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10 golden rules for international students thinking about starting a business in the UK

Mini's parked in Somerset House courtyard

The UK is known for the low cost of starting a business

There has never been a better time to start a business in the UK, and there are plenty of opportunities and resources available to you. But there is a lot to think about!

If you are on a Tier 4 Visa you will not be able to start your business while you are studying but effective planning will stand you in good stead for later. 

Here, Skye Robertson from StartUp Britain gives her essential advice.

1.  Do your research. If you have an idea for a business, the best thing you can do is to tell everyone about it and get their feedback. Is it a product or service that others would use often? Is it filling a genuine need or gap in the market? The best ideas are those refined through discussions with others. This is an important step: don’t skimp on the research.

2.  Take your idea to the enterprise department at your university or college. Tell them what you are planning and they can guide you in the right direction. Many universities and colleges have dedicated business support services especially for students. These services are often free, so do take advantage of their knowledge and connections – it may open many doors for your new business. You might want your institution to sponsor you later for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa so it’s worth keeping them updated about your business ideas. 

3.  Speak to the entrepreneurs’ or enterprise society at your institution. This is a great way to tap into a peer network with similar entr epreneurial aspirations to you. And you will probably meet potential co-founders, employees or business connections that will be invaluable to your company in the future.


Remember to use the experience within your institution (Photo ©StartUpBritain)

4. Need a visa? If you have a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK the requirements to switch to a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa are not overly complex. You can be sponsored by a college or university which is on the list of authorised endorsing bodies or check if the Sirius Programme, which is run by UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) is accepting applications. Find out about other visa options for students who want to work in the UK here.

Your university or college’s International Student Services should be able to advise you on what you need to do to apply. Remember that these things take time! Plan ahead so that you aren’t trying to get everything done at the same time as your final exams or dissertation deadlines.

Your university or college’s International Student Services should be able to advise you on what you need to do to apply. Remember that these things take time! Plan ahead so that you aren’t trying to get everything done at the same time as your final exams or dissertation deadlines.

Read more:

   •  Graduate entrepreneur stories: Find out what it's really like!
   •  Guide to business and management courses in the UK

   •  Search for scholarships to start your studies

5. Plan, plan, plan. This may sound like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised how many people fail to plan ahead. You can save yourself a lot of stress by thinking through the first year of your business, and anticipating any problems you might run into. How will you support yourself while you get your business off the ground? On a Graduate Entrepreneur Visa you will be allowed to work (except as a doctor, dentist or professional sportsperson) to help fund your fledgling business, so make sure you take this into account. The number of hours a week you can work is unrestricted. 

Read up on business planning, and visit websites like startups.co.uk for guidance to help you get started.

6.  Get started! Once you’ve decided that you’re going to stay and start a business in the UK and you’ve begun the visa process, it’s time to start developing your business. While you can’t officially register a company while on a student visa, you can start to build a following so that you’ll hit the ground running once your visa is in place. Work on your branding, start social media accounts and start talking to potential suppliers and customers: this will mean you’re in a good position once your company is registered.

7.  Attend start-up events. There are lots of start-up events across the UK, so wherever you are, you can find some to attend. Sign up to your local Startup Digest to keep up with events happening in your area, and start networking! You can meet incredible business contacts at events, and learn from others’ mistakes: you will gather experience there much faster than you would have on your own.

Even if you feel a bit nervous, do try to put yourself out there: bring a friend and give it a go. Being an entrepreneur is about putting yourself out there and trying something new, and you’ll find that the entrepreneurial community is incredibly welcoming.

8.  Approach a mentor. Good mentors are like gold – they can help you and your business thrive and give you access to their own valuable networks. If there is someone working in your field that you respect, send them an email and ask to take them out for a coffee. See if they would be interested in helping you as a mentor: you’ll be surprised how many will say yes! Your institution’s enterprise department may be able to give you a mentor; just make sure you get the right fit for you and your business.

9.  Think about funding. The UK is known for the relatively low costs associated with starting a new business, and it can be easy to start a business with limited resources. That said, you will need to think about how best to raise start-up capital. Can you borrow from family or friends? Would your business suit a crowdfunding campaign? Are you eligible for any grants or loans?

There are many ways to fund your business, so be sure to read up on your options and approach others who have gone down the same route for advice. You may be eligible for a loan from the government scheme Start Up Loans, but be sure you have all the facts and legalities checked before taking money from anyone.

You’d be surprised how far you can get by bootstrapping (starting with little capital, and building as you grow) and being creative.

10.  Have fun with it! Starting a business is hard work, but also incredibly rewarding. Enjoy the process; you’re doing something very brave. Remember to ask for help when you need it and to take one step at a time – sometimes the greatest opportunities come out of nowhere, so keep your eyes open and seize them as they come along.

For more tips, visit startupbritain.org which provides a host of guidance and information for those looking to start up in the UK.