From ethical coffee to ethical benchmarking and from political debate to the world’s healthiest ice cream, the entrepreneurial talents of the University of York’s graduates are as diverse as they are impressive…
With different backgrounds, from different disciplines and with different bright ideas, University of York alumni are making their mark in all kinds of areas.
So what is it about York that spawns so many super-talented entrepreneurs?
As well as a nurturing, flexible study environment, it seems the support from York Entrepreneurs Society, York Careers and the University’s very own crowdfunding platform, YuStart are all helping students and ex-students launch their bright idea.
Meet three of the brightest sparks and find out how they used the tools at their disposal to turn their various and eclectic visions into reality.
Success story: Backbench
Sam Bright always wanted to study history, so when selecting his A-levels, chose economics and politics as complementary subjects.
It was the decision that would change his life.Now in his third year at York, Sam started Backbench when he was just 18. An online platform for young people to write about current affairs and discuss politics, it forms the backbone of his major passion.
“I was a minority when I studied my A-levels – a politically engaged teenager,” he said. “And I really wanted to find a place I could discuss issues, write about politics and exchange ideas. As there was nothing suitable, I decided to build it myself.”
The site now has over 100 writers, several politicians on board and attracts 50,000 unique users every year.
Completely self-taught, Sam took a crash course in web development and created the site using free software.
“I wanted to give an alternative to the spin doctored and corrupt catchphrase driven politics. Young people aren’t politically engaged and it seems it’s a while off before the government will look at political education so we need to take it into our own hands.”
It seems Sam judged it well as the site took off almost immediately.
“It was an opportunity to amalgamate the digital platforms we all use with politics and,
with support from the UK Youth Parliament, it quickly snowballed.”
Now with a six person voluntary editorial team, and the development of an Election Hub, Sam is looking forward to ploughing more time into the site after graduation.
“My goal is to put all my energies into the site for the rest of 2015, with a view to making
it sustainable. This is just the start.”
Read our extended interview with Sam here: A fresh approach – Sam Bright
After studying for a year in the Netherlands, and being impressed by the ethical and independent coffee culture, alumna Bethan (History, James, 2013) had an idea.
“I wanted to bring that ethical model over here,” she explained. “It struck me that there were very few chain stores and lots of independent places selling high quality products, with the provenance clearly on show.”
With no clear idea of life after graduation, Bethan was persuaded to formulate a business plan after a visit to the Careers advice centre. One application for an Enterprise Internship later, she received a grant to put her idea into practice.
“The support from the University was key – I went to entrepreneur bootcamps and learned a lot.”
The upshot is Vincent’s Coffee, which is now an ethical brand supplying to local cafes and selling online.
“We’ll always stick to the independent route and stay fully ethical. In five years I want Vincent’s to be a brand that people recognise instantly as ethical and responsible.”
As if Vincent’s Coffee doesn’t keep her busy enough, Bethan is also growing the Bright Ethics brand. A responsible ethical benchmarking accreditation for UK businesses, Bright Ethics was already in place before Bethan came on board.
“A lot of R&D and set up went into Bright Ethics and I jumped at the chance to get involved.”
Bethan and her team invested in the Standard, simplifying and refining the process for companies to become ethically accredited. Covering all aspects of business, from tax through HR to procurement and environmental issues, Bright Ethics is a brand Bethan intends to bring to the forefront of consumers’ minds.
“We want to be the most recognised robust standard out there,” said Bethan. “At the moment our clients are mostly public sector and SMEs and we’ve ensured the model can be scaled up or down as necessary. Our goal is to get a really major brand on board within the next five years.”
Read our extended interview with Bethan here: A fresh approach: Bethan Vincent
Studied: Applied Social Science
Success story: Oppo Ice Cream
It may seem a leap from majoring in Criminal Justice to creating the world’s healthiest ice cream, but that’s the journey alumnus Charlie Thuillier (Applied Social Science, Vanbrugh, 2011) found himself on.
And it was a different kind of journey that sparked the whole idea off.
“Between graduation and starting my new role, I wanted one last adventure,” he explained. “So my brother and I decided to travel across 1000km of Brazil using kite buggies.”
With no experience, limited preparation and a lack of supplies, Charlie found himself turning to local superfoods to keep up his strength.
“I felt so much better eating local produce, and it sparked an idea about using pure, natural ingredients in convenience foods at home.”
After 12 months of working and researching the potential of superfoods and processed foods, Charlie quit his job and landed on brother Harry’s sofa.
“I had no money, no funding and no branding but by then I knew that it had to be ice cream.”
Undeterred by circumstances, Charlie secured a government grant to work with a food lab to study ingredients at a molecular level.
“I wanted to find out how we could replace and replicate the things that make ice cream taste good, with the things that are really, properly healthy.”
After a number of setbacks, including a cracked factory pipe ruining £8,000 worth of precious product, Charlie turned to his alma mater.
“I pitched for an Entrepreneur Prize from the University and thankfully won.”
The three grand funding represented Charlie’s last ditch attempt to make his dream happen.
And it worked. By 2013, he’d cracked the product and the flavours and negotiated a deal with Waitrose and Ocado.
Today, four flavours of Oppo Ice Cream are in stock at 118 Waitrose stores and the company has six full time employees.
Eschewing obvious advertising in favour of guerrilla and viral tactics, Charlie made sure Oppo Ice Cream was the fastest-funding food and drinks brand on crowdfunding platform Seedrs, blasting through to 300k in record time.
“We’re going to continue to do things our way,” he said.
And it’s clearly paying dividends, as Oppo has been shortlisted for the Guardian Start-up of the Year.