisions to sandbox other projects like HomeGyms.co.uk and WeddingBand.co.uk to focus on this project, as I believe it has real potential – one greater than those previous two ideas, to implementing upgrades on the website that are not supported on legacy browsers (alienating some of the teacher’s with older PCs who are unable to access the website – something that will be resolved in the next few months). I always feel launching a new project is a little like being at an airport, you wait around for ages for your flight, constantly checking your passport and tickets, finally board the plane and slowly start taxiing on the runway, the plane then stops, with the engines gearing up for full throttle before you start a very bumpy acceleration down the runway – we are certainly at this stage now, accelerating down the runway and believe me it is bumpy and uncomfortable, yet filled with the hope that we will get up into the air and the project will take off.

As soon as I feel that we have left ground, continuing the metaphor(!), I am incredibly keen to develop a teacher community area on the website similar to the one that have developed and cultivated on the MGR Music Tuition platform with 150 teachers I work with directly. This community area could be ten times bigger, and therefore ten times more useful, for the teachers within the community – providing peer support, ideas around best practise as well as a space to network and engage with one another in what can be quite an isolating job. This would see the database become somewhat of a dedicated social network for music teachers, where they can interact both with students and other teachers on a national level. My plan over the next six months is to take it to a place were the website has a micro-community of engaged active teachers using the platform, with around 500 teachers in the broader community. I will keep you updated how it goes!

Posted under MusicTeacher.co.uk, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 3, 2017

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Music Teachers

Over the time that I have ran MGR Music Tuition Ltd, since launching it during my first year studying at the University of Exeter in 2009, I have always been limited to generating enquiries for music teachers located in large cities across four instruments – guitar, singing, piano and drums. This restriction put a top limit to the size of the teaching community that I could grow, indeed, as of 2017 we are almost at full capacity in terms of teaching community I can grow within the UK.

This is why over the last 12 months I have been so keen to develop a national platform to enable me to generate enquiries for teachers located anywhere in the UK, across all possible instrument types. After months of negotiations I finally managed to acquire and then develop a new national database of active music teachers in the UK and Ireland called MusicTeacher.co.uk – it is designed so that students can select the type of instrument that they want to learn and then enter their postcode, with the search results providing them with teachers that are the most local to them.

Music Teacher is a new national database of active music teachers located throughout the UK and Ireland.

Music Teacher is a new national database of active music teachers located throughout the UK and Ireland.

Having researched a lot of the other music teacher databases in the UK, I have found that they lack some of the critical information that can help inform students as to whether the teacher is suitable to teach them or not. For example information as to whether a teacher holds a valid DBS Check, up to date public liability insurance, or has the necessary qualifications and teaching experience to tutor to a professional level. I made sure, therefore, that all of this information would be included in every one of the tutor profiles featured throughout the website. Students can also leave reviews of teachers which is a fantastic way for teacher to build up an online reputation of providing high quality music tuition, that is then presented back to future students.

Leo Wood's Music Teacher profile, including the review that a student left about her private music tuition.

Leo Wood’s Music Teacher profile, including a customer review and information about whether she is DBS Checked, has public liability insurance and relevant qualifications.

Over the website provides a brilliant platform for me to continue to build a community of music teachers, as well as expand into new locations like Piano Lessons Bristol, Guitar Lessons Manchester and Singing Lessons London. It is also incredibly exciting to be able to grow the community to include saxophone, violin and other music teachers of all instruments – including some of the more unusual instruments like ukulele, djembe and cajon. My ambition for the Music Teacher website is to develop it over the next two to five years into the leading platform to find music teachers in the UK and Ireland.

Posted under Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 5, 2017

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Home Gyms

Working as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence I met many entrepreneurial students studying at the university, though I knew that these students were only the tip of the iceberg in the numbers of students at the university running successful business. Over the summer I was lucky enough to meet a former student at the University of Exeter, Jamie Brown, who never made it up to the Innovation Centre but had been running a remarkably successful online eCommerce website called Body Massage Shop, selling massage equipment to buyers throughout the EU.

After talking a lot about our respective businesses, where it was clear we shared many of the same challenges, gained similar but complimentary skill sets and both motivated to start new business ventures we agreed to explore the possibility of new projects. This experience re-inforced my view that connecting entrepreneurs, whether to share business growth issues or to engage in seed idea development, is an integrally worthwhile exercise.

As so often is the way one of the reasons Jamie never made it up to the Innovation Centre was as he was so busy running his business he didn’t have time to take out to explore the opportunities that the Innovation Centre / University of Exeter as a whole had to offer to early stage entrepreneurs. This paradox is something that we are certainly looking to address and if you have a business please do get in touch with the Invocation Centre to network with other business minded students.

From our early stage talks, followed by extensive research Jamie and myself decided to start a new business selling home gym equipment, from free weights to treadmills. The new business, called HomeGyms.co.uk, will be developed during late 2016 and launched in early 2017. I am hopeful that with our combined experience of running successful online businesses, and the skills the we have developed during our time operating these startups, that we can create new business model that can grow into something major. I will keep you updated!

HomeGyms.co.uk is a new project started with Jamie Brown a former University of Exeter student.

Home Gyms is a new project started with Jamie Brown a former University of Exeter student.

As for an update on the new Wedding Band project I have started receiving a few enquiries starting to come through the website, though I have to say overall I have been slight underwhelmed with the level of traffic coming to the website. It will mean I will have to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate the data I have to explore whether the project as a whole is a viable one. Though we are still in the early stages of the project I had expected a greater flow of traffic to be coming to the website, similar to that of the music tuition websites, however, the data sets are really quiet different in terms of click through rate. So still work to be done on this project I think!

As for MGR Music Tuition the business is still continuing to grow rapidly, with recent months seeing new websites like Piano Lessons Belfast, Singing Lessons Rotherham and Singing Lessons York all being launched, or under development. With over 130 teachers both in the UK and Ireland the business has grown significantly during 2016 and with strong growth prospects for 2017 as well – though issues around Brexit, Scottish Independence and economic prospects on account of these do add to a more uncertain picture moving forward.

Posted under Home Gyms, New Project

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 26, 2016

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Entrepreneur of the Year 2016

On the 8th April I was invited to attend the Express & Echo 2016 Business Awards, held at Sandy Park in Exeter. With the encouragement of Joe Pearce I had entered an application for MGR Music Tuition to be up for an award, that of Entrepreneur of the Year 2016. I was really pleased that the business was nominated for this award and come the night of the event, where I met loads of amazing individuals, I was totally blown away to actually win the award!

Express & Echo Business Awards 2016 - Matthew Rusk, Entrepreneur of the Year Winner

Express & Echo Business Awards 2016 – Matthew Rusk, Entrepreneur of the Year Winner

I have to say it was a huge surprise for me as I hadn’t ever won an award like this in my life and for the business to be recognised in this way was absolutely amazing for me. As you will see by reading through this blog throughout the years I have written it music tuition is what I am truly passionate about, dedicating most of my life to it – so I was really moved to be presented with an award that highlighted this work. I know that I wouldn’t have been able develop the business so much without the help of a few individuals, namely Joe Pearce & the Innovation Centre, Nick Terry (who showed me what real academic work was!), Matt Pocock, Tom Morgan, Mark Hamilton, as well as more widely all the students that I taught guitar to and all the teachers that I have worked with over the last four years.

As amazing as it is to reflect on what has happened over the last four years I have to say I am way more excited about the development of new projects during 2016! The most significant of which is the development of a music tuition agency, helping clients to find their perfect wedding band. I will be aiming to launch the website in the mid-summer, bringing onboard around 10 bands to launch in three locations, namely Leicester, Bristol and of course the big one London. As mentioned in my previous post it will be a gradual process of identifying the right bands and artists and bringing them onto the website, while at the same time highlighting to this area of the market that there is a dedicated website that lists verified wedding entertainment, as opposed to music agencies that list bands of all abilities and experience levels. I already have some great bands and artist involved in the project, from dedicated 80s tribute band “Rubix Cube” to professional solo singer Gemma Louise Doyle. For me it is really exciting as it is a new area of the music industry, in this case music entertainment – meaning that I have plenty to learn if it is going to be a successful project. As ever I will keep you updated with the project, the next challenge is preparing everything for a successful launch in the summer!

Posted under Entrepreneur of the Year 2016, Wedding Band

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 17, 2016

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National Business Awards & Wedding Band

There has been a lot happening since my last post in August 2015! Firstly, I was very privileged to be able to join the University of Exeter at the National Business Awards in November, where the university had been nominate for the Duke of York Award for University Entrepreneurship. Despite Exeter missing out on the award to the University of Leeds I think our invitation and nomination was testament to the progress that the University of Exeter had made in recent years in terms of entrepreneurial support, with the likes of Joe Pearce and Tracey Costello needing to take a lot of credit for driving forward this programme. I was joined by other current or graduated students that had benefited from this investment, both financial but far more importantly in terms of an investment of time and skill development. While not all of the “student entrepreneurs” can continued to run their businesses post graduation everyone of them that I spoke to talked of the impact that it has had on their career being involved in creating a start up business.

The National Business Awards

The National Business Awards

That evening was also made very special by the keynotes speech given by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on The Moon. Buzz, spoke with passion about the “space race” and the ingenuity and invention needed to achieve dreams that no one had thought possible before, alongside the respect needed for those that had achieved feats of human endeavour (for example his respect for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space) as well as the often unseen consequences of achieving these feats. Clearly his experience on The Moon had deeply impacted him as he talked about the “magnificent desolation” of The Moon’s surface that was covered in a “soft grey talcum powder”, indeed, with something so profoundly different from any experience another human had had (apart from a small number of NASA astronauts) I was left wondering whether Buzz’s life thereafter had shown signs of undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder – a topic that I had studied at university in regard to WW2 soldiers.

Two things he spoke about will always stick with me – firstly a story from Buzz that upon hearing that the USSR had successfully got the first man into space in 1961 President Kennedy was determined that the USA should demonstrate their space capabilities…by sending their astronauts to Mars. Gathering his scientists together he sent them away for a weekend to plan it, only to have the news presented to him on the Monday that the scientists didn’t think it was possible and that the USA “should shoot for The Moon instead”. Kennedy was devastated (according to Buzz), but eventually came onboard with the new plan – one that Buzz Aldrin was able to execute alongside Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.

Secondly, that Buzz was utterly convinced that the human race should be aiming to land astronauts on Mars, as well as set up a colony on Mars as soon as possible. Indeed, he had even written a book about it noting the benefits that such investment in space travel would bring in terms of technological advances, advances in communications, medicine and material designs. While he acknowledge it was not for his generation he made clear that the future of the human race depended on it – such passion for an idea that I am sure many of us would say is a bit barmy (though one that he & Kennedy might well be right about!) was interesting to listen to because the initial reaction is simply to dismiss it as “too crazy”. However, this really only goes to highlight our own barriers in terms of what we think is possible and of what we think the human race is capable of – strangely while many of us around the table agreed that “humans will one day live on Mars” none of us thought it should be our generation that took the risks to go and work out how to make it possible! Overall it was great night, with Buzz’s talk something I will take away with me for the rest of my life…after all it isn’t everyday you get to listen to someone that has stepped foot on The Moon!

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on The Moon, in full speech about why we should go to Mars!

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on The Moon, in full speech about why we should go to Mars!

Here at MGR Music Tuition I have been working very hard over the last few months creating a centralised platform to enable the teachers I work with to complete the admin side of things; specifically reporting the lessons that they have taught and making payment for these lessons. I was really excited to launch this in February 2016 – the platform also enables teachers to engage with one another in an interactive forum, a space where they can share best practise and gain advice about the many challenges of being a private music teacher. The team of teachers I work with has now grown to over 125, likely to peak at 150 later in the year, when the business will reach its full potential in terms of music teachers within the UK. Once that is reached this will mark a different stage of the business, moving from a start up business, through a phase I have jokingly referred to as the “teenage years” (sometimes temperamental but certainly more mature than early on) to something that is more akin to mid-twenties individual (more independent, with characteristics of its own). The analogy of comparing the life of a business to a humans, with a “birth”, early stages where the business needs constant attention before it can slowly become more independent, is one that I have heard about from other entrepreneurs and I would certainly that this has been my experience as well. With the music tuition business become more settled I thought I would explore launching a “project on the side” to work on during 2016.

With many of the teachers that I work with being active local musicians, driving their musical careers forward alongside their teaching, I decided to explore whether I can help them develop this aspect of their careers. Knowing that many of them generate revenue from “function band” performances and having researched the area thoroughly I decided to launch WeddingBand.co.uk, a website where local bands can list themselves, enabling clients to select them for their live wedding / reception music. Having spoken with a lot of the teachers that do wedding gigs that major complaint was that often the gigs where long distances away from where the band is actually based. Therefore creating more gigs in the specific area where the band resides would be an incredibly useful service for these musicians. The website is just at a prototype stage at the moment but I am excited to try and develop it over the next 12 months to see if I can get bands onboard and ultimately make their experience as musicians even better!

Wedding Band

Posted under Business Innovation, National Business Awards, New Project

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 28, 2016

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National Business Awards

This morning I heard from the Innovation Centre that the University of Exeter has been shortlisted for the Duke of York Award for University Entrepreneurship. This is a great achievement for all areas of the university that have worked tirelessly to improve the support of students with business and product ideas. It is also a special moment for the Innovation Centre which has been one of the key partners in the this development of entrepreneurial provision at the university. I had the fortune of see this first had during the Exeter Start Up Weekend in July, where the university had clearly invested a lot of time and money into a fantastic conference to enable current and former students develop their business ideas within 54 hours before pitching them to a group of business experts.

National Business Awards

This shows how far the support for entrepreneurs has come during the time that I studied at the University of Exeter (09-12), where even basic provision was hard sort for. As an entrepreneur at the university you can now find support and help everywhere from the Careers Centre and Ignite at the Students’ Guild to specially tailored advice by business experts at the Innovation Centre. The appointment of a Student Entrepreneur in Residence enables students to approach a former student who has experience of running a business while studying a degree, this is invaluable as balancing your workload, business and social life can be an isolating challenge.

To know that there are students just like you, dedicating their spare time to start a business while at university is undoubtedly a liberating discovery – indeed, while individual businesses are different in what they produce the core components of a business are often very similar. Student entrepreneurs therefore often face the same challenges, whether it is cash flow, holding too much stock, product development, quality control, sourcing products, advertising, client experience, profit margin, scalability to name a few. If you are a student at the University of Exeter who has, or is thinking of, starting a business don’t hesitate to get in touch with . You can find out more about National Business Awards Finalists on their website.

In terms of MGR Music Tuition I have been continuing to launch new websites across the UK, most excitingly for me releasing the Guitar Lessons York website, following drum, singing and piano websites released in York and where we already have a large group of active music students and talented teachers. It has been an extremely busy time in terms of the infrastructure of the business, having moved all the websites onto a Virtual Private Server (giving me far more control over the hosting and management of the website, preventing them from crashing due to unwelcome updates).

In addition, I have spend the last few days adding a server monitoring service to these VPS. This will enable me to record all the server data, including any downtime of the server or websites – in which case I will be notified by a call/sms/email depending on the time of day so I can jump in to ensure that the website never go down without me knowing about it. If you run a busy website, whether eCommerce, news or social facing it is critical that your website downtime is extremely low (as noted by Mark Zuckerberg’s character in The Social Network film: “let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everyone else, we don’t crash EVER! If those servers are down for even a day, our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed! Users are fickle…”. Therefore as any business builds up, investment in safety guards and contingency plans, is a wise choice (and perhaps highlights a gradual change within a business from a start-up to a more mature going concern).

As such here at MGR Music Tuition it has been a year of re-investment into the business, to ensure that I can keep it growing in a manageable manner by laying strong foundations to build upon. I hope to see the results of this in early 2016 and as ever I will keep you updated with my progress!

Posted under Business Innovation, Innovation Centre

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 6, 2015

Final Call: Exeter Start Up Weekend

Just a quick reminder about the Exeter Start Up Weekend to be held between the 17th – 19th June at the University of Exeter. It is the first time that university will be hosting the event, billed as providing “a unique opportunity to build lasting relationships with co-founders, mentors and possible investors” it is well worth exploring if you are interested in being involved in a start up business. Luckily, you don’t even need to come to the event with a business idea! If you have a passion for business, an interest in entrepreneurialism and an ability to sell, sell, sell then you will be welcomed with open arms into the event.

Those participants that do have ideas have 60 seconds to make a pitch to their poetical team. From there the best ideas will be developed. The weekend culminates with presentations to an audience of judges and potential investors, with prizes going to the best business ideas from the weekends developments. There will be support from former students who have gone on to run successful businesses in a whole range of different sectors. To book your ticket please check out Exeter Start Up Weekend 2015.

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I will be blogging, reporting on each of the days events of the Start Up Weekend, as well as providing progress updates on some of the mentor’s businesses to keep you up to date. In term of MGR Music Tuition we have been madly hiring teachers of the last few weeks as we continue to expand nationally. We were also lucky enough to get our first ever enquiry on a language website which is exciting – much more work to do but it is possible that in late 2015 we will expanding beyond music lessons to language lessons here in the UK. We also launched several new websites including Piano Lessons Hull, Piano Lessons Coventry and Guitar Lessons Barnsley in the last few weeks.  So all go on the website build front. I am eager to meet some of this years web designers and coders at this years Start Up Weekend!

Posted under Start Up Weekend 2015

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on July 12, 2015

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How to Make Money From Websites

It is a question that I often get ask, indeed, one that I often pose to myself. “How can you make money from websites?” Or the rather more general “How do I make money on the internet?” In todays world there are literally billions of people on the internet, just waiting to spend their hard earned cash on everything from everyday items to luxury gifts there must be certain categories of business model that cater for these. There is a market for everything on the internet – so how can you capitalise on it?

Well broadly from all my experience in running an online business for the past five years there are basically 10 ways to make money from running websites on the internet (and to date I have only be successful in one method, in a small niche market). Here is the low down on how to make money from a website;

1. Advertising – literally the answer to every question I ever asked to a student with a business idea when I asked “how are you going to monetise it?”. The truth it unless you are Google or Facebook you are not going to be able to generate a primary income, comparable to your best friends that have just secured corporate jobs in London, from having pay-per-click adversing on your website. Even websites with thousands of hits per day will struggle to make more than a few pounds from their blog – think of similarities in Spotify for musicians. Pay-per-click is great but won’t cut it.

2. Sell Advertising – the second most common answer when people understand the financials behind pay-per-click adversing. This is a tough sell, you will need to approach a company and ask them to redirect X% of their adversing budget to your buy advertising space on your website. My question is to you – have you got the stats to back up your claim that adversing on your website will increase their businesses sales by X% or is X% more efficient than their current adversing? Without the stats why would any company risk the investment in advertising on your website? Still once you have built a brand it can be a great source of income providing that you keep adding value to the paying business.

3. Email Marketing – also known as list building. I have several books on this at home but am yet to read them – the old style internet entrepreneurs swear by them, but for me personally I have little knowledge in creating massive mailing lists & how to monetise them. Therefore I would give this as a neutral idea as I am not qualified to comment on it – read more by Googling “how to create a list building website”.

4. Create a paid board – job websites are a great example of this. Essentially people pay to be connected, whether it is employers paying to access employers (or visa-versa), plumbers and house owners or any other connecting of people. If you generate a good niche website that performs better than any other within that area of the market you can generate a great income – indeed, here at the Innovation Centre Environment Job is an example of this model.

5. Affiliate Marketing – the idea that if an individual goes onto a buy a product advertised on your website, having clicked on that link, then you receive a % of the sale price. Again a great source of passive income, but painfully low in terms of money coming in. Indeed, you are at the mercy of the product being so good people want to buy it. Possible but again a hard sell.

6. Sell Your Own Product – this tends to be the most profitable way of making money on the internet. Having a great product in the first place and using the internet as a marketplace for that product. The website therefore is only the shop, rather that purpose of the entire business. I have known students at the University of Exeter to make a decent secondary income – and at times primary income – from selling great products from their websites (Young Ones, Mammal Swag, Jollie’s Goods).

7. Sell a service – if you don’t have a product then selling a service, yours or someone else’s, will fulfil the same goal. In my instance I originally sold the service of “guitar lessons” before graduating to sell the service of “guitar students” to other teachers across the UK. Done correctly it can be a really lucrative form of income.

8. Paid Content – I have known of a few businesses at UOE that have created a website/app model around people paying for content. Indeed, there was a very interesting medical business that wished to gain students as subscribers for their exam-revision tools that looked promising. If you can explore a niche where (i) quality information is needed promptly and (ii) few other sources provide it for free it can work well. However, I would look at the examples of newspapers that have gone to a paid content model – The Sun for example – that must find it hard to compete against the many media outlets that can generate the same stories and place them online free.

9. Sell the website design – if you have designed the website yourself then sell the design to other people. This is great way of making money and you can continue to run your own website as it normally is, while advertising at the same time that people can buy the template you have designed should they like it!

10. Sell the website – literally the design, domain and content. I have heard of websites being sold for £100,000, if they boast great traffic in a field that a new company wants to get into – essentially they snap up the pre-existing website than take months to build up their own one. Having tried models 6, 7 and 9 I thought I would give model 10 a go this summer! Therefore I have created a website that goes after one thing…website traffic. I have no idea if anyone will ever want to buy it, but with over 44,000 searches per month in a low competition are of the market hopefully with a solid domain name I can get 20,000 hits per month on the website. Imagine being one of the definitive sources of information in this area of the market – I am sure that will be of interest to a company somewhere. However, trying to avoid the “if I build it, they will come” attitude I will try and monetise it in secondary ways with a collection of all the above methods. From this I will be able to feedback over the next three, six and twelve months – what really is the best way to make money from a website.

Posted under Innovation Centre, New Project, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 27, 2015

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On The Edge: The Hour Record

On the 7th June 2015 Sir Bradley Wiggins did something that anyone who has the ability to ride a bike can – he hopped on his bike and cycled for an hour recording how far he had travelled. The very pureness of the record caught many people’s eyes, including my own, as unlike so many professional sports where it is hard for a “normal” individual to compare themselves to the “professional” (I mean how much better is Messi really from a player at my local 5-a-side tournament…okay, a lot but exactly how much) this record is simple and entirely comparable. Simply get on your bike and ride! In the case of Wiggins he smashed the World Record for the largest distance traveled in one hour on a commercial road bike – covering a massive distance of 54.526km (33.88 miles). The previous record held by fellow Briton Alex Dowsett, of 52.937km (32.89 miles) had been set in May, as a international resurgence of interest in “the hour record” became well underway.

Yet, the thing that I found the most interesting was the way Wiggins and cyclists that had previously attempted the challenge had talked about the hour record. It was always about the perfect balance of living on the absolutely edge – as Chris Boardman, former Olympic Pursuit Champion, said; a rider is constantly asking, “is my pace sustainable? If it’s a definite yes you’re not going hard enough, if it’s a no, you’ve overcooked it.” (The Guardian). Wiggins himself noted that although the first 45 minutes could be trained for the “the last fifteen is really what counts”, it is the unknown like “the last 100 metres in a 400 race, either you die or carry on. The bit you don’t look forward to but you just deal with it when you get there – a bit like pregnancy” (BBC Sport).

It really struck a chord with me, reminding me of challenges I felt in the very early stages of trying to create a business at the University of Exeter. Even before I had the idea that I developed into the business that I run today, I had such a feeling in Lafrowda that their was no “Plan B”, I had to make a business to generate money. As Wiggins says “either you die or carry on”, it was never in the physical sense but always in the mental sense – I wouldn’t give up on creating a business idea that worked.

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Sir Bradley Wiggins riding during the Tour De France

In second year I went to a talk about business where I remember the speaker saying that creating a business is like going through pregnancy (interestingly something Wiggins also references), and might be as close that a man can get to experiencing what pregnancy is like. One of the big parts of pregnancy is of course pain – though I haven’t experienced pregnancy I can say that creating a business is also a painful experience. It is hard, sometimes it hurts mentally – you are tired, stressed, overworked – sometimes physically – for example when I would cycle to Broadclyst once a week to teach a guitar student who couldn’t make it in to Exeter as I needed the money – at times socially – the times I spent developing websites rather than out with friends. It is a sacrifice but something that is worthwhile because you are trying to achieve something that, although everyone has the capacity to do, only few will achieve.

As Michael Hutchinson, former national time trial champion, noted about non-professional cyclist and present of 5 live OJ Borg had a go at the hour record “there becomes a point where everything hurts, even things not involved. His eyelids will hurt, even things nothing to do with riding a bike” BBC 5 Live. OJ managed an impressive 39.61km and said it was the most challenging thing he had done in his life – while it might not be a World Record simply to have achieve a score was impressive (much like a first marathon). Out of all of this I would suggest that one thing has become clear to me – to truly succeed in anything, including business, you need to ride as close to the edge of your personal capabilities no matter what they may be.

Secondly, in all of the interviews the riders said that they would be happy if they knew that they gave 100% and “left the tank empty” at the end – few talked about actually gaining the record, just that they wanted to know they had given their best performance. Indeed, Wiggins stated if he didn’t break it but gave everything he wouldn’t retry as he knew he did his best. Therefore like business while you can measure yourself against others (especially financially), looking within and deciding “have I really given my all to this” is probably a better measure of your success.

And thirdly, pain is part of it. Pain is acceptable. If you are not in pain creating your business you are not trying hard enough – if you are blacking out because of too much pain then you are working too hard – you need to be on the edge a little faster than you think you can go but not fast enough so you can’t sustain it. It is within this paradox that you will succeed.

In terms of the development of the business over the last three weeks we have major progress. Thanks to the help of writers here at the University of Exeter websites like Singing Lessons Norwich and Piano Lessons Swansea have been successfully launched, both of which building on existing instruments within the location – along with the hiring the first drum teacher in Glasgow for the Drum Lessons Glasgow website which is fantastic news. Glasgow is such a musical city, with a proud history of generating fantastic bands with the likes of Biffy Clyro, Franz Ferdinand, Travis and Glasvegas all hailing from the city – not to mention the infamous early Oasis gig at the fantastically named King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow where the Gallagher brothers marched onstage, kicking off the band that was playing, to perform their early songs. In the audience was a certain Alan McGee who promptly signed up the band there and then, enabling them to release their debut album Definitely Maybe and go onto international stardom. The rest they say is history!

Photography: Radu Razvan

Posted under Business Inspiration

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 18, 2015

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Exeter StartUp Weekend 2015

The Innovation Centre is excited to be holding its first Google Startup Weekend this summer. Held between July 17 – 19th 2015, the event will be an opportunity for students with early stage business ideas (or no ideas at all!) to become part of an intense weekend designed to launch real businesses. Startup Weekend is a global phenomenon – 54 hours of fast and furious prototype development through to exploring potential markets and pitching. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to build lasting relationships with co-founders; mentors, and investors.

Whether you are the next big Tech thing, Food and Drink idea, social enterprise, Renewable Energy, Retail product, arts organisation or budding Start-Up Entrenprenuer then Exeter StartUp Weekend could be the place for you to launch. Calling on former University of Exeter students that have gone on to create businesses, including Stew Noakes (QualiTest), Tom Carrington-Smith (The Eleven), Ben Tyson (Born Social) and myself (MGR Music Tuition LTD), to help get your business ideas off the ground the StartUp weekend will be an event not to be missed.

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It terms of my week here at MGR Music Tuition it has been busy as ever, updating the music websites to make the mobile friendly (thanks to Google’s new algorithm – read more in my “Google Mobile Update” post). I am currently managing to update two websites a day (taking 1 & 1/2 hours each!) – so it will be 50 day process to get all the websites updated! We have also managed to launch two new websites this week; Piano Lessons Norwich and for the fantastic Andy Smith, who is the current singing teacher we work with in Reading, a second website Piano Lessons Reading to enable him to tutor piano students of all ages and ability in Reading. However, the big challenge in the coming weeks will be to ensure that the speed at which I can hire new teachers will match that of the new enquiries coming in!

Posted under Business Innovation, Events, Ignite, Innovation Centre

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 15, 2015

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The General Election: Who is Best For Business Innovation?

With all the coverage of the 2015 election I thought it would be an interesting task to sit down and analyses the election manifestos of the main political parities solely from the point of view of which party would be best for business innovation. This means delving deep into each parties proposed policies around entrepreneurship, small & medium size businesses as well cultivating a wider economic environment that is favourable for business start up. This also means putting aside my personal political views (bit of a Labour man), as much as is possible, to make this hopefully an objective overview of which party is looking to support entrepreneurs the most. This article is certainly not designed to swing your vote but instead perhaps explore something that wasn’t really mentioned during the election process – namely who is best party for the entrepreneur?

Firstly, lets explore two major factors that are continuing to shape the UK’s economy for all businesses. This is of course the sustained fallout of the 2008 economic crash, that is still having profound implications in the way businesses and government are run – while the next five years is predicted to gradually improve there is no doubt that the UK’s economy is still in recovery mode. The second major factor is Europe; everything from a Greek exit to our own place within the EU, with the potential of an EU referendum during the next government should The Conservative party win a majority there is a very real change we might also be heading for the EU exit door. These factors certainly don’t lead to the most favourable of economic environments for business – recovery and uncertainty.

So what do The Conservative party offer to an entrepreneur in their manifesto – well good news. Not only does it have a clear focus on economic improvement, based on a track record of generally improving the UK economy (we saw in 2014 the UK economy grow faster than any other advanced economy) but defined incentives for entrepreneurs in the shape of Small Business Rate Relief. In addition some 27 thousand business mentors will be made available to entrepreneurs and small businesses that would not be able to afford the advice otherwise – so far so good. However, I am rather more skeptical about George Osborne’s promises of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ – despite the impressive figure of investment in national infrastructure and UK based business research (£2.9 billion) – cities like Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle to name but a few need far more investment on an entrepreneurial support level to build on the successes so far. For example Newcastle has become well known within the entrepreneurial community over the last four years for its developing “tech hub” – indeed you can read more about it on the Ignite100 website which is now one of the UK’s leading Startup Accelerator Programmes – nonetheless the original idea for a Newcastle based “tech hub” came from passionate individuals that came together to crowdsource funding to make it happen rather than from a top down initiative. Therefore, I would have like to have seen, from an entrepreneurial point at least, a commitment within the “Northern Powerhouse” promise to support, seed and grow “tech hubs” in all major UK cities north of London.

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In addition the proposed referendum on EU membership has got to be a cause for concern for small businesses, indeed, businesses of all sizes, as it effect the status-quo of our ability to access the European market with new products. While the renegotiation of our relationship with Europe might not be a bad thing on multiple levels the threat of leaving the EU entirely will no doubt have an impact on businesses, especially those start ups that are looking to sell into the EU who now cannot easily predict what the environment will be to do so from 2017 onwards.

Turning to the Labour Party it is abundantly clear that they simply do not have a concise economic plan that could gain the support of entrepreneurs (or indeed the wide business community). Where the plan is set forth it seems remarkably similar to that of The Conservatives, namely freeze business rates, invest in national infrastructure and the north – yet, by sticking with planned austerity cuts (albeit not as drastic as The Conservatives, potentially leading to borrowing more) in the end there is little to distinguish between the two parties other than The Conservative party seems to be much clearer in exactly what their plans are for the economy. Beyond these general Labour points their manifesto is rather too descriptive, without the qualifications and details of that of The Conservative party. Yet, there is a saving grace – by their commitment to maintain the UK’s membership in Europe it will ensure that a period of EU uncertainty will be avoided.

The Lib Dems’ manifesto is somewhat of a strange one in the sense that they suggest that The Conservatives deficit cuts were unscrupulous, which they might well have been, yet rather than ending austerity the Lib Dems will do it more “fairly”. This is odd in the sense that inevitably cuts will effect individuals in society and the chances are even the Lib Dems cuts will hit the sick, disabled and poor the hardest – where exactly is the fairness in that. However, when it comes to the economy the Lib Dems talk about a “greener economy” based on new principles of capitalism – building on the new Green Investment Bank which backs “green” start up ideas and businesses around the country. This is good news if you are an environmentally conscious entrepreneur. It is also good news for a long term economic forecast, enabling a society based on greener sources of energy – something certainly worth looking into more depending on your business type.

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Ultimately, therefore I would summarise the following (i) The Conservatives are the clear favourites on purely an economic level, categorically more impressive on the entrepreneurial support front than Labour – though the threat of Brexit looms (ii) Labour, despite hammering their economic policy into stone, is far more flimsy than The Conservatives clear plans though Britain’s membership of the EU would be assured and (iii) the “greener” economy promoted in the Lib Dems manifesto is certainly appealing for environmental entrepreneurs – however, I fear the Nick Clegg’s party will get crushed for a different point, remember those promises about University tuition fees?!

On the business front it has been another business week as the business is continuing to expand at a rapid pace. With over 100 students waiting for lessons in places we are still hiring teachers I know that the potential for the continued expansion of the business is massive. However, ensuring that the right structures are in place to enable that to be a smooth upward trajectory of growth is an equally massive challenge – this includes stepping back from business tasks that I always thought I would do so I can focus on other aspects of the business. Alongside the help I now receive with the website writing (mostly from Exeter Uni students!), I am having some help on the admin side of things with enquiries and invoices now being looked after by other people – this has freed me up to hire new teachers and focus on the management of the business rather then simply fulfilling its basic processes (scary stuff!). On the website front, thanks to the likes of Rhys Lewis (first year, Exeter Uni student), Belinda Lavin (ex-Exeter student), Adam Sumnall (ex-Exeter student) and a few others we are now cracking through the websites with Drum Lessons Birmingham and Piano Lessons Aberdeen going live this week – the later being a fantastic achievement as the first website released in the initial expansion was the Guitar Lessons Aberdeen website (due to me writing them in alphabetic order), so to be able to expand into a third instrument in Aberdeen is great news and far beyond my original ambitions.

This progress is in addition to hiring new teachers in for the Drum Lessons Derby and Drum Lessons Edinburgh websites where a very talented drum Italian drum teacher, Diego Zanelli, has joined the team. So the business is continuing to grow each week – yet, like any business the economic environment the the business exist within is critical to its success. Paying for music lessons at £25 to £30 per hour is certainly not cheap – that is a £50 to £100 per month commitment to learn that instrument and certainly one of the first things that goes when people want to reduce their outgoings in times of economic depression. Therefore, the election in a few days time will have an impact on my business as each parties different economic plans will foster an environment more or less favourable to the average person having disposable income. For it is in the disposable income that music lessons are paid for and the business is built. Ultimately the link between the political environment and the success of your business is ever-present and something that all entrepreneurs should keep an eye on.

Posted under Business Innovation, Politics

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 5, 2015

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Google Mobile Update

On the 25th of April 2015 Google brought out one of the most significant algorithmic search updates since the famous Panda/Penguin updates. Responding to a major shift during the last four years in the way that people search on Google, the leading search engine introduced this update to place mobile friendly websites higher in mobile searches than “non-mobile friendly” websites. This makes sense as over 45% of website users are now surfing the internet via their smartphone devices.

So what does this mean for the internet, well potentially the change will have dramatic ramifications across the globe as, on the top level, many of the FTSE, Dow Jones and S&P 500 companies do not have “mobile-friendly” websites – this update could see them drop off into Google obscurity until they re-aline with Google requirements for all websites. On a small to medium size business level you will see companies that generate a large proportion of their clients, if not all their clients, from the internet potentially destroyed as leads dry up due to drops in the mobile search. So what is it specifically that Google is requiring websites to be?

Well, originally websites were created to be viewed on wide-screened desktop (and more recently laptop) devices – this gave them an appearance where a lot of information would be displayed from left to right, before a user would scroll down “below the fold” as Google puts it. Those of you who use your smartphone to view websites will know that a “non-optimised” website will present this same information again within the same format, giving a website that requires a serious amount of zooming before you can read the text. A mobile friendly website tends to push the same content into blocks that re-size perfectly for all mobile devices – avoiding a client to zoom in and increase they scroll down through the information. Moreover, they are drawn through the website with links that are tappable on a mobile device – rather than the minuscule links on a non-optimised website that gives the frustration that many of you will share of tying to click one link but getting a completely different page to the one desired due to the links being so closely placed together.

This change in the Google algorithm has had a profound effect on many businesses, all of whom have been scrambling to get their websites updated fast enough for the algorithm update (the time between the Google announcement of the update and the actual update was only eight weeks, which isn’t long if you need to completed redesign your website!). Thankfully, in my case though the website designs did need updating to make them mobile friendly they didn’t need completely new designs – instead we adapted what we had to comply with the new algorithm requirements.

Guitar Lessons Swansea

Here you can see on the Guitar Lessons Swansea website how mobile users would see the websites prior to the mobile update – the text is almost unreadable due to the tiny size and the users ability to toggle through the website is much reduced due to the tiny links

Therefore over the last few weeks, with the help of 1010 Media, we set about updating the designs of all the websites to ensure that the music business’s websites would be complainant with the new Google algorithm. And I am please to reveal the finished article – something that we have tested extensively during April to ensure that it works seemlessly on all mobile devices, from iPads to Android smartphones (and I guess even smart-watches!).

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The Guitar Lessons Middlesbrough website is an example of the post updated website, where the content has now be optimised for a mobile device enabling the user to scroll down (rather than zoom in) for information. You might note the menu bar at the top that enable users to easily access other pages of the website.

I am especially excited to watch the analytics of the websites to see how this improves enquiry numbers, or client engagement with the website from mobile devices now that they are being update. It will be a slow process for me to update all 120 websites, but over the next 60 days I am to do just that – and no matter where you are with your business I would advise you to do the same. You can view here the Google Page Speed Analysis program to determine if your website is suitably responsive to mobile devices – Google will also provide pointers on how to improve that page. I guess my question to you, as a student business who sells products online, is can you afford (i) to have up to 45% of your audience poorly catered for with a non-mobile friendly website and (ii) can you afford to drop off Google’s mobile searches? If the answer is no, then best get to updating soon! But don’t despair – as with all algorithms Google will constantly review your website promoting it again once it complies to its requirements, therefore, you can still reverse any negative changes you might face over the next few months.

On the business front thanks to the help of many University of Exeter students that are helping me write and create new websites I am pleased to announce that we have finished Piano Lessons Sheffield website this week. As a business we are keen to continue to expand to over 120 websites across the UK within the next 4 months. It is going to be a big challenge but I think we are certainly up to it! Alongside this I am keen to look to the recruitment side of the business to ensure that we are hiring new teachers as new websites are created. It is a big challenge to balance the time input into all areas of the business but overall I feel that we are going in the right direction.

Posted under 1010 Media, MGR Music

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 3, 2015

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Progress Update: Tandem

I had the pleasure of catching up with Mark Milton this evening, talking about his new app concept Tandem. The premise of this app is to connect like minded individuals together through a “Tinder” type concept – however, there is a slight twist; individuals will be able to search a local area of potential friends that speak their native language. This is a fantastic idea for any individual that has ever ventured to a completely new country (with little linguistic experience) and wanted to meet a few native speakers to help them with their travels. Indeed, as someone that has recently spent a few months in Russia I can’t tell you how useful it would have been if, when I arrived on day one, I could have connected with a few English speakers before I acclimatised into the local culture.

Tandem - find your locals abroad!

Tandem – find your locals abroad!

Yet, the app has the potential to go even further than this, helping people to make connections with non-native speakers who share a particular linguistic interested – for example a French language student seeking a conversational partner, or a publisher who is interested in having their text translated. The app caters for all these by enabling the user to search the database of uses for the languages that they can communicate within.

In the next few months Mark is set to launch a beta platform for his app, that is likely to be renamed from Tandem, and I warmly invite you to try it out as well. For more information and to sing up check out Tandem’s Facebook page. I will keep you updated with Mark’s progress but I was really impressed with the possible uses for this app within the expat community, as well as the adventurous backpackers who stray beyond the English speaking countries of Australia and the USA!

On the business front we have an exciting announcement to make! Likened to Mark’s app idea MGR Music Tuition is also about to launch within the language market – following a similar model to the current music tuition one, where students are referred to local singing, drum, guitar and piano teachers, we will now provide language lessons across a range of languages and locations. Starting in London we have recently launched a French Lessons London website – something that if it proves successful we will look to expand into other areas of the UK. With French lessons being the most popular language to study in the capitol, according to our market research, I thought it would be a great place to start (though don’t mention that I only got a C in my French GCSEs!). Alongside this website I have recently bought many other language lessons websites across the UK in preparation for a potential expansion into this new linguistic market.

On the music tuition front the speed of growth has continued taking on new teachers for the Singing Lessons Preston website, as well as in Loughborough (were I was lucky enough to hire a former Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist for a singing website!). The business now has over 10,000 students on the books and continuing to expand into new locations each month. The biggest challenge at the moment is getting the right structures in place to enable people other than myself to come in and take on roles within the business – there are plenty of opportunities to work at MGR Music Tuition LTD at the moment so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like a flexible 1/4 time job!

Posted under Progress Update, Tandem

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 24, 2015

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Progress Update: 40FATHOMS

For the next in our series of progress updates I am pleased to announce a launch of a new business from a repeat University of Exeter entrepreneur Tom Frew. Having built on the success of Instabear, an automated Instagram printing business – with the photos being delivered directly to your door, Tom has been at it again! 40 Fathoms is a new business that looks to print heavy weight design posters both for the artists that produce them as well as the clients who want to purchase them. The posters, boasting some of the highest paper quality available on the market, are then expertly shipped to your door – a great business model that I am sure is bound to be a success (especially considering the experienced team behind it).

However, as someone from a website background I wanted to draw attention to the beautifully designed website that fits perfectly to the businesses professional branding. Indeed, it is certainly worth taking a look through the website to get a feel for how well made it is. This is something that all online entrepreneurs should look to aim to: building a website that fulfils its functional purpose as well as portraying its brand in the correct light. Interestingly the team went for a new domain ending, with the website domain being 40fatho.ms which is a clever branding decision (though we have to wait to see how it will impact the website in searches). I can’t wait to see how the business develops over the next year or so; all in all a well put together online business, with a tight brand and website that should stand for other Exeter students as a bench mark to presenting a professional business online.

40 Fathoms

40 Fathoms – A beautifully designed & branded website

In terms of business I have had the pleasure to have had Sina Shakiba, a University of Reading student, undertake his work experience with me for two weeks – he has helped immensely in the launch and creation of Singing Lessons Milton Keynes and the Drum Lessons Leeds websites, as well as getting involved with the customer relation side of the business. It is the first time I have had someone undertake work experience within MGR Music Tuition and I have to say that I felt as if I learned as much as Sina did. Specifically, how it was possible to “outsource” some of the repetitive tasks within the business giving myself more time to concentrate on “business critical” tasks that only I could complete (for example hiring new teachers). This experience gives me confidence to bring onboard other members of staff to help aid me in growing the business longer term – I would thoroughly recommend taking on a student on work experience if you are a startup business thinking about hiring someone, this will give you the ability to test if you really do need to hire someone, how you could structure a group of tasks for that person as well learn about your own managerial style – all of which valuable business experience.

Posted under 40 Fathoms, Instabear

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 9, 2014

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Progress Update: Tweekey

Tweekey Bags is a project that was started by Ben Ivey at the University of Exeter to fill a niche gap in the student’s sports stash marketplace. Ben identified that there was an underlying demand for university branded sports bags throughout sports societies, something that was going unfulfilled. Yet, due to the nature of the product – a university branded accessory – Ben faced a challenging process being able to gain the rights to use the university logo on his product. Though his passion, enthusiasm and pitching ability he was able to convince the university to allow him to do so – the fist student of my knowledge to be awarded the right – enabling him to create his business product.

He then rapidly developed a prototype product, utilising his Chinese language skills (developed thanks to a study abroad module on his course) to source a supplier. He then started building contacts and selling into the multiple sports clubs that Exeter has to offer in 2013 – something that went extremely well, seeing his product stocked in the uni shop as well as helping him win a Innovation Centre start up investment.

Tweekey Bags

Ben Ivey – Elite Sports Bags

2014 saw Tweekey develop further as a company, expanding into six different universities across the UK (Kent, Surrey, Bristol, Aberdeen, Dundee & Liverpool) alongside the University of Exeter. This has helped Ben sell over 400 bags this academic year – a fantastic achievement considering the challenges that are incorporated when trying to use someone else’s logo on your products! However, Ben is clear about why his business has been successful (i) it is a quality product that he is proud of (ii) the product generates money for the clubs as well as the universities every time that it is sold. Therefore, it is in their interest to help promote and sell his products – a great business model that might mean he slightly reduces his margin per product but dramatically increases the number of potential sales. I will keep you up to date with how Tweekey develops over the next few months right her on the blog – you can also check out the Tweekey Bags website directly.

When we spoke Ben was also keen to talk about some of the fantastic events he has been to over the last few months that have helped him develop as an entrepreneur. This included the Start Up Bus competition that saw six buses from across Europe bring some of the brightest young entrepreneurs together for a conference in Vienna. Along the way the entrepreneurs were tasked with creating new business ideas that they would pitch once they had arrived. Ben described this as a world-wind of experience, with his team coming third in the European competition gaining them an invitation to Silicon Valley later in the year.

Ben also suggested attending the Power To Achieve, Millionaire Mind Intensive and Unleash The Power Within conferences that aim to built upon core skills as an entrepreneur. The first of these, the Power To Achieve conference, covers a wide range of different areas of interest before focusing specifically on the limiting beliefs that hold you back in business. The second, the Millionaire Mind Intensive, explores how to manage your money – splitting it into “pots” that ensure that you have the right portfolio balance. The final conference ran by Tony Robins, a well known motivational speaker, looks at the psychology of being successful. I was really pleased to hear about Ben’s suggestions of worthwhile events to go to in the UK – indeed, self development is one of the most important aspects of being an entrepreneur so do check out some of these events in case they are of interest for you!

On a business from this week I had the exciting experience of launching the first international website – Singing Lessons Dublin in Ireland. With Ireland being a country boasting some of the worlds best musicians (U2, Sinéad O’Connor, Thin Lizzy) it was a really significant moment for myself not least as I am half Irish. Indeed, this is a big step for the business as we explore entering the music tuition markets in countries outside of the UK – I will keep you updated on how successful it is, at the moment I have no idea how it will develop! On the home front the business continues to expand taking on teachers for the Guitar Lessons Derby and Singing Lessons Portsmouth websites. If you have any questions about the conferences mentioned in this blog article don’t hesitate to get in touch .

Posted under Clothing Companies, Progress Update, Tweekey

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 26, 2014

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Silk Pillowcases: Creating An eCommerce Website on a Shoe String

Here it is, a progress update on my “eCommerce Website on a Shoe String” project. Just to recap, the motivation for this project came from observing many students at the university who were trying to set up retail businesses, with a substantial amount of their initial capitol been put into the creation on a eCommerce website – we are talking hundreds of pounds here, often thousands. We would be approached often at the Innovation Centre by clothing businesses, who claimed “we have a great product and a fantastic business model but we just need £1,000+ to build our website to market our product from – will you fund it?”. The answer was inevitably no.

Why? At the genesis of every business capital is tight; therefore an entrepreneurs ability to utilise this capital to its maximum effect on the business’s development is a sign of whether that business is going to be successful. The balance sheet of these students would often see hundreds of pounds spent on product development, tens of pounds on market research yet they wanted to spend thousands of pounds on a website! In some cases that is over 50% of a students entire investment into their business would be on their website, for the majority of retail businesses created at university this is an unnecessary and costly mistake. No imagine if 45% of that budget could be reallocated to (i) further product development (ii) additional market research – with the website/online sales platform accounting only for 5-10% of the businesses start up costs. Therefore, my challenge here is to create a eCommerce website on a shoe string budget – that is to make a fully functioning eCommerce website for just £75!

My last post on the project (20th April – Progress Update: CampusBoard) had seen me select name and product for my fictional eCommerce business – Mulberry Silk Pillowcase – then purchase the domain name (www.mulberrysilkpillocase.com) from a domain registers for £11.99. Then I moved to buy hosting for £2.49 per month – giving the start up costs so far as £14.48. The final step in my last update was to install WordPress, which is free, using their “Famous 5 Minute Install” – setting up a basic home page, with a little bit of content on it about my business.

Today we are going to look at how I developed this basic and standard WordPress theme into a fully functioning eCommerce website. The next step was to spend a little bit more of my £75.00 budget on purchasing a predesigned, WooCommerce compatible, WordPress theme. As mentioned before in this blog there are many free themes on WordPress that can be utilised to create your store, however, I think the price is reflected in the quality of the website designs and often customers can identify these websites as a WordPress template rather than your own store. This is a shame as for £30 – £50 you can get some outstanding templates that will look completely professional and standalone from the WordPress backend. After spending a good deal of time searching through different WordPress themes, all of which can be done by searching on Google, I decided that the Munditia Premium Coding Theme would most aptly reflect the general feel of the business. The cost price of this WooCommerce integrated theme was $60.00 or £36.89 – giving the total price spent on creating my eCommerce website as £51.37.

The process itself of purchasing a new theme and then uploading it to WordPress is quite simple. Firstly, pay for and download the theme of your choice onto your laptop then upload that to the WordPress Themes in your admin panel. You will then be able to select that theme as your theme of choice for your website. However, that really is the start of the process. Next, you will need to integrate all the compatible Plugins that the purchased theme specifies as necessary – primarily these Plugins will include WooCommerce, YITH WooCommerce Wishlist, WordPress SEO, Google XML Sitemaps, Contact Form 7, Broken Link Checker as well as others – that will facilitate the functionality of your website.

It is crucial to approach the downloaded theme as a paint-by-numbers canvas for you to build your website upon, so while the major structures of the website (number of partitions, element and widget location, website dynamics etc.) have been fixed for you there is still a great deal that you can edit to your own specifications. You don’t need to have a strong grasp of HTML to be able to achieve this, nor do you need to pay someone else to do it for you – read up, watch Youtube videos and ask for peoples advice in the multiple WordPress forums on the internet. To achieve the feel of the website that I wanted for my fictional product I started altering a number of the aspects of the original website – including changing theme colours from red to pink, altering the widget location and specification, removing aspects of the website I didn’t like (for example a pop up help box).

Of course all the changes thematically that you make on the website are intrinsically tied in to the customer journey that you wish to build for customers. Therefore, ascetic improvements must be in keeping with structural requirements that you have set out. For me, keeping a website simple is the key to success. The header menu denotes this sentiment, simply stating: Home, Shop, Benefits and About Us/Contact – with my customer journey always focused on ensuring that customers engage with shop, while being reassured by (i) the businesses credentials (About Us/Contact) and (ii) the benefit of the product (Home/Benefits).

The content, or copy as it is know, of your website is also an important factor in ensuring that your website and brand aline. You should both mirror your product and play to your target customer. I thought very carefully about the copy I wished to use on the website, knowing from my research that Silk Pillowcases tend to be bought by women as a luxury beauty product rather than an aid to more restful sleep. I hope that by reflecting and understanding the buyers motivation, communicated back to the customer through the content used on the website, will help improve potential sales. Moreover, to help gain these sales in the first place I would strongly suggest that every eCommerce website should run a blog as (i) it keeps your website looking fresh, updating regular clients to new developments (ii) helps increase traffic through the effect of the long search tail (Google it!) and (iii) makes you look like an authority in the field that you are selling within. Fulfilling this on the Silk Pillowcase website is the Silk Pillowcase Blog, in which I have already written three 300 – 800 word, original, quality posts (Types of Silk, Yuki Tsumugi Silk & Mulberry Silk) – that are the optimum types of post that you should be looking to upload.

Now that I have a fully functioning theme, with some good relevant content the next step will be to get the website there on a visual level – ensuring the all the images, page layouts and the dynamics of the website point towards my transaction goal. I would also need to begin to track the engagement new clients have on the website to understand how to continue to develop the website to best suit my target audience. I will explain how to do all of this in my next “eCommerce website on shoestring” post. Here at MGR Music Tuition this week has gone really well, launching Drum Lessons Bristol, Piano Lessons St Albans and Singing Lessons Aberdeen websites. It has been great to continue to expand the business both into new areas, such as St Albans, as well as tripling up in Bristol and Aberdeen with a third instrument on offer.

Posted under Clothing Companies, eCommerce Website On A Shoe String, New Project, SEiR

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 13, 2014

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Progress Update: Whike

For the thirteenth in our series of progress updates on University of Exeter students who have started business whist studying at the university I had the pleasure of meeting up with an old friend, Ned Aufenast. Ned is the founder and director of Whike UK, a subsidiary of Whike which is a Dutch company that, with the help of Ned, has designed a sail assisted reclined tricycle that enables it riders to utilise the power of the wind as they cycle.

The story starts with Ned’s A-level project, in which Ned designed his own sail assisted tricycle, prompting him to make contact with the Dutch based Whike company. Impressed by his enthusiasm for the conceptual product, this first contact developed into a long-term business relationship that soon saw Ned become the UK distributer of the first road-legal wind-assited bike in the UK by the age of 18. I would like to add this was all before he started his degree in Mechanical Engineering here at Exeter University.

Whike - like no other bike

Whike – an incredibly striking tricycle, that can go up to 40mph!

Once at the University of Exeter Ned continued to grow the Whike brand, exploring the extreme sports, sailing and cycle enthusiast markets and combining this with first class customer service. Indeed, as a business model Whike differs dramatically from 95% of all other businesses that I have encountered during my time as SEiR. Whereas the majority of students I meet look to sell quantity, often at low prices (between £1 – £100), Whikes currently sell at over £2,000 a tricycle for the lower end products right up to £5,000+ for the top of the range models. This gives Ned a very different taste of business life compared to that of other student entrepreneurs, with months at a go passing without a sale before the summer season prompts a dramatic spike in interest. It is a role that therefore requires patients, ensure that marketing is done effectively to maximises the likelihood of these more infrequent sales and additional, more frequent revenue streams are found for the business.

One such additional revenue stream focuses on area that is crucial to business that is based around higher end products – customer service. Obviously in the primary sales stage this goes without saying, but it is the support mechanisms that Ned has put into place to enable Whike’s users to (i) maintenance their tricycles and (ii) form a community around their common interest post-sale that has help push the business forward so rapidly over the last two years. Indeed, it is a product that is so new that ensuring that the “first adopters” of the Whike have flawless experience at all stages of the sales process facilities the further growth of sales. Therefore, I think two key lessons can be learned from Ned’s example and I would be keen to put them to any entrepreneur at the university (i) what is stopping you from creating a business that is created around a higher end or luxury product and (ii) no mater what your business is how can you improve the customer’s experience within the pre & post sale stages.

During his second year studying at the University of Exeter Ned applied for a grant awarded by the Innovation Centre to entrepreneurial students. Pitching for equipment to help enhance Whike’s presence at trade events, as well as his ability to deliver the business critical customer service, he was successful in gaining a Student Start Up Award, provided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF). Ned, citing the equipment as “vital”, was pleased to confirm that it has certainly made a difference to his business – facilitating him to deliver products and maintenance nationwide via a grant funded trailer for Whikes, as well as making Whikes presences noticeable at trade events thanks to a grant funded gazebo.

However, Ned was also keen to highlight some of the other non-grant related benefits that the Innovation Centre offers to business minded students. Primarily, Ned’s decision to move his “office” from his bedroom to a hot-desk space within the Innovation Centre enabled him to create a better work-life balance, as well as increasing productivity – something that is available for all entrepreneurially minded students, subject to the approval of the Innovation Centre Directors, for reasonable rates.

After a successful second year at the University of Exeter spring 2014 marked an adventure of a lifetime for Ned, one that would rival any University of Exeter students – seriously if you know any other adventure stories like this please let me know as I would love to write about them! The challenge was to ride a Whike across Atacama Desert in Chile, covering 1,500 miles in 23 days. Ned tackled this alongside Dave Cornthwaite and Jamie Fulbrook, the former being well known adventurer and author who has a passion for raising money along the way. Ned recounted the beauty of the scenery, the nightmare of vital equipment getting lost during air transit before being tracked down at the last minute by Air France (good customer service!), the fact there was barely any wind to push the Whikes along and the overall success of the mission. Most amazingly Ned said that each Whike had recorded climbs and descents during the entire journey that equaled climbing Everest three times!

Whike traveling across the Atacama Desert in Chile!

Whike traveling across the Atacama Desert in Chile!

A down to earth student that is a role model for all entrepreneurs currently studying at the University of Exeter, Ned has an extremely bright future ahead of him & I hope that he will remain deeply involved in helping to develop other entrepreneurs at our university for many years to come.

Here at MGR Music Tuition this week I have been working on launching Singing Lessons Sunderland, doubling up on the number of instruments in the city after the launch of a guitar tuition website in the city during 2013, as well as Singing Lessons Glasgow and Guitar Lessons Colchester websites. In the next week we will be continuing to hire new teachers as well as aiming to bring a few more new websites online as I continue to drive towards my ambition of facilitating quality music lessons, for all abilities, across the UK.

Posted under Progress Update, Whike

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 6, 2014

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Progress Update: Zooqie

For the twelfth instalment of our University of Exeter student business updates I met up with Tom Shopland, a final year student who runs an online store for hand-picked independent clothing brands named Zooqie. The initial idea came to Tom in the summer of first year when he wanted to setup, as many uni students do, a clothing brand – however, he quickly noticed that there was a gap in the market to create the a platform for very best of independent clothing brands. Essentially a space between the brands own websites and the massive clothing marketplace platforms like Asos, Not on the High Street and The Lost Lanes, where individual hand-picked brands could interact with new customers who were drawn to the marketplace.

Zooqie - a marketplace platform for the best that independent clothing brands have to offer!

Zooqie – a marketplace platform for the best that independent clothing brands have to offer!

Zooqie first launched in September 2013, selling over £2,500 worth of apparel within its first month as well as gaining a huge social following. However, disaster quickly struck as another company filed a complaint that Zooqie had infringed on their trademark within the same category. Tom points out that is is absolutely critical for students to check whether another business has trademarked their business name of choice before launching their company – a one minute search on the government’s Intellectual Property Office website will give the answer, as well as the ability to apply for your own trademark for around £175 pounds. Nonetheless, Tom, after a great expense of time and money, managed to come to suitable settlement with that company enabling him to continue using Zooqie brand which will see the website relaunch on the 5 July 2014!

Discover Independent Clothing

Discover Independent Clothing

With the help of an Innovation Centre grant the Zooqie website will undergo a complete revamp before re-launch and we can’t wait to see how everything develops once it is back online! With the likes of Young Ones Apparel and Tight Treads already onboard as brands we have a strong Exeter presences but there is always room for more amazing clothing brands so apply here if you believe your clothing company can add something to the marketplace. Zooqie are also keen to move into providing a platform for art, extreme sports products as well as many other exciting products over the next few months, with Tom hitting festivals across the UK this summer to promote his marketplace.

Tom was also keen to highlight the how useful it was taking them ‘Could You Be an Entrepreneur?‘ module within the business school, ran by course leader Professor Gordon Murray. Noting that it “really opened people’s eyes” about the possibly of starting a business Tom thoroughly enjoyed the core part of the module where students are encouraged to develop their own business ideas – something that helped him to further develop the idea of Zooqie as an online marketplace. He also noted the support given by the Innovation Centre in terms of IP advice while trying to resolve the trademark dispute – we are certainly here to help address student’s business problems of all types so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here at the Innovation Centre. To get in touch simply email .

Here at MGR Music Tuition it has been another packed week, continuing to grow the teaching team with new websites launching including, including Piano Lessons Bradford (doubling up on the Singing Lessons Bradford website also launched earlier in 2013) as we try to supply the national demand for music lessons! I am also looking forward to getting some time over the next week to develop my fictional Mulberry Silk Pillowcase “eCommerce website on a shoe string” WordPress website (current cost having been £14.48) with the aim to create a fully functioning eCommerce website for under £75 as an example to Exeter Uni Students that launching a clothing business doesn’t need to cost you the earth website wise!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Intellectual Property Office, Progress Update, Zooqie

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 17, 2014

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Progress Update: Webwise Media

For the eleventh progress update I managed to catch up with Dan Wiseman, founder of Webwise Media, a website design business aimed at creating affordable websites for small and medium businesses. Dan, who studied drama at Exeter 2009-2012, focused his degree on arts management. Extensively exploring how the creative industry works and is managed on a financial level, he was prompted to start designing websites as source of income while at university. However, his skills for designing websites, as well as his honest and customer focused approach to web design, saw his business start to flourish in its own right during his second year at university. It was this organic growth in the business, where one website design would lead to three further enquiries that ensured that business thrived without spending too much on advertising.

Webwise Media

Webwise Media – not all businesses need to be born from a single eureka moment, many like Dan’s were created from a journey that became increasingly more entrepreneurial as time when on

Dan took a part-time job in the University of Exeter’s IT department, working over the summer to continue to learn and develop his abilities. It also proved a source of inspiration and motivation to continue to drive his business forward. By 2011, after wining some notable contracts, the idea that Webwise Media could become a post-graduation job started to materialise in Dan’s mind. That summer he took the steps to formalise the company, continuing push forward the organic growth of his business which had seen ever more interest from clients throughout the South West. By summer 2012 Webwise Media had started rent hot-desk space at the Innovation Centre, something that is available for all student businesses, subject to the approval of the Innovation Centre staff and had started to develop a number of exciting new software based projects like Screenfish.

By summer 2013 Webwise Media had moved into permanent offices in the Innovation Centre, partnered with an SEO company and continued to grow their client base – taking on new projects from across the South West. This hard work enabled Dan to take on two University of Exeter student interns in early 2014, as well as winning the prestigious 2014 “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” at the Exeter Business Awards that was a fantastic achievement. Moving forward Webwise Media will continue to grow their client base organically, pivoting slightly by looking to develop further into systems development and eCommerce website creation. Dan also plays an integral role at the Innovation Centre in terms of helping to develop the current entrepreneurial students, offering web advice as well as holding regular seminars through the career zone on multiple aspects of developing an online business. He is also always interested in talking on talented University of Exeter students to work at Webwise Media as interns, you can get in touch with him via the Webwise Media website. We are excited to see how Dan’s business continues grow and develop over the next twelve months and hope he represents the first of a new wave of entrepreneurial Exeter students who will choose to grow their businesses in the South West!

Posted under Progress Update, Student Interns, Student Jobs, Webwise Media, Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 10, 2014

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Progress Update: Just Winston

For the tenth article in our progress updates I sat down with Chris Rea, co-founder of a custom onesie clothing company called Young Ones, to talk about his growing involvement with another University of Exeter clothing brand now known as Just Winston. Dubbed “the ultimate dinner shirt” Just Winston combines extremely high quality shirts with exciting fabric designs, enabling the wearer to be both perfectly formal as well as having that distinct edge as the party livens up!

Founded by Nathan Ball and Ollie Sills as Winston Shirtchill, Chris and Young Ones co-founder Tom Carson decided to approach the pair in early 2014 as they were interested in helping drive the business forward. The four quickly came to an agreement that saw Chris and Tom come into the business as co-directors. The brand quickly developed, seeing the change in name, improvement of product quality and crowd sourced business funding from Kickstarter. Originally targeting £2,500 Just Winston rapidly exceeded expectations gaining 146 backers and over £5,764 to date. For those who know the passion of these four founders in delivering quality clothing products to market, as well as the potential for this project in particular this success is well founded. Indeed, Just Winston’s dinner shirts represented the University of Exeter at SETsquared’s Uni PopShop held in Spitalfields Market in summer 2013 as our product of choice – something I was luck enough to participate in as a team member.

From the interaction, interest and overall passion the general public had for this brand during the event within London is clear that on a conceptual level the business is completely there – now with the added help of Chris and Tom to develop the brand, business and operational models I really think we will see Just Winston develop into one of the more successful clothing brands to come out of the University of Exeter. The four are set to relaunch Just Winston in September 2014, something that we are all looking forward to! I will keep you updated with their progress!

Just Winston - the ultimate dinner shirt

Just Winston – the ultimate dinner shirt!

Here at MGR Music it has been another positive week, having taken on another new guitar teacher based here in Exeter for the Guitar Lessons Exeter website, as well as a second singing teacher on the Singing Lessons Brighton – both really exciting news!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Just Winston, Kickstarter, Progress Update, Young Ones

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 3, 2014

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Progress Update: Mammal Swag

For the ninth in our progress update stories I met up with Jon Mills, the founder of Mammal Swag a clothing business that features Jon’s cartoon animals that have alter ego characters! Be it the Art Deco Gecko, the Hipster Dog or the Shellsuit Stag the designs are nothing short of eye catching. I first wrote about Mammal Swag in February 2013, this was a point in the business where Jon had been successful at selling his products in The Forum as well as online yet he was spending hours undertaking labour tasks (such as attaching labels to each t-shirt) rather than outsourcing this task to free himself up to drive the business forward. This proved to be a bit of crossroad for Jon, either take a step back to manage aspects of the business rather than single handedly performing each task within the business operation or accept that the strain on Jon’s time was the limiting factor that would prevent the business from further growth.

Mammal Swag

Mammal Swag – rebranding included introducing higher-quailty labels that also allowed Jon to step back from attaching labels to each item of clothing and spend more time growing the business!

Excitingly for us in summer 2013 Mammal Swag underwent a rebranding as Jon looked to establish a bit more quality in the brand; upgrading the t-shirts, introducing high-quality labels and most significantly seeing Jon step back from the production process to oversee the entire operation (he also employed his mum as part of the product dispatch team which is always a good idea!). This helped him to sell over 150 items of clothing in the run up to Christmas 2013, including sending products as far a field as Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Yet it was within selling face-to-face on market stalls that gained Jon the most satisfaction. This is where Mammal Swag due to their unforgettable designs really stood out from the crowd. Thriving at the “soft-sale” (where you allow customers to come to you, rather than badgering them to buy your goods) the instantly recognisable clothing company was able to distinguish itself from the extremely competitive t-shirt market.

Mammal Swag - The Zoo!

Mammal Swag – The Zoo displaying some of the animal characters Jon has created!

With the turn of the New Year and the increase in work load for Jon as a final year student had to put Mammal Swag on the back burner. However, with summer fast approaching and the end of exams almost in sight it will be interesting to see where Jon takes Mammal Swag over the summer 2014 and beyond. We will have to see!

In terms of the actually business of designing t-shirts I thought I would talk to Jon to provide some tips to students who are interested in following in his footsteps. Having worked as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence, listening to students pitch their various business ideas, I know that besides apps, online businesses and all things related to going on a night out, clothing business ideas are by far the most popular concept pitched to us here at the Innovation Centre. Yet, few are as successful as Mammal Swag, Young Ones or Tight Threads – why is this?

Well looking at the three clothing businesses, Young Ones and Tight Threads caught onto treads early (onesies and photographic print t-shirts respectively) producing superior products at a lower cost to the consumer, while Mammal Swag capitalised on Jon’s ability to design unique graphics to add to the clothes he was trying to sell. With so many clothing companies out there you really have to create something that customers will want to pay for. However, as Jon notes clothing companies are one of the best businesses to start at university (indeed, even I tried to start a clothing business when I first started at the University of Exeter!); with low start up costs, low overheads and your target market on your doorstep you can see why it appeals to so many entrepreneurial minded students. Utilising the power of the internet, something that perhaps our generation is more accustomed too, can also help to drive an early stage clothing business forward – Jon broke down his sale figures for me as 85% of sales taking place online to 15% offline. He sold through the likes of Asos Marketplace where 15% of his online sales took place and through his own Mammal Swag website (65% of online sales) that he got up and running for £10.

Mammal Swag - The Zoo!

Clothing businesses can have low start up costs, low overheads and with your target market on your doorstep you can sell straight to them, like Jon is here selling Mammal Swag products in the forum!

Yet, Jon will be the first to hold his hands up to making some business mistakes while growing his clothing company. Firstly a common problem for clothing businesses is trying to diversify the product range too early; for example, Jon created jumpers and iPhone cases that haven’t sold well as they have moved too far away from the core unique selling point of his business – creating fun, cool t-shirts. Secondly, custom orders can also prove a headache if they are for only tiny orders of 3 or less – in the case of the Mammal Swag jumpers to cover one items in all sizes, designs and colours Jon would have to have stocked 112 jumpers which would mean him putting significant capital into holding stock, never a good idea. Finally production lag times are always a source of major concern for clothing businesses, ensuring that these are as smooth and reliable as possible are crucial to running a successful clothing operation.

Nonetheless, the experience that Jon has had running a clothing business while at university is simply priceless, imagine being able to walk into a job interview and being able to talk about firsthand experience negotiating with suppliers, improving customer satisfaction and creating business solutions – failing that you could always continue to run the business that you founded during university and grow it into a nationwide clothing brand like Rampant Sporting ran by former University of Exeter student Richard Hurtley (and make lots of money along the way!).

Here at MGR Music Tuition this week I spent some time in London, working alongside Gael (the Guitar Lessons London lead teacher) to continue to develop our product presentation to London based music stores with the aim of getting 3 to 5 music storers to advertise on the Guitar Lessons London website. We are still waiting on a reply from the first store that we have approached but fingers crossed we will hear from them shortly! We also hired new teachers for the Guitar Lessons Blackpool and Guitar Lessons Newcastle websites, while releasing news sites in Worcester and Bradford – good progress as ever in terms of the national expansion. I was also asked by some Exeter students earlier in the week about the process of creating websites – there is quite a good article on the Career Enterprise Zone website that deals with that (also check out my blog post last week about setting up a fictional clothing business on a shoe string budget) as well as other FAQs students have (including company formation etc.) that I thought might be useful!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Mammal Swag, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 27, 2014

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Progress Update: CampusBoard

For the eighth of our progress updates I sat down with Seva Baskin, founder of CampusBoard – a platform for students to buy and sell anything at their university. Seva first came up with the idea in spring 2012 during his foundation year studying Computer Science & Economics at the University of Exeter. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that Seva decided to move forward with the concept having gained some coding and programming knowledge, as well as selecting this project as the most viable business model from a range of ideas he had had during his foundation year.

CampusBoard

CampusBoard – a university centred trading platform!

The broad concept of the website came to Seva when he spotted an opportunity to create an online platform that modelled the likes of eBay and Gumtree but was tailored to smaller community of users. In this case, CampusBoard’s customers would be drawn together by their similar location and the fact that they were all university students, replacing the inadequate Facebook groups that were already been used widely by Exeter university student to trade items. Seva’s aim was to contrast his website to these Facebook groups, well known for their horrid search capabilities, unusual and changing orders of the item’s posted and the fact that it is impossible to know if an item had already been sold, by creating a clean and simple website that could be easily used by customers. After 7 months of coding CampusBoard was ready to be launched, being released in March 2014 through a soft launch to friends – a great way to test a website and see if it can generate interest.

CampusBoard

“Getting the user experience right is critical. A clean, clear website was a must”

The website user-base quickly grew organically as CampusBoard was shared between students and now boasts over 300 active University of Exeter users, 700 product listings and over a 10% sale rate. It is a website that really understands its users, with listings being anonymous and emails not being shared until both parties are ready (unlike Facebook), a price being agreed upon by both parties and the goods/money being exchanged on campus with no website fees (unlike eBay & Gumtree) – something that Seva cites as central to the success of CampusBoard so far! Boasting everything from second hand textbooks, printers and cardboard spacemen CampusBoard has really become the trading platform of choice for Exeter university students. Moving forward Seva would like to expand to other universities across the UK, building up a larger and more active user-base as well as beginning to build a model that can be monetised. For now, however, I would suggest that CampusBoard is one of the most exciting online start-up business we currently have at the University of Exeter.

Here at MGR Music Tuition this week it was a poignant moment as Matt Pocock, one of the first music teachers who I hired way back in early 2012 as the Singing Lessons Exeter teacher stepped down from his role to undertake a masters in vocal training in Guildford. Taking on his role will be another University of Exeter drama graduate Chris Harknett who will take over the Singing Lessons Exeter website! Within London I am pleased to say we took on a new guitar teacher, Nora Bite, for the Guitar Lessons Hackney page on the Guitar Lessons London website as well as additional teachers for Guitar Lessons Bolton and Guitar Lessons Solihull. We are still in the process of sorting out an advertising deal with a guitar store in London for the Guitar Lessons London website but hopefully this will come through soon!

Having met plenty of students that wanted to spend hundreds of pounds on their first website I was thoroughly impressed when Jon Mills of Mammal Swag told me he already set one up for £20 and started selling. This is a screenshot of that basic, yet fully functioning eCommerce website.

Inspired by some of our entrepreneurial students like Seva I thought I would try my hand at creating my first eCommerce website as I had some free time over the weekend! Here I am going to talk through the process of setting up a website, something that can be done relatively cheaply and easily – even on shoe-string student business startup. While website designs can cost thousands of pounds each actually in the initial stages of testing a product and the market that product will work within a functioning website can be created for less than £75 all in. Jon Mill’s first Mammal Swag website is testament to this costing him the grand total of £20 to setup and start selling his t-shirts from. This meant he spent more time and money developing his product rather than diverting these resources to the creation of a website, before he knew how well his product would sell. Of course once you can start to gauge your sales and income then you can plough some of that money back into to improve on of the major routes to market which is your own website (my question to any student setting up a clothing company would be can you really justify spending £300+ on a website design before you have actually sold any products).

So how is a shoe-string initial website created? Well firstly pick your product/market, for my dive into the world of eCommerce I settled on silk pillowcases as my product of choice after a lengthy conversation with my sister into luxury clothing products. The next task was to think of a domain name (like www.exeter.ac.uk) and register that name, if it is available, with a domain register. Popular domain registers include 123-reg.co.uk, GoDaddy.com and my personal favourite DomainMonster.com where you can purchase .com domains for as little as £11.99 and .co.uk domains £6.70. Domain names work like leases, so you essentially you rent a name for a set time period before renewing it or losing ownership over it. For my weekend project I settled on www.mulberrysilkpillowcase.com for my fictional business. Next you need to host the website – if the domain name is the name of your radio station, then the hosting is the radio tower that sends your radio show/website around the world. Often the domain registers will also sell hosting, like 123-reg.co.uk which basic hosting packages can start from as little as £2.49 a month for a single website. So far the total cost of the creation of this website has reached the dizzying heights of £14.48 for month one and £2.49 each month thereafter.

Free WordPress e-commerce themes

Basic but effective – an example of a free WordPress eCommmerce theme! Click on the image to bring you to a list of the 10 best WordPress eCommerce themes according to DesignsCrazed

Next on the list is to link up the domain name and the hosting, like connecting your radio mic via the soundboard to the radio tower. To do this you need to find the name-servers of your hosting (the name of your radio tower) and enter their details in the domain setting provided by your domain register. Following this you must create the template for the website, by far the most famous template system is WordPress, though Shopify is also popular with clothing companies. Since WordPress is free, whereas Shopify has a monthly charge we will stick with WordPress for our shoe-string setup – the first task is to complete their “Famous 5 Minute Install” where you download the WordPress package to your computer. Edit the “wp-config-sample.php” file, don’t panic it is easier than you think – simply locate the file and fill in the blanks with your database name, user and password that you have set up on your hosting cPanel via the MySQL Databases tab. Renamed this file “wp-config.php” and upload the entire WordPress package to your hosting via an FTP account (best one to use is Fire FTP, a plugin for the FireFox browser that can both be downloaded for free). Once that is all uploaded go to your domain name and it should help you to install the final part of WordPress there – then you are into the backend of the website where you can start to edit the website as you please! This is where the exciting part comes, now you can select your own theme for the website via the “Appearance – Themes” page, selecting from thousands of pre-made free designs (many for eCommerce websites) on WordPress as well as tens of thousands more from across the web. Into these WordPress themes you can add in the various eCommerce plugins that will make your website feel like your very own storefront!

While the free WordPress themes work well, for as little as £50 you can buy yourself a beautifully designed and less WordPress looking template that will enable your clothing business to distinguish itself more as well as injecting more of your own brand into the website. Next month I will purchase a template design that I like for the “Silk Pillowcase” website and continue to build it into a fictional clothing business with a great looking website that was setup on a shoe string as an example for other startup clothing businesses at the uni – current cost after month one is £14.48.

Posted under CampusBoard, eCommerce Website On A Shoe String, Guitar Lessons London, Mammal Swag, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 20, 2014

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Progress Update: The Student Bubble

For the seventh in our progress updates I thought I would catch up with Nick O’Ferrall and Elina Lulle, co-founders of the Student Bubble – a website that draws together and reviews some of the best pubs, clubs and restaurants a university city has to offer to its students! The idea came to Nick in January 2014 when he saw an opportunity to share all those local gems that Exeter has to offer that new students, as well as current student, unaware of the likes of The Hour Glass, Double Locks and The Real Food Store (rather than The Ram, Imperial and Costa Coffee!). Combining open reviews with carefully selected “local gems”, days out and the ultimate University of Exeter Bucket List the Student Bubble has quickly grown in popularity amongst the student population.

Student Bubble

Want things to do in Exeter? Student Bubble has it covered!

After Nick’s initial idea he managed to get Elina onboard to help with the website design, an example of a great bit of entrepreneurial pragmatism: if you are starting an online business rather than paying thousands of pounds for website design inspire a computer science to get involved in the project and form a business, utilising both of your unique skill sets, with them. With Elina onboard the website went live in March 2014, using the forum to talk to students directly and gain feedback for the businesses on the website. Moving forward the pair are looking to expand their website to cover other universities across the nation as well as starting to monetise it. In terms of the former they are starting to look for student brand managers at each university as well beginning research local businesses within the cities that they are looking to expand into. It will be a make or break 12 months for the Student Bubble to see if they can take a good idea and turn it into a something that (i) can be duplicated for other cities around the UK and (ii) monetise it – if anyone can do it then it will be these two!

In terms of my week here at MGR Music I was really excited to take on two new teachers for the Singing Lessons Swansea and Singing Lessons Hull websites, as well as creating Piano Lessons Newcastle as new build website. I am still certainly in the process of expanding as rapidly as I can across the UK, however, this inevitably causes certain growing pains – including (i) not being able to take on teachers fast enough to fulfil all enquiries and (ii) as things ramp up increasingly my time & energy is put into managing the admin for the current business rather than driving it forward. Getting the right balance is crucial to avoid taking two steps forward and one step back each month, but driving a business forward is certainly the most fun thing I have ever done!

Posted under Progress Update, Student Businesses, The Student Bubble

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 18, 2014

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Progress Update: Guitar Lessons London

I thought exactly one year to the day when I launched Guitar Lessons London I thought I would write a short personal update on its development, a story of pivoting, entering the most competitive music tuition market in the UK and constant development to appeal to an audience that is like nowhere else in the UK. Originally rather than a Guitar Lessons London website the site was targeted at the entirety of the UK, under a “Guitar Lessons UK” branding with subpages for different teachers within locations – yet it quickly proved inefficient in generating the number of enquiries needed to support multiple guitar teachers across the nation.

Guitar Lessons London - originally launched under the a 'Guitar Lessons UK' branding

Guitar Lessons London – originally launched under the a ‘Guitar Lessons UK’ branding

Therefore, when the opportunity arose to move into the London guitar tuition market – a dream of mine since launching my music tuition business in first year of university – I pounce upon it, purchasing the www.guitarlessonslondon.com domain name and rebranding the website to “Guitar Lessons London”.

However, this quickly struck a problem as with a UK map potential students only had the very smallest of areas to click on to locate their teachers, so with the help of Andy from 1010 Media we decided to include a borough by borough map of London as the focus of the websites homepage. Whenever you design a website you have to be really clear about the customers journey through that website, once a potential client is on your website how are you going to get the from A (the first page they view) to B (a purchase, enquiry, content viewing, email subscription page depending on your aims for the website). For the music tuition websites the aim is to get them to enquiry via a contact form so having a clear customer journey for this new look Guitar Lessons London website was key: (i) landing page (ii) click on borough on map (iii) select teacher (iv) read about teacher (v) contact.

Guitar Lessons London - second design, with London borough map

Guitar Lessons London – second design, with London borough map

Yet, after this update was launched the truth was it simply didn’t work! How could this be? Well, the truth was this had disturbed a central theme that had helped the success of all of the other music tuition website; primarily that each website was designed for one teacher, creating a personalised experience for a potential student that didn’t give them more choices to make about which teacher they wanted. I found that providing potential students with a multitude of teachers actually decreased enquiry rates as a client simply wanted one teacher that looked professional, friendly and able to teach them the music that they wanted to learn. There was a second cold point that we quickly learned – that even 5 clicks from landing page to enquiry was too many to ask of the majority of web users who went through this thought process: (i) enter a website, does it look good? (ii) looks good, read a little info (iii) sounds good, I will enquire – making it a three step process. And a final third point was that by presenting a multitude of teachers the website gave the impression that it was a music agency rather than a personalised website ran by a great guitar teacher – a quick search for “Guitar Lessons London” on Google would show that my direct competitors all presented in the same manor: a music agency with teachers, rather than individual teachers running their own website. This meant that my website simply didn’t stand out from the rest – no wonder the enquiries were so low despite the best of intentions when we launched the second design update!

So despite all the hard work, as well in investment in this second design, in February 2014 I decided to develop a new model where the website replicated the normal locational website templates with a “lead teacher” who could deliver lessons to students within their own homes across London to see if I could increase enquiry numbers. Implementing this template would make the website much more personal, hopefully improving enquiry numbers through a model that had already been proven across the UK. Another huge time investment this third updated came into place and I quickly saw a rapid increase in the number of enquiries coming through the website – yet it was still way off what I would expect for the number of searches made per month in London for guitar lessons.

Guitar Lessons London - third design, personalised to a single 'lead teacher'

Guitar Lessons London – third design, personalised to a single ‘lead teacher’

Clue another step back and analysis of the analytics of the websites – turns out the Londoners spend even less time on the websites that in other cities across the UK, meaning basically even if they liked the website that they didn’t have the time/motivation/patients to get to the final “Contact Me” page. Ever heard of “London service” – turns out the same is true on the internet! (Why wouldn’t it be?!) So to combat this I decided to additionally put a contact form on every one of the pages that I want a client to work through when they land on the website, everything from the “About Me” page to the “Prices” page. This again dramatically increased the number of enquiries coming through the website – yet is it finished, certainly not! There is still plenty to develop on the website over the next year or so to help to increase the conversion numbers of the people entering the website to completing the target action desired by the webmaster. I have found that nothing ever stands still on the internet, it is an ever evolving field where a inconveniently placed link or one click too many will half the number of conversions you will make – but what am I complaining, I would do just the same on your website and so would you!

Posted under 1010 Media, Guitar Lessons London, MGR Music, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 17, 2014

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Progress Update: Young Ones

For the sixth of our progress updates I caught up with Chris Rea, co-founder of Young Ones a youth focused clothing company that Chris launched while studying at the University of Exeter. I last wrote about Young Ones in February 2013 and the business has really moved forward in leaps and bounds since then.

Young Ones was launched by Chris when he was a first year student in 2011, at the height of the onesie craze. He spotted some premium, but highly expensive onesies and thought he could produce a product of similar quality but at a lower price. Chris linked up with a factory in to begin making prototypes. His first onesie was produced in summer 2011, when Tom Carson, Chris’s business partner became involved. They started running Young Ones as an ecommerce site out of Chris’ bedroom. Having sold their stock of 200 onesies in under two months the pair knew that they were onto something. The popularity of the brand continued to grow throughout Chris’ second and third years at Exeter, with university students nationwide becoming “YoungOnes” and “keeping cozy during the cold winter months” in their personalised onesies. Chris and Tom even received an order from America’s iconic university Harvard to supply students with onesies there!

Young Ones - street wear clothing

Young Ones – from onesies to a university brand!

In September 2013 perhaps came Young Ones’ biggest achievement so far, managing to secure a £75,000 investment from Dragons Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne within the Den. Chris noted that it was a massive “confidence boost” for the pair and “confirmed that we were on the right track with the business”, encouraging them to undertake a nationwide university tour in autumn 2013. Young Ones were also diversify their products, offering bright boat shoes, wooden sunglasses as well as their ever famous custom onesies that started appearing ever more frequently across the University campus by early 2014.

Young Ones - street wear clothing

Young Ones – 2013 saw the product range expand into boat shoes, wooden sunglasses & other street wear clothing items!

On a business front Chris cited the significance of changing supplier to reduce lead times, building up a core group of brand managers across the nation’s universities and continued focus on building the brand as the three most significant developments within Young Ones over the last twelve months. The later of three has seen Young Ones take on new graphic and fashion designers helping the company prepare for the release of their new summer range for 2014 which will be out shortly. Indeed, Chris and Tom are still looking to build their team and are especially interested in creating an internship programme, if you are interested in talking to them about this simply email . In terms of moving forward the pair cite their next major challenge will be getting Young Ones into retail stores, solidifying the company as the up and coming brand of choice for thousands of universities students throughout the UK. I am sure there is plenty more to come from Young Ones and I will keep you updated with their progress over the next few years!

In terms of my week here at MGR Music we had great success on the hiring front, taking on new teachers in Belfast, Plymouth and Coventry and well as launching the Piano Lessons Southampton and Singing Lessons Coventry websites! With over 75 teachers onboard now things are really starting to grow with speed, averaging over 30 new student enquiries each day to pass onto these teachers located throughout the UK. We are also coming up the one year birthday of the Guitar Lessons London website launch so there will be a small celebration for that next week!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Progress Update, Young Ones

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 5, 2014

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Progress Update: Macaw Designs

Today I caught up with Ali Gillum for the fifth in our series of University of Exeter student business updates. Ali is the founder of a fantastic social enterprise called Macaw Designs, which creates beautiful bespoke iPhone, iPad, laptop and glasses cases. I last time wrote about Macaw Designs in March 2013 the foundations of the business were just being set-up; by Easter 2013 Ali had started designing the Macaw Designs website as well as locating a factory in England to produce her designs.

Bespoke iPhone cases

Macaw Designs – Bespoke iPhone, iPad, Glasses & Laptop Cases

By autumn 2013 Macaw Designs boasted four unique design collections and officially launched the entire brand in October 2013 in association with Her Campus. Since then Ali has been carefully building the brand by undertaking craft events as well as Popup Macaw events in Exeter and Durham. Sales have been building since launch, with Macaw Designs being selected by the University of Exeter to represent it at the SETsquared intra-university business competition held in Spitalfields Market in June. Ali will also take the brand to summer festivals like New Wine and Somersault, capitalising on the release of two new collections that are aimed at the male market. Post graduation Ali is looking to continue to grow her social enterprise, which has receive grant backing from the Innovation Centre and the UnLtd Fund, into a business that not only creates bespoke cases but also impacts local communities through running craft events. No doubt that next twelve months will be really exciting for Macaw Designs and I will keep you updated!

Macaw Designs

Macaw Designs – one of two new collections for men!

In terms of my week here at MGR Music we successfully managed to launch the Singing Lessons Reading, Piano Lessons Leicester and Guitar Lessons Winchester websites, with our most exciting news being that we are nearly almost there in signing an advertising deal with a London guitar store for the for the Guitar Lessons London website. This would be a massive achievement for us, generating a new stream of income that can be used to create more fantastic content. The week also saw us hire teachers in Aberdeen and Oxford which kept us on track for our two teachers per week expansion!

Posted under Macaw Designs, Progress Update, SetSquared, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 30, 2014

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Progress Update: Jollie Goods

For the forth of our progress updates I met up with Ed Vickers, founder of one of the University of Exeter’s most successful social enterprises Jollie Goods. I originally posted about Ed’s business, a “wear a pair, share a pair” social enterprise helping provide socks for homeless people, in March 2013 and boy has the business come on a long way since then!

In December 2012 Ed had just launched his social enterprises’s first product, “Jollie’s Socks”, making his first sales on a weekly market stall on campus in The Forum. Sales of the socks through the website quickly went through the roof, helping Ed to sell over 100 pairs of socks before Christmas 2012. By March 2013 Jollie’s Socks had been selected as the product of choice to represent the University of Exeter at a SETsquared intra-university business competition held in Spitalfields Market London, winning the UnLtd price for “Best Social Impact”. This provided Jollie Goods with the platform to start selling their products through multiple independent stores located throughout the south-west and London including Maker Maker and Good Golly Miss Molly in Exeter (two good stores to start with if you run a clothing business at the University and are interesting getting your goods into local stores).

Jollie's Socks on sale in the Forum

Ed selling Jollie’s Socks on campus in The Forum, December 2012!

By December 2013 the Jollie’s Socks range had expanded to three different coloured socks, with all the manufacturing being moved back to the UK. Yet, it was Jollie Goods success within the John Lewis’s PitchUp business competition that really highlighted the potential of the business – from the hundreds of entries made Jollie Goods was shortlisted with 11 other companies to pitch to John Lewis for the chance to be stocked in the retail giant’s stores. From this pitch Jollie Goods were successful and won the opportunity to be stocked in John Lewis – the only company to be selected that year! From Christmas 2012, were Ed had sold socks at the Forum, to Christmas 2013 where Jollie’s Socks were being sold in their hundreds through John Lewis’s Peter Jones, Oxford Circus and Online Stores.

Continuing to be sold through these three John Lewis stores, as well as an ever growing network of independent stores, Ed has big plans for Jollie Goods now that he has graduated from the University of Exeter (summer 2014). Looking towards December 2014 Jollie’s Socks will expand from three products to five, as well as moving into producing Jollie’s Hat and Scarves – both having similar “wear a pair, share a pair” concept providing the homeless with durable winter hats and scarves upon each purchase. Indeed, the social impact of Jollie Goods has been truly outstanding with over 2,000 fresh socks being given to homeless shelters to distribute, touch numerous lives across the UK. Ed’s ultimate goal is not only to continue to grow his social business but enable young people to get directly involved to help the homeless throughout the nation.

Jollie's Socks on sale at John Lewis

Jollie’s Socks selling in John Lewis, December 2013!

Perfect for quirky christmas gifts Jollie’s Socks has to be one of the best products to be created by a University of Exeter student and no doubt Jollie Goods has a great future in front of it! On the MGR Music Tuition business front this week we have had a really exciting development, with the launch of Piano Lessons Swindon that will be jointly run with the Guitar Lessons Swindon and Singing Lessons Swindon teachers. It is the start of a new business model that will enable teachers to create small music tuition businesses, rather than simply building up their own students numbers. Exciting times!

We are also in the final stages of negotiating a deal with a guitar store in London who are interested in advertising in the London Guitar Lessons Blog, this will be great news if it comes off as it will be able to fund content creation through hiring a sub-contracted blog editor and a teacher to produce further Youtube guitar lesson videos – all creating more traffic and then more revenue from advertising. On the website expansion front Singing Lessons Cambridge, Piano Lessons York and Singing Lessons Peterborough we all completed and launched this week, with teachers being hired in Belfast and Southampton. All in all a truly busy week!

Posted under Jollie Goods, Progress Update, SetSquared, Stocking Goods in John Lewis, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 25, 2014

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Progress Update: UniCoRide

For the third in my series of progress updates on University of Exeter students who run businesses I met up with Charley Allen, a fourth year French, Spanish and Philosophy student, who has created a business designed to reduce the costs of transport for uni students. The idea came to Charley during her year abroad as she frequently made the most of car sharing websites like BlaBlaCar to travel throughout France and Spain. Yet, she noticed that at this time there was no similar businesses offering this type of car sharing within the UK.

UniCoRide

Why not carshare?

By the time she had returned to England BlaBlaCar had launched within the UK, however, there was still a massive opportunity to create a car-sharing website aimed exclusively at students – this is how UniCoRide was born! Charley along with some fellow students started to undertake market research for the concept, using her business idea in a fictitious business competition for a module on her Spanish course. The business idea won the competition further encouraging Charley to take this project on as an actual business. As of 2014 Charley is now undertaking further market research, looking to develop and launch her UniCoRide website over the next few months, as well as to continue her application to the Student Green Unit which give out around £25,000 to empower our students to make a difference in environmental and ethical issues. Charley is also currently running a questionnaire for students – if you are interested in taking part click here to carry out the survey during 2014!

In terms of business at MGR Music this week has seen us expand by creating Piano Lessons Liverpool and Piano Lessons Cambridge, as well as creating Singing Lessons Bournemouth, but still to hire teachers in these locations. On the hiring front proud to say that we have successfully recruited two new teachers this week, Frank Lucas who will become the Guitar Lessons Swindon guitar teacher, and Pete Hicks who has taken over the Guitar Lessons Milton Keynes website. We have also been working on an entry into a new sector of the music tuition industry over the next few weeks which is going to represent the first major change in the business for around 12 months. All will be revealed next week!

Posted under Progress Update, UniCoRide

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 16, 2014

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Progress Update: Tight Threads

For the second progress update on a University of Exeter student business I met up with Nathan Dundovic, founder of Tight Threads – a photographic clothing company. Nathan, now a third year student, came up with the idea in 2011 when he saw an opportunity to improve the quality of photograph prints on clothing, a style that had become popular and widely sold in shops like Topman, Republic and other high-street stores from 2010 onwards. He focused on creating high quality photographic prints, releasing his first range in 2012, which consisted of 15 t-shirts, 15 sweatshirts and several snapbacks.

Tight Threads

Tight Threads – cool t-shirts, sweatshirts and snapbacks!

Selling under his business name Tight Threads Nathan’s first range sold really well, shifting 75% of his stock and even getting a wholesale order from a shop owner located in Kent to supply this store with his snapbacks. Yet, it was the sales that he made through clothing marketplace websites like Asos Markekplace, TheLostLanes.com and the University of Exeter Guild Shop that drove his business forward. Nathan was keen to point out that these websites are great outlets for any students who are interested in selling their clothing products, with the physical location of the Guild Shop giving great exposure to the brand to the thousands of students on campus.

Nathan also really made the most of the Career Zone’s eXepert scheme, were entrepreneurial students are linked up with University of Exeter alumni that have experience in their field. In Nathan’s case he was fortunate enough to be introduced to a successful clothing businessman who had graduated from Exeter years before, this contact provided Nathan with invaluable industry advice and mentorship – something that he would strongly suggest that other Exeter students should make the most of if you run a business! With this in mind Nathan is now looking to continue to build Tight Threads by introducing a new range of cool t shirts and cool sweatshirts for the summer! You can keep an eye on Nathan’s progress by checking out the Tight Threads website or to find out more what it is like running a clothing company while you are at university get in touch with him via his nathandundovic.com website!

eXepert scheme

Career Zone eXepert scheme provided key support for Nathan

It has been an exciting week here at MGR Music Tuition as well, hiring teachers for the Guitar Lessons Bristol, Singing Lessons Swindon and Piano Lessons Oxford websites. We also had the exciting announcement that the Guitar Lessons London website is now starting to provide online guitar lessons – with our lead guitar teacher in London creating tuition videos to help guitar students across the world to learn guitar for free! I have also been working with local Exeter company 1010 Media to create an automated invoicing system for the business that will hopefully help consolidate a core operation of the company (invoicing all 75 teachers with their lessons taught for the month) which is currently all done via email. After several meetings this week we are at the stage to give the project the go-ahead which is simply great news!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Guitar Lessons London, Progress Update, Tight Threads

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 8, 2014

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Progress Update: The Ember Club

I thought a year on from my last blog post it would be great time time to start a series of progress updates on some of the entrepreneurial students that we have worked with here at the Innovation Centre. This not only includes current students, but students that worked with and graduated alongside the first Student Entrepreneur in Residence Tom Carrington-Smith to see where their entrepreneurial journeys have lead them now three years on. I will also talk to the students I worked with during my time as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence, as well as the students that are currently working with Mithil Shah, our current Student Entrepreneur in Residence.

Mithil Shah & Kimberley Martinez

Mithil Shah & Kimberley Martinez (the Innovation Centre’s & Students’ Guild’s Student Entrepreneurs in Residence for 2013-14 academic year)!

As a Student Entrepreneur in Residence Tom (2011-12), Matthew (2012-13) and Mithil (2013-14) saw on average about 100 University of Exeter students per year – all pitching business concepts that covered a huge range of industries and products. We met with students at all different stages of their businesses, from students who simply had an idea to students that had been running fully fledged businesses while at the university. The role of the Student Entrepreneur in Residence is to provide support and advice for all entrepreneurial minded students at the University of Exeter, regardless of where they are with their idea or business. The SEiR also helps to create a small community of like-minded entrepreneurial students who are encouraged to help each other with the challenges of running a business while trying to complete a degree at the same time! Over the last three years this community has grown exponentially, in this series of blog posts I will look to talk to just a few members of this community to hear about their business stories. We would love you to become a part of this entrepreneurial community, so if you have a business idea (no matter where you are with it!) or are thinking about starting a business while at university don’t hesitate to get in touch – you can contact the Student Entrepreneur in Residence by emailing .

I thought that a fantastic business to kick off the progress update blog post series would be The Ember Club, a platform for like-minded entrepreneurial students from a range of different universities to connect, solve business problems and meet investors, mentors and industry experts. Founded by Tom Charman, Edward Noel (serial entrepreneur; founder of Soundsynk and Exeter University Calendars) and Nathan Dundovic the trio where keen to ensure that there was a platform for genuine entrepreneurial students to connect on, providing the business support that they felt was often overlooked for young business founders.

Tracking back a little, I first met Tom Charman in 2012 and blogged about his first year business idea George Edwards – a British made clothing company that looked to produce quality shirts, socks and sweatshirts for students. Indeed, Tom was a student that pitched his business at the SETsquared 2013 Deloitte pitching event. His business has been progressing slowly, with his official launch being set for Summer 2014 – yet one of the main reasons for the this is Tom’s business attention has been refocused on founding and running Ember Club which has proved extremely successful amongst entrepreneurial university students across the country.

By contrast The Ember Club has moved extremely fast since its launch in November 2013, with the founding members attending events like the Student Enterprise Conference held by NACUE to network with other business mined university students & pitch their idea. The business was quickly shortlisted for the Shell Live Wire Awards (Shell give 4x £1,000 grants to young entrepreneurs each month + £10,000 to a single Young Entrepreneur of the Year) as well as winning a £500 grant from the UnLtd fund.

http://unltd.org.uk

The Ember Club founders won a £500 grant for their idea from the UnLtd Fund!

By January 2014 The Ember Club had grown to 30 regular uses, a figure than now stands at well over 100 today, drawing in students from across the nations universities, as well as investors from as far a field as India and Australia. Continuing to drive their business platform forward Tom, Nathan and Ed are looking community to build their user base, increasing the value of the network to each member of the community, as well as grow the affiliate network that has been so successful for them so far. To become part of this community of young entrepreneurs simply Google The Ember Club. With great plans for the future there is no doubt that we will be hearing a lot more from The Ember Club as they grow in size and begin to bring their young enterprise platform to institutions like the University of Exeter business school and others on a national level. I will let you know how they get on over the next 12 months in my 2015 update!

It has been a big year for MGR Music as well – growing rapidly to over 75 music teachers located across the country tutoring over 4,500 students piano, guitar, singing and drum lessons. The most significant development has been successfully entering the London guitar tuition market, expanding rapidly to have multiple guitar teachers across London tutoring students in Fulham, Camden and Islington, in addition to continuing to grow on a national level taking on teachers even in the last few days in Glasgow and Ipswich, as well as for the Piano Lessons Cardiff website. We have quite a big announcement to make in the next few weeks as the business looks to enter a new market so I will keep you updated with what is happening on a business front as I write the progress updates! Want to get involved, don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing .

Posted under George Edwards, Guitar Lessons London, Progress Update, SEiR, Student Businesses, The Ember Club

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 1, 2014

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iMended

Over the last few months I have had the pleasure of getting to know Edward Latham and Alex Nechoroskovas, co-founders of the iPhone repair company iMended. Having previously met Ed during the infamous Deloitte pitching event in 2012 where he pitched his innovative idea to sell advertising space on university paper – essentially to enable students to get free handouts at no extra cost to the university; while advertisers get the valuable student’s attention with great ad-space. Unfortunately although the product seemed a great idea one of the business leaders of Deloitte didn’t seem to take too kindly to Ed having used a rival company’s logo at the top of the prototypes – indeed, he couldn’t seem to get over the fact that this rival company’s name had even entered the Deloitte building! Thankfully Ed and the rest of the Exeter contingent managed to laugh it off, but I have to say it has gone down in Innovation Centre folk-law!

Since this time, and who knows maybe because of that infamous encounter, Ed and Alex have pivoted to explore the ever expanding market of iPhone repairs. Indeed, iMended is a localised service that the pair have devised to enable iPhone users to repair their phones in a rapid, professional manner at much lower costs than the high-street competition. Having pitched the idea here at the Innovation Centre the duo won a Start Up award grant enabling them to launch their website and start growing their business. With customers coming in from across Exeter the duo have stationed themselves at the Innovation Centre, as well as down at Devonshire house to fix phones with all sorts of cosmetic and internal problems. They are now looking to start expanding across the south-west and further afield with a franchise model – whereby the team generate the clients and provide the knowledge and materials to enable specialists in that location to fix the iPhones. At this stage it looks a really exciting business proposition and we are all interested to see where Ed and Alex, two very promising young entrepreneurs, take the product. You can read more about the iMended story on the University of Exeter website via these links: iMended Case Study and University News.

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In terms of the progress here at MGR Music this week has been super busy in terms of launching new a website, with Guitar Lessons Rotherham coming online which is great news. I am still trying to get the right structures in place to enable me to manage the growing business but it looks really promising at this stage that it can develop into a thriving music tuition business that extends well beyond Exeter where it was all started!

Posted under Business Innovation, iMended, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 30, 2013

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Week Eleven

This week I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of the campuses most successful student entrepreneurs, Ben Hayes. Ben, a final year psychology student runs a social media management business called Born Social. Developed out of The Eleven – another extremely successful business that was set up a studying University of Exeter student Rob O’Donovan several years ago – Born Social helps well known brands manage and engage with young people through Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. Ben is looking to develop Born Social into his full time job post-graduation, to find out more about his business and how it is doing click the image below!

Born Social – Talking the language of youth!

The Innovation Centre also held a legal event for student entrepreneurs with the help of Symes Robinson & Lee a local legal firm. Covering all the basic legal practices that small business owners should be aware of the event was a fantastic success with 20 of our top entrepreneurs  having learned about everything from contracts to wills! If you are ever interested in attending one of the business events held by the Innovation Centre email me at !

SoundSYNK were also in action this week preparing to pitch for the Starter for 10 award – a £10,000 investment into a start up business – along with Webwise Media. This fantastic start up award is open to all new businesses in the South West and something you should certainly check out if you are looking for funding!

SoundSKYN – enabling you to play music through your friends iPhone speakers!

Another place you should check out is the Entrepreneurial blog created by SETsquared students on Reddit – check it out here! In terms of my week we made great progress with the Guitar Lessons Wolverhampton, Singing Lessons Sheffield and Piano Lessons Derby websites all being completed and launched. I also managed to hire teachers for the Singing Lessons Bath and Singing Lessons Bradford websites, but still have loads of teachers to hire as the business continues to grow!

Posted under Born Social, SoundSYNK, Symes Robinson & Lee, The Eleven, Webwise Media

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 21, 2013

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Week Ten

Enter the Dragon! This week was all about Doug Richard’s From The Dragon’s Mouth all day workshop held in the Great Hall on the Friday. Packed with out will around 100 students that signed up for the Guild’s lead event for their new entrepreneurial program Ignite Doug’s talk was first class. Taking students through the 10 questions that you need to ask yourself when setting up a business Doug analysed the students business ideas as we went making for an entertaining, if not a little daunting afternoon!

Here are the 10 questions Doug set – can you answer them for your business idea?

1. What do we do that people need or want? Are you solving a problem or addressing a need?
2. Who is our customer? Try to be as specific as you can…
3. How do customers find out about our products?
4. What distribution channels should we consider?
5. How much is it worth to the customer?
6. What pricing model should we choose?
7. What kind of relationship do we want with our customers? This is a key question – multiple shallow relationships or fewer deeper ones?
8. Who are we up against?
9. What do we have in common with our industry?
10. What must we be good at? Is there an absolute key skill or service we must be able to do well in order to succeed?

Ignite’s Launch Event!

An excellent and opener to the amazing work The Guild will start with student entrepreneurs at the university. I also had the pleasure of meeting Anne Mari Morris, MP for Newton Abbot, to discuss along with 15 other entrepreneurs how the government can aid small businesses and entrepreneurial young people. Indeed, Morris is actively interested in small businesses, co-chairing the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Micro Businesses. An excellent chance for Exeter students to engage directly with elected members of the government on a whole range of issues. Arising from the meeting was a unanimous determination to get entrepreneurship to the minds of young people at college, encouraging them to enter university with business ideas rather than waiting to finish their degree to come up with ideas!

Anne Marie Morris – Newton Abbot MP

It was also great to see Ed Vickers of Jollie Goods at the meeting, one of the University of Exeter’s top social entrepreneurs. During his first year biology student Ed set up a “wear a pair, share a pair” social enterprise helping provide socks for homeless people. Having worked in homeless shelters in London Ed realised that foot hygiene was something that was essential for living rough on England’s streets, yet many homeless people used their money to buy food rather than look after their feet. With this as his mission Ed received an Innovation Centre grant to help develop his product, business model and marketing strategy. I am proud to say they are now selling strongly throughout the UK, helping Ed to deliver fresh pairs of socks to homeless people across the nation!

Jollie Socks!

Here at MGR Music Tuition LTD things moved along nicely this week, with application for teachers on the Guitar Lessons Bath and Singing Lessons Newcastle websites. While the Guitar Lessons Northampton website was finished and I have been busy adding the final touches to the national website! It will be an exciting few months. I also have the exciting news that I will be going full time in early June to work on MGR Music Tuition! If you have a business idea before then make sure you drop me a line at !

Posted under Anne Marie Morris MP, Ignite, Jollie Goods, SEiR, SoundSYNK

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 10, 2013

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Week Nine

This week marked one of the most exciting SETsquared events of the year – The Deloitte Business Pitching Competition! Held in their London Stonecutter Court HQ, just of Fleet Street, the universities of Bath, Bristol, Southampton, Surrey & of course Exeter sent their top five entrepreneurs to win cash prize investments into their businesses. Last year one of the businesses that won the competition went on to gain a reported £100,000 pound investment into their idea, helping to expand their business throughout London – (see where they are now at The Underground Book Club). Representing the University of Exeter at this years’ prestigious event were Instabear, SoundSYNK, Macaw, Carverts and George Edwards. Arriving at the Deloitte HQ at 12 we were quickly thrown into a full networking event before being split off to present the business ideas, along with over 20 other business drawn from the other four universities. First to go was Ali of Macaw Designs, a tailor made fabric business where Ali personally designs iPad, iPhone, Kindle & laptop cases from beautiful materials for you – check out the image below!

Macaw Designs

Macaw Designs – beautifully tailored by Ali Gillum

Ali was followed by Michael of Carverts, a start up company that pays students to all businesses to advertise on their uni cars. Before Carverts handed over to Instabear, who performed an excellent pitch of their Instagram Polaroid picture printing business soon to launch! Our afternoon was rounded off by first class pitches from Tom Charman of George Edwards (a new student clothing business Rampant Sportingesk) and the SoundSYNK team (an Iphone app that synchronises devices to play music in time with one another!).

Carverts – sign up to earn cash while driving in Exeter!

Other notable pitches came from Bath, where one student had created a personalised business to business letter writing company that had an unbelievable rate of clients opening the letters and responding. As ever Elephant Branded made an appearance along with a few other extremely impressive businesses! After a talk from a few of the Deloitte hosts the final awards were announced and we are seriously proud to say that Instabear came second! Losing only slimily to the letter writing business. Great result for the University of Exeter! I think the students got a lot out of the day, experiencing how to prepare a 5 minute investment like pitch, getting a taste for how it feels to work in a huge corporate multi-national like Deloitte as well as networking with some fantastic entrepreneurs from other universities! Great day!

On the home front things are really progressing well with MGR Music, with guitar websites going online in Sunderland, Portsmouth and Reading as well as singing websites being created for Manchester and Derby. As you can see it was a busy week, the flagship Guitar Lessons London website also made great progress this week with the final few things coming together. I will be launching the website on my 22 birthday on the 17 April 2013, very excited! Plenty to do before then, but what a week!

Posted under Carverts, George Edwards, Guitar Lessons London, Instabear, Macaw Designs, MGR Music, SEiR, SetSquared, SoundSYNK, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 3, 2013

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Week Eight

Student business of the week was certainly Jamie Wild Sculptures established by third year business management student Jamie Wild! A passionate artist Jamie started designing sculptures during his A Levels before being asked to produce commission pieces for friends and family. As the business grew the projects got lager, now Jamie is aiming to go part-time post graduation to pursue his hobby!

Crashing Boar – Jamie Wild Sculpture

I also met with Rishabh who had an innovative idea within the city distribution networks, combining green power with time-sharing driving – I will keep you updated when we can release more info, but very exciting! Here up at the Innovation Centre I occasionally meet Exeter alumni, this time former music student Chris dropped in to gather advice on his now wedding composition business idea – a cracking concept we discussed profiling his client and where to find there. Quickly we found that for a personalised organ composition for a wedding we are talking about clients in the top 5% of most lavish wedding ceremonies in the UK, therefore rather than accessing these clients through wedding trade fairs where the chances of meeting a client are too small we used a pivot technique to focus Chris’s business on building relationships with high-end wedding planners who might be interested in providing this additional service.

Here at MGR Music things have been bubbling along nicely, hiring a new teacher in Sheffield while expanding into Oxford and Hull with new guitar websites! I now have over 45 websites covering almost every city in the UK and things are really starting to hot up as more teachers are signed up! Exciting times!

Posted under Guitar Lessons London, Jamie Wild Sculptures, MGR Music, SEiR

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on February 24, 2013

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Week Seven

Wow, what a week! I met eight students with business ideas in a jam packed few days, before heading off to Instabear’s launch party on the Saturday! The Polaroid Instagram printing service will be live very shortly so make sure you sign up here! A highlight of the week was sitting down with the Young Ones co-founder Chris Rea to talk about how he can move the business from the UK’s top selling university inspired Onesie company to the new university outfitters, competing against the likes of Jack Wills, Superdry and Topman. With some great products in the line-up to be released over the summer & the possibility that the Young One team will go full time next year watch this space, you might just be seeing a new high-street clothing brand being born!

Young Ones – one of Exeter University’s top exports!

Another highlight of the week was meeting Tom, a first year student who had started a soap business early last year to win a bet against his friend. Having sold his own brand of soap on London stalls, generating a more than decent income, he is now preparing to launch his second business in Exeter! What this will be we let you know as soon as we can! I also met with a student who has a cracking idea for a new piece of skiing equipment, top secrete at the moment but once they are ready to go public you will hear more about it hear first! Additionally there were a few other pipeline businesses ideas this week that the Innovation Centre will help to incubate and develop over the next few months before their launch – I will keep you updated!

If you have a business idea, no matter how early come an visit us on campus up at the Innovation Centre!

My week away from the SEiR role saw the launch of Guitar Lessons Coventry, Guitar Lessons Plymouth and Singing Lessons Leeds thanks to my fantastic team of copywriters, while I began to start the process of hiring teachers for the Guitar Lessons Norwich and Guitar Lessons Belfast websites respectively. With enquiries coming in from all over the network guitar, singing and piano websites I am trying to hirer teachers as quickly as I can to fulfil them! Hindered slightly however by having an excruciatingly painful back I was reminded not to work too hard, seriously I have met so many people in their mid-40s that have made millions and burned out, damaging their health irretrievably in the process. It is very easy to work too hard on your own business, while juggling a degree, social relationships, other part time jobs, yet you can’t buy your health back once you made your money – live in the present & chill!

Posted under Innovation Centre, Instabear, Young Ones

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on February 17, 2013

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Week Six

The SetSquared Xing event held at the University of Surrey was unquestionably the highlight of this week. After an inopportune 5am start Exeter university’s crack team of six of our best entrepreneurs and I headed off to Guilford to join forces with entrepreneurs from Bath, Southampton, Bristol and Surrey to take part in a regional business challenge. The day was a resounding success, with each mixed university team being given a business idea to develop over four hours before pitching it back to a pool of Dragon’s Den style judges. While the students were split up to network and build teams with talented students drawn across the globe to our five universities, the Student Entrepreneurs in Residence (the equivalent position to mine) of each of the five universities were placed into a team – this was a hilarious (mis)decision! Instantly getting on famously it created a fantastic day of socialising, networking and business development – with the students coming away having experienced first hand some of the critical aspects of turning an idea into a business model.

SETsquared Xing challenge

With three of the Exeter students winning big money prizes during the event’s finale – a share in the £1,500 awarded on the day to entrepreneurial students – we returned back to Exeter. The message of the day was certainly focused on teams and the importance of building the right team, one where getting the right personalities has more of an impact on team productivity than hiring on qualification. Understanding this is vital for new businesses as hiring the wrong second, third or forth employee in your organisation might be the direct reason for your business failing. Lucky after some horror stories from former Kauffman Scholar Alistair Shepherd we will be thinking twice before we recruit again!

After meeting several student businesses during my drop sessions (email me if you want one) including JD Solis, e-Book gifting and Instabear – who are launching extremely soon – I went to meet local lawyer Dominic Hollingsworth of Kitsons. Part of my role this year is to build up a network of external professional services to help aid student business development, this includes reaching out to legal, accountancy and bank firms to build relationships that students can benefit from. The meeting was a great success and I am proud to say we have Kitsons on board for legal support for university entrepreneurs!

At MGR Music I hired another teacher, a university of Exeter student and piano wizard Callum Henry for the Piano Lessons Exeter website, while the business expanded into Leicester and Cambridge. Being the first week in the month the money for the previous months lesson commissions came in, up 8.25% percent in January from December! The Guitar Lessons London website is also coming together behind the scenes, ready for its big launch on the 17th April 2013! Check out the screenshots below…

Guitar Lessons London – development screenshot!

Posted under Guitar Lessons London, Instabear, JD Solis, Kauffman Scholarship, SEiR, SetSquared, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on February 9, 2013

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Week Five

This week started with a conference held up at the Innovation Centre to promote one of the best scholarship courses I have ever heard of! The Kauffman Scholarship is a fully funded 15-month programme to develop a scalable technology business, with 6 months in the US studying at Harvard, Stanford and MIT – some of top business institutions in the world. Alistair Shepherd, a former Kaufmann Scholar and current business owner of Saberr, was our keynotes speaker inspiring 12 final year students to go on and apply! You can still apply for this fantastic opportunity, as well as find our more about the scholarship, here (closing date 22 February 2013).

Kauffman Scholarship – the best scholarship I have ever heard of!

After talking with BBC Radio Devon on Tuesday I caught up with Jon Mills to talk about his t-shirt business Mammal Swag. The fantastic animal designs, including “the gangsta hippo”, “the chap chimp” and “the shellsuit stag”, all drawn and designed by Jon himself have seen the business take off on campus over the last few months. Regularly on sale in the forum as well as online Mammal Swag will be looking to overcome the challenges of scaling up their operation from a local to national business over the next few months. This is no easy task!

Mammal Swag – clothing that will bite!

I also caught up with Exeter Entrepreneurs Society president Edward Noel who had the great news that the yearly Exeter Apprentice Competition will go head this year as planned! With ten teams of four students being given £100 start up investment each, as well as a month to make as much money as they can, the event is often one of the highlights of Exeter’s entrepreneurial calendar. The competition has seen some great business ideas, from university branded pint glasses that won in the first year to selling risky underwear with Exeter slogans on! To apply to be part of the competition simply get in contact with EES on their Facebook page.

Here at MGR Music I am pleased to let you know we hired another two teachers this week! Oscar Charles, a first year University of Exeter student has accepted the role as the Drum Lessons Exeter teacher. While up in Bristol I have started working with Steph Hodges as the Singing Lessons Bristol singing teacher! This week also saw me try and get in contact with teachers in for the Singing Lessons Cardiff and Guitar Lessons Peterborough websites – having set up a few meetings, we will see how well I have done over the next few weeks! Fingers crossed! I have also hired another student to help write copy for the singing websites – if you are interested in getting involved email me at .

Drum Lessons Exeter

Oscar Charles – our new drum teacher!

Posted under Guitar Lessons London, Kauffman Scholarship, Mammal Swag

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on February 1, 2013

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Week Four

Another furious week this week up at the Innovation Centre as we awarded grant funding to our first student business of the year! Dan Wiseman, a recent drama graduate and current owner of Webwise Media, pitched for grant funding to help develop his software solution to digital signage management. Named Screenfish, the idea successfully negotiated its way through two business plan development sessions, multiple meetings with Innovation Centre staff and a Dragon’s Den style pitch before gaining funding. Congratulations to Dan, I will keep you updated as how the project is going!

Screenfish – Webwise Media Ltd new software package!

I also met a student during my weekly drop in sessions who pitched one of the best business ideas I have heard all term! Instabear, which has already gone online this week, is an awesome website where you can finally get your Instagram photos printed! Offering both Polaroid’s and snaps check out their website and like their Facebook page – great job by final year student Solly Akhtar!

Instabear goes live!

This week also saw me travelling up to Leicester and Sheffield to interview guitar teachers for the Guitar Lessons Leicester and Guitar Lessons Sheffield websites. A really exciting trip, I managed to interview a total of five teachers in Leicester and Sheffield hiring a new guitar teacher in Leicester to work with!

Interviewing is a hard process to get right, especially in the context of my sub-contracting business where I have to pitch the business model to them while they try and pitch themselves to me. There is a lot of research to suggest that interviewing is actually one of the worst ways of selecting the right people to work for your organisation as the process is far from objective. Personality, appearance and the fact you both support the same football/rugby/bowls team invariably prompts you to hire the person you get on with rather than the best candidate for the job! Always take applications first and then select the final candidates to be interviewed by a colleague who is not the decision maker before interviewing the last two or three yourself!

Posted under Guitar Lessons London, Instabear, MGR Music, Student Businesses, Webwise Media, Wiseman Media

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on January 27, 2013

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Week Three

JD Solis were the student business find of the week! Ran by Alex O’Mahony-Zed, Nathaniel Rankin and Samuel Cooledge this premium operation began in summer 2012 as the three Exeter University students saw an opportunity in the polo lifestyle market. Manufacturing a simple but stylish polo belt, made in the colours of your polo team, the belts sold extremely well during the summer months at numerous polo tournaments! Targeted at the polo audience rather than the players themselves this high-end market enables a tasty margin on each belt sold. With a great marketing strategy, namely trying to encourage the players themselves to wear the belts through sponsorships and giveaways to make them desirable to the audience (a common business strategy for sportswear brands), the trio successfully built up JD Solis as a polo brand and are now looking to bring this success across to their online sales.

JD Solis – Polo Belts!

This week also saw a few fantastic developments for MGR Music – this week the final website designs for the Singing Lessons Location, Piano Lessons Location and Drum Lesson Location have come through! Andy of 1010 Media has yet again done an amazing job creating extremely professional website templates that we have already started building this week. Check them out below! Already finished are the Piano Lessons Glasgow, Drum Lessons York and Singing Lessons Nottingham website thanks to MGR Music Tuition’s team of student copy writers – it is now over to me to find some teachers!

Final Piano Lessons Location Templates!

Posted under JD Solis, MGR Music, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on January 20, 2013

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Introduction!

Hello, my name is Matthew Rusk and I am this academic year’s Student Entrepreneur in Residence working with Exeter university students who have business ideas! I started a business while studying history at Exeter (2009 – 2012) and am here to help develop, support and offer advice on your business ideas. I also work with current students who run businesses turning over thousands of pounds a year while at university – you will find out more about them in my blog – helping to develop these businesses into the next big thing. I have been asked to write a blog this term so you can find out more about what entrepreneurial Exeter students are getting up to, explain how you can develop your business ideas and let you experience the day to day highs and lows that running my business, MGR Music Tuition LTD, brings! Enjoy!

If you have any questions or would like to meet up to talk about your business ideas email me at . You can also read more about the back story to my business on the Career Zone and Alumni websites. In addition you can also check out more information about other students business right here at the uni at University of Exeter Student Businesses or here at the Career Zone Success Stories.

Matthew Rusk – Student Entrepreneur in Residence

Posted under SEiR

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on January 1, 2013

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