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One difficulty facing student entrepreneurs is space. Having an office for many wouldn’t be a consideration. They are expensive, for starters. Furness JCR manages an initiative to tackle this issue and provide students with the office space and resources to help their businesses materialise. ‘Mind Your Own Business’ is a competition which gives students the opportunity to acquire office space on campus as a base. The initiative is one of Furness’ “main priorities for the year”. The outgoing Furness College Education and Opportunities Officer, Sham Savania, has managed the programme and has this year has been preceded by Eilidh Nicol.
“If you have an idea about enterprise or a business, you can apply to the competition for a chance to get one of the two incubator spaces,” says Sham. The incubator spaces are fully equipped with a Mac and whiteboards, with Trevor just across the courtyard. Anybody can apply, not just Furness students. As Nicol adds: “we want to reach it out to the whole university.” Whoever wins the space will be able to use the office for the term, and then applications will be reopened for the following term, to ensure that incoming applicants have a fair chance. Savania notes that “no one gets fast tracked. No one gets priority over anybody.” The programme has proved a huge success so far, with several students who have utilised the offices during their time at Lancaster further expanding their companies after they graduate.
When asked what they will be looking for in a candidate, Eilidh Nicol tells us that: “I don’t think you can say certain characteristics to look for, because what is so good about the opportunity is letting everyone try and come up with an idea and get involved. We want people who are going to be motivated and use the space effectively because it is such a good opportunity for them. It just needs to be clear that they are dedicated and serious about it. That’s all we need, along with a good idea.” The business should have some sort of infrastructure. “If they’ve got the idea, we are able to point them in the right direction. Especially last term, there were some people who we were able to forward them on to other people and they may be able to come back to us this term when their idea is more developed. We want people to be able to use the office space as effectively as possible. The foundations of the business have to be there.”
Savina adds: “when we decide [the winner], we have to look at who would benefit from having the offices the most.” Once the two successful applicants have been selected, they will be given further support, including assistance in finding funding and referrals to members of staff, such as the University Enterprise Champion Simon Harrison, who can provide support and guidance for students building businesses.
There are three stages to the process. Initially, prospective applicants should send an email to the Education and Opportunities Officer. They will then receive some more information on the competition itself and access to people who have already had the chance to use the office space, to give them a greater insight into the opportunity. Following this there is an interview stage. So far, everybody who applied has had the chance to interview. On the process, Savania says: “it’s laidback and professional, it’s not Dragons Den professional. We try to make sure everyone is at ease and relaxed.” To make sure the applicants are prepared, the judges will make sure that “any help you want, you can come to use and we can talk about it.” Once the interviews are complete, the Education and Opportunities Officer groups together with the Furness Principal, JCR President and the Furness Administration Officer select the two winners. Workshops will be held later this term, which are still to be confirmed, to get more people involved. Applicants should attend at least one of the workshops. This again goes back to “showing commitment to the programme,” says Savinia, as well as making sure all applicants have a fair chance. People can start applying from Week 8 and interviews will take place before the end of term.
More information on the competition is available on the ‘Mind Your Own Business’ Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MYOBFurness. If you have questions about the competition, or wish to enter into the application process, Eilidh Nicol, Furness’s current Education and Opportunities Officer is the person to talk too, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.