New business started every two hours at UK universities

New figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that university-launched companies are growing ever-more significant in terms of turnover, employee numbers, and investment attracted

Every two hours, a new business is started at a UK university.

That’s the headline finding from figures newly released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), detailing start-up and spin-off companies launched by students graduating between 2015 and 2019.

In that period, graduate start-ups turned over an estimated £3.6bn. More than £1bn was generated in 2018/19 alone, reflecting how the value of such companies has been growing year on year.

Commensurately, 2018/19 accounts for a third of the more than £1.1bn external investment received by graduated start-ups since 2014/15. The number of people employed by companies starting that same year was almost 30,000, a rise of over 30% compared to 2014/15.

“The fact that, on average, 12 businesses are born every single day at British universities, is a testament to the drive and creativity of students, and evidence that you do not have to wait to complete your studies to kickstart your career,” said Alistair Jarvis, chief executive at Universities UK.

“Our communities and our economy need these entrepreneurs now more than ever, as we recover from the effects of the pandemic.”


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Among the success stories is Fat Panda, the multimedia production company founded by University of Huddersfield graduates Nic Flatt, Stacey Powers and Sam Craggs.

“As a working class kid from Milton Keynes, I had no big dreams of running my own business before university, but it was there that I met people who not only shaped my career but every aspect of my life,” said Flatt, the company’s MD.

“The University of Huddersfield’s Enterprise team provided me with the knowledge, advice and financial support that gave me the freedom to turn my crazy idea into an established agency.

“I cannot stress how instrumental my uni experience was in helping me realise that an ‘unconventional’ career was perhaps more within reach that I thought. Universities are microcosms of creative talent and opportunity and they spark a curiosity and thirst for knowledge that never leaves you, whether you end up working for yourself or for someone else.”

Other recent examples of new businesses started by graduates include:

  • Yull – Founded by Westminster Business School alumni, Sarah Watkinson-Yull, the company is one of the only independent shoe brands manufacturing high heels in the UK
  • Livia’s – Boasting 15 employees and turning over more than £1m annually, University College London student Olivia Wollenburg began offering all-natural vegan treats after she was diagnosed with severe food intolerances
  • Chefiesta – Aston University’s Chukwudi Ononye’s company is two years old and providing free meals to frontline NHS teams during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Beryl – Makers of the ingenious Laserlight, which alerts road users to the presence of a cyclist by projecting a bike symbol onto the road ahead. It is available in more than 50 countries and has been adopted by London bike rental scheme, Santander Cycles
  • Magic PonyA start-up company based at Imperial College London, the company uses artificial intelligence to provide expanded data for images, and was bought by Twitter for around £120m

I had no big dreams of running my own business before university, but it was there that I met people who not only shaped my career but every aspect of my life – Fat Panda MD, Nic Flatt

While we might expect the pandemic to have a flattening effect on start-ups’ upward curve, certain sectors – food delivery services, for example, or online sales services – are thriving, and seemingly ripe for innovation from the next generation of businesspeople.

Whatever the future may hold, says Jarvis, support for new companies will continue:

“In a difficult job market, universities are committed to supporting students to help them become the next generation of entrepreneurs, working with local businesses to raise aspirations and to help support communities.”

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