Loughborough graduates are among the most sought-after in the country. Our most recently available data shows that 95% were in employment or further study within six months of graduation.

What this very satisfying stat doesn’t reveal is the number of graduates who have taken the brave and exciting step of establishing their own business. Over the years, many companies, including numerous household names, have been launched by Loughborough graduates – Candy Kittens, Joseph Joseph, and Shazam.

Charlie Wheeldon, Head of the Loughborough Enterprise Network (LEN), explains why she thinks so many Loughborough graduate start-ups succeed: “We give people the confidence, support and skills they need right from the start. And, as their business grows, we continue to deliver appropriate ongoing support – be that via training, funding opportunities or a business base.

“LEN provides a great enterprise ecosystem – nourishing businesses throughout the start-up journey.”

Nurturing bright ideas

Two recent graduates’ tech start-ups are already making waves in their respective industries – and providing great employment opportunities for other graduates and students. They are also a great illustration of how the University supports its student and graduate entrepreneurs.

Alex Nash and Chris Ruddock graduated in 2016 with First-Class Honours in Product Design Engineering. During their final year, they both took advantage of the opportunities provided by the LU-MIT Entrepreneurship Exchange programme, honing their business acumen and refining their product ideas.

Early recognition of their potential came from the University’s business idea competition which offered funding and business mentoring. In 2018, the competition was replaced by the LEN Start-Up Fund which has already supported 30 student and graduate entrepreneurs – including Alex Nash.

As Charlie Wheeldon explains: “The Fund offers fledgling businesses the chance to secure start-up funding of up to £5,000 for business development costs. What’s more, all applicants can take advantage of our support to put together a strong pitch and deliver it effectively. So, as well as providing essential early-stage capital, the Fund offers valuable coaching in successful pitching.”

Making space for young businesses to flourish

The next step for graduate start-ups – the Studio – provides access to the resources, expertise and knowledge needed to transform a business idea into a sustainable, successful venture.

Since 2011, the Studio has supported more than 50 businesses, dozens of which are now registered and trading. Between them, they have helped to create over 80 jobs, 20 or so internships and almost 70 volunteering opportunities.

Pete Hitchings, Incubator Manager, says: “Studio members are a core part of the University’s new Incubator – based on the University’s Science and Enterprise Park (LUSEP) – which is also home to spin-outs and spin-ins from the wider community, including the University’s academics and researchers.

Providing room to grow

Alex Nash and Chris Ruddock launched their respective businesses – Alcuris and INCUS Performance – in LUSEP’s Advanced Technology Innovation Centre (ATIC). Neither is a solo venture anymore, having created 25 highly skilled technical jobs, including placements for several students. This combined workforce is set to exceed 30 by the end of 2019. And, as they’ve grown, they have simply increased their ATIC office space.

Outstanding potential

In June 2019, the University recognised Alex and Chris’ achievements at its annual Enterprise Awards, presenting both with a special Outstanding Potential Award.

As their companies continue to develop and grow, Dr Jen Fensome – the University’s Director of Research and Enterprise – acknowledges that: “Alex and Chris’ thriving businesses are very much part of the dynamic innovation community that spans LUSEP and the University, strengthening the regional economy.

“We are proud that they have both taken full advantage of the opportunities on offer and thrived. They’ve both achieved so much, and are giving back to the University by basing themselves here – creating some great employment opportunities for our students and graduates. As they continue their journey, we’re closely following their progress – and wish them every success.”

At the end of November, the University’s support of graduate businesses – part of its campus-wide enterprise ecosystem – was recognised by the THE Awards which named Loughborough, “Outstanding Entrepreneurial University”.

On the photo: Alex (left) and Chris receive their Outstanding Potential Awards from Jen Fensome (Director of Research and Enterprise) at the University’s annual Enterprise Awards in 2019