The benefits of setting up a business as a student

Two students who received funding from the Santander Entrepreneurship Awards share the inspiration behind their businesses and how they set them up 

October 14 2019
Lauren_Cosi Care

Lauren Bell, Cosi Care 

Cosi Care is a business that focuses on helping families manage skin disease. Approximately one in five children have eczema and 15 million people in the UK have it. This figure has tripled in the last three decades. Itching is one of the main symptoms, and when children scratch their skin it makes the condition worse and can lead to permanent scarring and infections.

Our business is focused on creating products that offer instant cooling relief to children in pain and offer a safe alternative to scratching with a textured bump plate. Cosi Care Instant uses patented technology which enables the product to go cold at the touch of a button. Cosi Care Ice uses refillable ice packs to cool the textured plate.

The business stemmed from personal experience with eczema. My younger brother Rhys has had a severe form since the age of three and I have had a mild form. Scratching was always a big issue for us as children and my parents would try everything to try and manage it.

I studied product design at Brunel University London and for my final major project I had to solve a problem through the use of good design. I decided to dedicate my project to solving this problem for my brother, and during my research I realised this was also a big issue for millions of other families. After university, I was then chosen for the Central Research Laboratory’s accelerator scheme where I was able to develop my hardware and business.

I then won a number of competitions and the initial seed funding from Santander and the Mayor of London propelled us onto the next stage of the journey. Through these channels I met a Dragon from the TV show Dragon's Den and we are now in discussions on developing a partnership and working together alongside his team to take the product to market within the next six months.

Running a business is extremely challenging and you have to become very comfortable very quickly with taking risks. The biggest challenges I found were working as a sole founder for a number of months and having the confidence in working alone on something that was just a concept at the time. I was offered a design role at Jaguar Land Rover that I decided to decline to pursue this venture. This was a big decision I had to make, especially as a graduate designer.

The advice I would offer to any students that are considering starting their own business is to go for it wholeheartedly. If you genuinely believe in your idea, if there’s a market and demand for what you are offering (that extends further than your friends saying it’s a great idea), it is worth taking the risk. 

You have to invest a lot of time (and money) on your own business at the start. Try and prioritise what you spend money on, be really smart with the funds you have and don’t waste it on things that will not help you progress to the next level. Don’t spend £1,000 on developing a website if you have nothing to sell yet. Don’t spend on a fancy office space if you have one employee. It’s all about working out what is essential to the success of the next milestone you are trying to achieve.

There is no one route to building a successful business. At the start people will be reluctant to help, your emails may be ignored and you may feel like it is an uphill struggle. Keep going, credibility takes time and you need to work hard on building relationships with those in your industry that will help you on your journey. Your network is the most valuable asset you will have at the start, so attend events, meet people, talk to those in a similar space. You never know who you will meet, it could be someone that will completely transform your business. 


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George Winfield, Spyras 

The only thing that mattered to me when I started my masters at Imperial College London was to get a good grade. My research was to tailor a novel technology that uses paper sensors to monitor breathing, and, if possible, to find a practical application for this that could have a genuine impact. It seemed like a tough task, especially since breathing is such a difficult vital sign to monitor. It has more impact on our general health and well-being than you can imagine. 

In a hospital setting, best practice is for breathing rate to be manually monitored and counted. This is an entirely unreliable exercise, which is unfortunate given that an elevated breathing rate is one of the earliest indicators of sepsis. Sepsis is a condition that, once it takes hold, kills at a rapid rate and overall claims more victims than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined in the UK. Spyras was founded to meet the need for better respiratory analysis and the need to identify this fatal condition at the earliest possible stage.

In the course of researching my thesis, I learned that identifying a faster breathing rate in the cases of sepsis patients has the potential to save over 5,000 lives annually in the UK and over £200m in direct treatment costs alone by preventing intensive care admissions from lower-care hospital wards. We applied to test our new business idea at the NatWest business accelerator and ended up winning it. Then, I was fortunate enough to win a research grant worth £68,000 in addition to the £5,000 from NatWest. 

Before finishing my master’s, we had a chance to try our ideas out and now, a year later, we have raised over £400,000 in grant and award funding. Now we have a chance to begin formalising our ideas and to bring this game-changing innovation to the world, with business and clinical partnerships that have crossed over into Europe and the US. We are a young company, learning as we go and one which is determined to make a difference, one breath at a time. All with just a piece of paper.

Read more: Starting a business at university

 

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