College sets up £150k fund to back students' businesses

The Ayrshire College Foundation sets aside £150,000 to support business ideas from students – as long as they finish their course

Student businesses at one Scottish college can now seek support from the institution's foundation

A Scottish college has set up a £150,000 fund to support students in setting up their own businesses. The Ayrshire College Foundation’s enterprising students fund offers grants of up to £5,000 for students at the college who are interested in developing ideas to start up their own business.

Students are mentored to create a business development plan, and can access support and advice with one-to-one sessions on campus. This, Ayrshire College says, is the first time a full-time enterprise programme executive has been based in a college.


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Judging panel

Four students have already received funding to support their business ideas, from selling promotional merchandise for bands worldwide, to offering entertainment to bars, clubs, hotels and hosting private events, to a photography and videography business.  

There are currently 97 students working on a business plan. Those who complete the plan to the required standard will go forward to a judging panel, and if successful, will be awarded grant funding.

Tracey Stark, chair of the Ayrshire College Foundation, said the foundation wanted to “use the money we have for tangible benefits for the students”.

The fund was for “students with great ideas who just don’t have the funding”, and was "giving them a leg up”, she added. “They come to us with ideas and then they work with Bridge to Business. The response has been phenomenal.”

Cultivating entrepreneurs

Successful bids are selected by a panel, made up of representatives from the college and Young enterprise Scotland's Bridge to Business scheme. The actual amount students receive depends on their business idea and the support required. Students then purchase the equipment the grant is intended for. 

And the process does not end there, Ms Stark added. “The intention is to have them come back to the college and present after three, six and hopefully 12 months, and feed back to our other students so we can share success stories.”

There is one condition, however: “It is open to all students, as long as they complete their course.”

Turning a hobby into business

Mother-of-three Sandra Laurenson, an HNC arts and design student, was the first to receive financial support from the college. She has turned her love for crafts into a business, making personalised pieces of embroidery based on people family or group pictures. “I make textile illustrations of people’s families or of a special moment in their life, like a wedding,” she said.

The business has been successful, with the items selling well via online shops, not just in Scotland but across the UK, Europe, and even in the United States. Recently, Ms Laurenson discovered that one of the pieces she had created had actually been a leaving gift for Ayrshire College’s principal when she departed her previous post.

“It was my lecturer who mentioned this money was available, but I didn’t think I was eligible because I thought I was too old," she said. "My lecturer persuaded me to meet with Bridge to Business. That was in February. They loved my business model and thought I had good time management skills and they loved how I had paid myself an hourly rate in my business plan. They said they couldn’t wait to see what happens next.”

With the funding, Ms Laurenson, who named her business Jolly Well Made, has bought a sewing machine, which will allow her to scale up production. “It will increase my ability to creatively design and also batch produce and I am just awaiting delivery,” she said. “Without the support, I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am now. It has opened avenues for me.”

 

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