Author Bio: Rosa works in Business Development at Parkinson’s UK, helping to manage their corporate communications, and also contributes to various blogs. She worked at Amnesty International and has held several events management roles across the private and public sectors, before moving into marketing and communications.

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Have you got a business idea in the back of your head that won’t go away? It may not seem like it when you’re unemployed and living at home once again, but post-graduation is one of the best times to launch a startup. You’re young, relatively free of responsibility and you have more time than you’ll probably ever have again to devote to your new business. And with graduates continuing to face a highly competitive job market, finding alternative and creative routes into the workplace is an increasingly popular option.  Whether you’ve just graduated, or are already thinking about your options while at university, we’ll take a look into starting up to help you decide whether this should be your career direction, and give you some useful tips to get started.

Is the startup world for you?

The life of an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, and it’s important to think carefully before making the leap. If you’re looking for a stable 9 to 5 role, starting up your own business probably won’t suit you. It’s a risky career, especially at the beginning when you’re trying to get your idea off the ground, and you’ll need to be dedicated and passionate enough to put in those extra hours.

But if you want a career that’s consistently exciting and challenging, it delivers in spades.  And the potential rewards of success are unlimited – just take Innocent smoothies for an example. Running your own business comes with far more responsibility than taking on a graduate scheme as you are in charge of all the important decisions. It’s a steep learning curve but it’ll give you a wealth of experience in management that most people won’t gain until much later in their careers.

Get a head start at university

You don’t need to wait until after you graduate to begin planning your start up career. In fact, the campus environment could be the perfect place to flex your entrepreneurial muscles. With so many people studying different disciplines, it’s a great place to start networking. It should be easy to find someone with any skill that you need, from tech to design. Most universities also have an entrepreneurship society that can give you a taster of the challenges of setting up a startup. They enable students to develop their ideas in a supportive and helpful environment, as well as to make useful contacts.

The National Consortium of University Entrepreneurs (NACUE) is a national organisation that brings together university entrepreneurship societies, and also organises a programme of events and competitions to help students to develop their skills. Many universities also run incubator units, which are specially designed to support and nurture the best entrepreneurial talent.

Get a mentor

Getting advice from someone who has been through the whole process and knows the pitfalls is invaluable. Reach out to any friends or family members who have started businesses, and look out for relevant events and conferences where you can expand your network of contacts. There are also opportunities to find a potential mentor at University – PhD students and professors are, after all, experts in their fields.  Contact your university career service to find out about alumni networks and see if they can put you in touch with any former students in a relevant field. The UK government even runs its own mentoring service, www.mentorsme.co.uk. It’s free and provides you with access to a network of quality-checked mentoring organisations.

Apply for a startup loan

Getting the funding you need to help get your business off the ground can be tricky, but there is support available. The government’s Start Up Loan scheme was set up to encourage more young entrepreneurs. Backed by Sir Alan Sugar, it is open to anyone over the age of 18, provided that you can show you have a feasible business idea. It has a budget of over £130m, and previously individual startup loans of up to £25,000 have been approved.

Some universities and their Innovation Centres also run startup competitions for students who have a business idea, with cash prizes available for the winners.

Test out your product

Usability testing is an extremely important part of the development process for any new product. It’s when you give selected users (chosen from your target demographic) a prototype of your product and allow them to interact with it. Getting their feedback on how your product or service performs enables you to make improvements and enhance what you’ve got. It’s advisable to conduct these tests early on in development, as this enables you to spot and fix any major problems as soon as possible, potentially saving you a lot of time and money and avoiding future negative feedback.  Depending on your target market, university is a great place for conducting user testing; you’ve got a wide pool of people, many of whom could be easily persuaded to contribute with a promise of free food.

Starting your own business can seem daunting when you’re new to the working world, but as you can see, there are also so many opportunities for you to explore, and support at hand.  So if you’ve had a brilliant business idea that you’d like to make a reality, you don’t need to wait until graduation to begin your career.