Top tips for establishing your own business within the UK and for securing Tier 1 sponsorship?

What are your top tips for helping international students to establish their own business within the UK and to secure Tier 1 sponsorship? 

Establishing your own business is an exciting challenge that many students entertain.  This generation of graduates are considered more entrepreneurial.  We asked a number of staff in different universities who support international students, what their top tips are for students in establishing their business and working towards securing a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa. 

Teresa Corcoran from University of Nottingham had the following advice: 

Make sure you familiarise yourself with the support available from the business start-up team within your University. At the University of Nottingham this is called the Ingenuity Lab and they have a range of initiatives you can get involved in, from competitions, to workshops, events, mentoring and  access to “how to” guides. If you are seeking a Tier 1 entrepreneurship visa there are many stages you need to go through to establish your business idea. Seek help early on to allow yourself time to prepare for this.

Kathryn Doerr  from Nottingham Trent University considers the key actions and traits: 

    1. Research, research, research!  You must know the market, as well as the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your business plan. 
    2. Be passionate! Tier 1 sponsorship isn’t a back-up option.  It requires a lot of dedication , hard work, a comprehensive business plan and a unique idea!  You need to be prepared to work long hours and persevere through set-backs on your way to success.  Having an idea you are really passionate about is a must. 
    3. Network! Building your professional network and approaching stakeholders effectively is key to a successful business.  Your university careers service will have lots of ways to develop these skills, so make sure you engage with them. 

Mark Blaber (Employability & Enterprise Manager) at Northampton University considers the advice he gives to his staff on supporting students: 

  1. Ensure the applicant has given himself/herself enough time

When you’re meeting with an applicant to talk through a potential Tier 1 business idea, ensure the individual has time to go through your internal application process. It takes a while to create a full, credible business plan. Make it clear the student needs to give himself/herself 3 months at least to work on a business plan that will be strong enough for a Tier 1 application. 

  1. Ensure the idea has something different about it

Remember, with Tier 1 business ideas, you need to be more selective. For example, a lifestyle business such as a website designer, or selling pet accessories online won’t do. Ensure the applicant has an idea that is different to what is already out there. It doesn’t have to the first of its kind. However, it does need to advance upon products and services already available. 

  1. Encourage the applicant to create a Business Model Canvas (BMC) before a business plan.A Business Model Canvas (BMC) is a rapid type of business plan. If you feel the student has a potentially strong business idea, but you’re not 100% convinced, ask the individual to create a BMC first. Why? Because it will help to quickly establish what the major problem being solved by the business is, who the customers(s) are and whether the business will generate revenue and profit. The BMC tool will give the student focus as to what the most important questions to ask are about whether the business is going to be viable. 
  2. Provide feedback on the business plan before submission

If you feel the student has a good business idea, and you have requested a full business plan, after you receive it, take time to critically review it and give feedback. Doing so will help the student identify the main gaps and make changes accordingly. 

  1. Have a support programme in place after a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa has been awarded

Getting a business plan approved is just the first part. If a graduate has made a successful application for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa through your institution, ensure you have a support package on offer for when the individual starts his/her business. Next comes the practicalities of starting a business, such as business registration, purchasing insurance, getting legal contracts in place, networking and sales and marketing. The graduate will need help with all these things. 

Sally Cleere from De Montfort University considers the activities that students can take up to improve their chances. 

Many international students are very entrepreneurial and are keen to establish a business in the UK, however if you’re on a Tier 4 visa this restricts you from engaging in business activities during your studies.  However there are lots of things you can do to develop your entrepreneurial and enterprise skills during your time at university: 

  1. Join a society such as Enactus (http://enactus.org/) which allows you to apply and develop your entrepreneurial skills on projects which use innovation and business principles to improve the world.
  2. Many Student Unions also have student-led societies focused on business or enterprise.  This is a great place to meet and network with like-minded students.
  3. Attend networking events organised by your university’s Enterprise Team to connect with local businesses, graduates and students – perhaps you have a creative idea, but you need someone with business skills to help you turn your idea into reality?  Collaborating with others can help you develop your ideas so that you can build a strong business plan if you decide to apply for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa.
  4. Get some work experience – whether it’s a part time job, a summer internship or a sandwich placement, work experience will help you to understand how businesses work in the UK.  Understanding business etiquette and workplace professionalism will be really valuable if you plan to set up your own business in the future.

Chris Steventon (Careers Consultant at Coventry University) 

At Coventry University our Enterprise Hub supports international students in developing their business ideas.  They collaborate with our Careers Service, International Office and Centre for Global Engagement to maximise student’s chances of developing the UK based work experience. It is important to develop understanding of UK work cultures and collaborate with UK and other overseas students through ‘Online International Learning’ projects, course projects, cultural societies and leisure activities.  The top tips to support this vision are: 

  1. Engage and explore work experience, volunteering and project opportunities as soon as possible when joining the university. Time is short to gain the in-depth understanding of local and national workplaces, needed in creating realistic business ideas. 
  2. Use the Enterprise Hub activities, Student Union Societies and workshops run by the Careers Service, International Office and Centre for Global Engagement to understand  the development of career and business plans, Tier 1 visa regulations, and to network with other entrepreneurial people. 
  3. Join professional industry bodies, attend conferences and learn how the industries connected to your business idea work.  Labour Market Intelligence is critical, enabling networking at every opportunity, in order reshape, adapt and gain feedback on your ideas and understand the likelihood of them succeeding. 

This blog was put together by Chris Steventon on behalf of the Midlands International Group.