More than a quarter of student businesses are launched at uni

After starting uni, over 450,000 student businesses are planned or launched, with their enterprises collectively generating revenues of £1bn a year

How many university students in the UK start student businesses

Over a quarter (26 per cent) (¹) of students currently run or plan to run a business whilst they are at university, according to new research from Santander Universities (²). Amongst those up-and-coming student entrepreneurs who have already launched a business, the average turnover is £11,408 per annum, equivalent to a collective £1 billion (³), a 32 per cent increase from the £913 million turnover recorded in 2016.

Technology-based solutions (27 per cent) and arts or crafts (17 per cent) are the most common type of student venture. These are followed by: clothing and textiles (nine per cent); administration and business services (nine per cent); tutoring (eight per cent); and charity, voluntary or social work (seven per cent).

The research, commissioned by Santander Universities to support the launch last month of their eighth annual Entrepreneurship Awards, reveals the most common reason for students to start a business or joint venture is financial motivation (60 per cent). This is followed by the desire to pursue a hobby or personal interest (59 per cent) and the intention to gain work experience (32 per cent). For one-in-four (23 per cent) students, the decision to start their own business was influenced by the need to pay off their student loan.

Students are aiming high, with ambitious plans for growth: 18 per cent of all student entrepreneurs expect their turnover to more than double over the next five years. The average expected increase in turnover in this time period is 68 per cent.

Matt Hutnell, Director of Santander Universities UK, commented: “Student entrepreneurs play a key role in shaping the UK economy now and will continue to do so in the future. It is encouraging to see that so many students are inspired to start a business whilst at university, from developing software to designing and selling clothing.

“We are continually impressed with the ambition and skills demonstrated by student entrepreneurs who are driven to create their own opportunities and successfully juggle running a business whilst also keeping up with their studies.”

‘Students are aiming high, with ambitious plans for growth: 18 per cent of all student entrepreneurs expect their turnover to more than double over the next five years.’

When asked about future plans for their business, 33 per cent of respondents expected to pursue it as a career when they graduate. Over half (52 per cent) said they would continue the business as a second job or hobby once they finish university, and nine per cent said the business would continue with guidance from others. Just four per cent said they would close it down.

Are institutions doing enough to encourage student businesses when starting uni?


The UK’s student community harvests powerful attributes of brain power, youth and dynamism. This is the perfect combination to turn a business from idea to reality. More than 450,000  student businesses are launched since starting uni according to santander business plan. However, when asked their opinion on the support and information provided to them on continuing their venture after graduation, over a third rated it as “OK, could be better”, and over a quarter responded with “very poor”.

Johnny Luk, CEO of the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs says “league tables often go by the amount of students who are working professionals within six months of graduation. Therefore those who launch their own business may not be recorded in those figures. Meaning some institutions have a heavier focus on employability over entrepreneurship”.

Luk explains whilst universities offer widespread support for student businesses and entrepreneurship to those who already have knowledge and ambition, more could be done to raise awareness of this option to those who are undecided or clearly have no knowledge.  “University Careers departments should play greater attention to highlighting self-employment and business management. This allows students to make a more informed choice about their future career path”.

In recent years resources and support available to student business start-ups has grown, Santander start up business loan and University of Leeds Year in Enterprise, are just to name a few entrepreneurial opportunities available to students, offering them the chance of year long work  placements and business start up fees covered. Outside of university, there are business courses and UK-wide initiatives such as Young Enterprise charity which helps students set up and run a business for an academic year offering all-round support and resources.

Best businesses to start UK

If you’re starting uni and hoping to launch a student business, here is a list of the Top 20 SME ideas from Young Entrepreneurs Forum. From this video you’ll learn that it takes more than business and entrepreneurship to get started, you’ll need passion and drive to influence others of the need for your unique business plan. Watch the video now:

To choose a business plan, start by identifying your passion. This will help you highlight a gap in the market.  As a beginner, areas of interest to research could be; Arts & Crafts, Agriculture, Import & Export, Internet, Technology or Travel.

To ensure you’re ready to start a student business, be clear on your answers for the following questions:

  1. Are you prepared? Have you research the market & have relevant skills required
  2. Do you need a specific amount of money for this start up? Have you researched loans and incubators?
  3. Have you established a team? Is this a solo project?
  4. Have you designed a strong business plan? This could be reviewed by a tutor at uni
  5. How is your business idea distinct from others? Is there a gap in the market? Will you need to acquire many new skills?

Santander start up business loan


The Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards support and encourage university students and recent graduates to pursue their business ideas by rewarding the best with cash prizes, mentoring and start-up support. Since the awards were launched, Santander Universities has provided more than £340,000 in support for budding student entrepreneurs, and given universities the chance to showcase entrepreneurial talent from across the UK.

Last year’s winners, BellaMoon®, from Queen’s University Belfast, and Jenny Evans Designs, from Cardiff Metropolitan University, were selected from a shortlist of 12 entrepreneurial projects.

Irene Breen, the founder of BellaMoon®, which provides multifunctional baby products, and up-and-coming textile artist Jenny Evans, founder of Jenny Evans Designs, were awarded top prizes of £20,000 and £25,000.

The 2018 awards are divided into the following categories: A winner and runner-up for technology businesses; a winner and runner-up for non-technology businesses; and a recently introduced prize for the entry that has the greatest social, community or environmental impact. The National Final will take place in October 2018.

For more information on the 2018 Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards, please visit:

1. According to the latest HESA Data, there are 1,766,285 full time undergraduate students in the UK. The research shows 26% of students have already started a business, or are planning to do so – a figure of 459,234.

2. Research conducted by YouthSight, 1st – 11th January 2018 amongst a UK representative sample of 2,030 full time undergraduate students.

3. According to 2016/17 HESA Data, there are 1,766,285 full time undergraduate students in the UK. The research shows 6% of students have already started a business, with an average turnover of £11,408 per year. £11,408*(1,766,285*6%) = £1,208,985,616.

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