During times of recession, among the redundancies there is often a corresponding increase in the number of new business start-ups, with many people turning unemployment into an opportunity to become self employed or realise a dream to start their own business. Small businesses are an essential part of the British economy – paying tax, National Insurance and VAT and contributing more than 49% of the UK turnover. 22.8 million people work in small and medium-sized firms – accounting for more than 59.8% of the private sector workforce.*
The importance of small businesses on the economy should not be underestimated. There are several agencies and schemes in the West Midlands and Black Country aimed at helping young people to fulfil their business aspirations. Many provide examples of success that make welcome reading, and help inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to give running their own company a go, particularly in the region’s traditional manufacturing and engineering sectors. Encouraging this new talent to stay in the region is vital for ensuring innovation and expertise for the future.
The Student Placements for Entrepreneurs in Education West Midlands (SPEED WM) project helps entrepreneurial students to set up their own businesses whilst they are studying. Successful candidates receive experienced mentoring support, tailored training, networking opportunities, access to incubation space and a small amount of financial support.
Peter Richards, took advantage of the SPEED programme to start up his first business whilst at the University of Wolverhampton with only £1,200 in savings and a slice of his student loan. He graduated in 2009 with a BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering and is currently running Armstrong UEN Ltd, which manufactures CNC milling and cutting machines. We asked Peter about his motivation, career to date, and future plans.
"Since I was small I have been interested in how things work. I was always taking things apart and putting them back together – manufacturing my own things from scratch: radio controlled cars, rockets and parts. I have always wanted to manufacture things and been fascinated about business. Working for someone else is something that I wouldn’t like to do; I will always be working for myself or for my own company creating something new."
Peter’s studies expanded upon his interest in engineering, and provided the opportunity to be part of the wider engineering community. They allowed him to gain recognition as an engineer through carrying out research projects and investigations into engineering problems.
By developing his understanding of advanced manufacturing techniques Peter was able to identify possibilities for new parts and products – an essential aspect of offering better products than the competition. Being at University also provided Peter with access to the SPEED programme.
"The SPEED programme helped me realise my aspirations by giving me the knowledge, understanding, advice and confidence I needed to start my business whilst at University. The early decisions I made with my business were the right ones – such as to start a Limited Company. I received tax advice and help with employing my first employee."
"Of course there have been risks involved – to secure a contract for some engineering design work I needed to purchase some expensive engineering software and borrow a small amount of money from the bank. This took some persuading, but about six months later I had paid the money back which was a great relief."
Peter is justifiably proud of his achievements, some of which would appear quite humble – such as taking on an office, or gaining ISO 9001 accreditation for his company. However, a true entrepreneur, he continues to look to the future.
"What drives me the most is that I am doing something that (although there are a lot of risks and sleepless nights) I am proud of. Creating something new and interesting, producing great innovative products, employing high numbers of people, and being a recognised brand/company in the markets we enter continues to motivate me."
Having experienced many of the challenges that starting up a business can bring; and successfully conquered them; what advice would Peter give to fellow entrepreneurs?
*Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) Statistics for the UK and Regions 2009, Oct 2010