What it’s like to be an entrepreneur

Each year the Careers Service can give up to £40,000 in funding to University of Bristol student and staff business ideas through the New Enterprise Competition (NEC) and Enternship Scheme. Some of our previous successful candidates have share their stories here.

Simmy Dhillon
Economics, Finance & Management student and founder of Rice n Spice (RNS)

Can you explain your business idea in a nutshell?
RNS provides healthy, tasty and convenient chilled meals to clients to save them time shopping, cooking and cleaning. We serve a lot of gym-goers and athletes but our meals are also used by all sorts of professionals, students and even grandparents!
When was the idea conceived and how did it all start?
I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial and given my passion for food and healthy living, everything just kind of fell into place. I started RNS during my first year at university to provide fellow students with a healthy takeaway option, it has since developed into a meal prep business with a far more diverse client pool.
Which competitions/schemes did you apply for and what was the result?
I successfully applied for the NEC development stage. I would like to apply for more competitions but applications require a lot of time which can be difficult to find alongside running the business and studying!
How have you found the Basecamp Enterprise Team programme and support?
The support from Basecamp has been great, being able to get advice from experienced people and funding from competitions is so valuable. Especially for students, we’re inexperienced and lack capital.
What top tip would you give other budding entrepreneurs?
Ship and iterate. It’s difficult to get your product perfect, I look back at photos of the product when I first began and I can’t believe how much it has improved since then. It’s important to get your product out there, seek feedback from users and continually improve it. If you’re not embarrassed by your initial product then you’ve probably waited too long to release it.


Ruth Bannister
History with Innovation student and founder of Roo Bannister Jewellery

Can you explain your business idea in a nutshell?
In a nutshell, I design and make pieces of jewellery inspired by Ancient World histories, to brings artefacts into the everyday and make ancient design both accessible and educational.
When was the idea conceived and how did it all start?
The idea was conceived in 2014 whilst I was studying for a BA in Ancient History and Egyptology at UCL. I would drool over treasures in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert, and I wasn’t the only one with my nose pushed up against the glass in the Louvre. I wanted more than to just look at the old gold, I wanted to touch the pieces, wear their adornments, and learn more about their past. I decided to make myself some jewellery inspired by some favourite artefacts, and then I decided that I wanted to fill the market gap I had discovered.
I’m studying History with Innovation, which means I’m  able to study things like the history of alcohol and take inspiration for my jewellery designs. I’m also studying silversmithing part-time at the Bristol Folk house and I am developing the future of my brand as part of my innovation coursework. I’m gaining credits for designing the future I want, and I love it.
Which competitions/schemes did you apply for and what was the result?
I applied for the University’s Enternship scheme and I was lucky enough to gain a place. After a mentor matching speed date session, I was matched with Danielle Morgan who comes from a marketing background and works as a consultant to many businesses including a fabulous independent shoe designer. I did a little happy dance when I got matched with Danielle, as she was the only female mentor in the room and she was just perfect for me. I knew we’d get on well and I’ve loved the support I’ve received from her. We’re still in touch even after the summer Enternship scheme.
The funding the university gave me has allowed me to make such positive progress this year. My obstacles right now are predominately financial but the financial support allowed me to pay my Bristol rent over the summer and keep my makings to pump back into the business to produce my collections, create samples and organise my first photoshoot.
I now sell online, I am stocked with with five UK independent retailers, with a few more organised for the coming months, and I had my first press feature in the September edition of AnOther Magazine. My name was alongside Dior, and I can honestly say without this support this wouldn’t have happened.
How have you found the Basecamp programme and support?
Basecamp have been great. I love my little meetings to catch up with the staff and get advise. They’re so genuinely excited and interested in what I’m trying to do. Their suggestions are always valuable and their ears have been open when my boyfriend is just bored of my jewellery talk. They’ve given me the encouragement to go for this, and I shall!
What top tip would you give other budding entrepreneurs?
Take opportunities wherever you can. I am so grateful for the Enternship scheme, but I also took the summer to do an enterprise course with PrincesTrust for additional support.
If you’re interested in starting something up, then maybe use your time at university to play with potential business ideas. Being at university is sort of a safe bubble to explore ideas and see what works. I have some free time and I have a student overdraft (which I exploit wisely!). It doesn’t take much money to get something started, and social media is on our side. Just play and explore, and see where it takes you!


James Nightingale
Engineering student and founder of Abon

Can you explain your business idea in a nutshell?
How many of the people that read this eat a nutritious meal every day? It’s embarrassingly few of us, we’re busy people and don’t necessarily have time or inclination to slave away in the kitchen every night. The ideal ready-meal is tasty, nutritious, cheap and quick to prepare. Currently, there isn’t one product that ticks all the boxes, and supermarket shelves are filled with uninspiring compromises. The solution is A Bag Of Nutrition (Abon), a frozen, vacuum sachet of curry or pasta sauce. Each sachet guarantees three of your five a day, is vegan, gluten free, preservative free, and can be prepared in less than five minutes. Just add the sachet to a pan of boiling water with your rice or pasta, snip it open and enjoy!
More and more people are recognising the benefits of a plant based diet, but being vegan can be really hard- our products are a shortcut to this healthier, more ethical lifestyle.
When was the idea conceived and how did it all start?
I first came up with the idea for Abon halfway through last year. It all happened by accident. I cooked too much pasta sauce and poured the surplus in to a freezer bag. I forgot about it, and then found it months later. Rather than thawing it out I impatiently added it to the boiling pasta water. Unfortunately, it resulted in a horrible mess- but got my creative juices flowing and resulted in Abon!
Which competitions/schemes did you apply for and what was the result?
I applied to the New Enterprise competition ‘ideas’ and ‘growth’ rounds, as well as the ‘Enternship’ programme. I received all of the funding I needed for initial product validation, market research, product development, public and product liability insurance, a website, brand development and many other overheads which I wouldn’t have been able to finance privately.
The support has been more than just financial. Basecamp provided office space at the Centre for Innovation over the summer, introduced me to a fantastic mentor who has been instrumental in Abon’s success, and provided the guidance and advice I needed, as someone not from a business background.
How have you found the Basecamp programme and support?
Basecamp has been invaluable for Abon. Early stage businesses outside of the University typically have to relinquish some equity early on at relatively poor rates, as the risk to investors is high. The grants from Basecamp have meant I can focus on developing an excellent product, growing the business sustainably and still owning 100% of the business. They also secured me tickets to various networking events, awards shows and workshops, all of which have helped me to become a more rounded entrepreneur.
What top tip would you give other budding entrepreneurs?
Just give it a go! The only way you can be certain your idea won’t work is if you don’t try. Startup success rates can be really intimidating, but from my point of view the rewards of running your own business justifies the risk.

I have an idea – could it turn into a business?

I have an idea but is it really possible to turn it into a business?

Many of you may have ideas of how to solve problems, make money or change the world for the better – but knowing how to turn those ideas into action can be the biggest barrier for many students. Rest assured it is possible and we are here to support you along the way.

So how can the Careers Service help? (more…)

Winning the Object Challenge- creative use of a split pin

By Jojo Dance and Hazel Welsh  

The Object Challenge was run at the Engineering&IT fair by the Basecamp team who help students improve their enterprise and entrepreneurial skills. Students were given one week to come up with a creative idea to add value to a split pin (traditionally used to hold paper together) and upload a 90 second video of their idea to YouTube.  

 Trying to come up with an idea that would give value to a split pin was a challenge. All our initial ideas were very obvious and weren’t creative enough to stand out. We struggled for some time trying to come up with a way to use/manipulate the item and then potentially ‘sell’ the item in the short video. But we found these ideas very limiting. So, we decided to try and think outside of the box to come up with a winning idea. After some thought, we realised that the presentation would be taking place on Halloween, so we decided to go with a Halloween themed object. This way we could have some fun with the concept, whilst also giving the split pin some added spiritual value. 

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Are You Set For Summer? Take our Careers Quiz

June 4th sees the launch of Before You Go Week, an intensive week of events, talks and individual appointments to help you make the most of the summer months – whether you are graduating, or coming back to the University in September.

We’d love to support as many of you as possible. Take our quiz to find out if you could benefit from coming in to see us before you go!

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Featured Q&A article with Bristol Entrepreneurs’ Society president, Joshua Greenidge.

Value Penguin, a price comparison website, approached the Enterprise team to find a great student representative of enterprise activity at UoB to do a Q&A interview with them. Joshua Greenidge, president of the Bristol Entrepreneurs’ Society (BES) seemed like the perfect person for the job and this featured article does him enormous credit.

Joshua Greenidge is studying Anthropology with Innovation and expects to graduate in 2020. Joshua first entered the University of Bristol in 2016 through the Foundation Year in the Arts & Humanities, a one-year program that is designed to enable a diverse group of students to enter university who may not have a traditional student profile.

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Alumni guest blog: Euan Mann (2003, Economics BSc)

Learn about Bristol graduate, Euan Mann; a soft commodities expert and business owner:

CCS Logo - Black

So you graduated from Bristol; what happened next?

In my final year I went through the selection process for a few graduate schemes and I realised that they didn’t feel quite right. I decided to apply for a Tropical Commodities Analyst role at a commodities trading house and was successful. The pay was lower than a typical grad scheme but the role sounded a lot more interesting. I was drawn to the prospect of regular travel and working in a smaller team with good one-to-one mentoring.

After a couple of years, I underwent intensive management training which involved working in New York, Brazil, Liverpool, London and Zurich for a year. I then relocated to work for a new trading division of the company based in New York before eventually moving back to London to head up a London office for the division.

What advice would you give your younger self at graduation?

Don’t worry too much and just give things a try. Nobody knows the perfect career path and any experience is beneficial. Don’t follow the money at graduation, developing yourself over the first two to three years is more important. Also, stay in touch with people from university; they will go on to succeed in amazing ways and can be an important network.

What advice can you give to newcomers to your industry?

Just try it. There are so many different roles within the commodities industry. There’s no formal course for soft commodities so you only learn by doing.

What does your current role involve?

In 2010 I set up my own business providing independent analysis in the cocoa and coffee markets. We supply major chocolate manufacturers and coffee roasters, as well as trading houses and commodity hedge funds.

At the moment we are a team of three – myself and two junior analysts. Around 60% of my time is spent on analysis of export figures, rainfall, temperature, exchange rates, corporate forecasts and trends, and communicating our analysis to our clients. Roughly 20% is managing my two colleagues, whilst 20% is managing our clients, marketing our services, as well as running the admin and accounts. I continue to travel regularly to West Africa, South America and SE Asia.
What do you most enjoy about your work?

I find soft commodities fascinating and I enjoy dealing with tangible products – everyone eats chocolate and drinks coffee. I also enjoy gathering and analysing information; it’s like a jigsaw puzzle and there are always surprises.

How did you make the decision to start your own business?

As a student I always wanted to be my own boss. I was drawn to the challenge of building something of my own and I enjoy being responsible for my own results. I work as a means to enjoy life and I appreciate the flexibility of being self-employed. I work hard but efficiently; focussed work rather than long hours – which is great as I now have a young baby and have been able to spend a lot of time with her and my partner over the last nine months.

What would you like to be doing in five years from now?

The same thing I’m doing now. I’m very happy.

We are currently looking to expand the team in order to provide an even better service to our clients. If you are interested in an opportunity as a Junior Soft Commodity Analyst, please apply either through CAS or at http://www.commodity-solutions.com/contact-us.html

Get more advice from Bristol alumni! Visit the Careers Network.