Biotechnology with Enterprise student William Setra has used knowledge gained from his CEES modules (Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies) and his Spark-awarded scholarship to gain the funding, connections and experience to launch his own corporate social responsibility business.
Discovering opportunities through Spark
William first heard of the student start-up support service, Spark, when he attended the University of Leeds on an open day. When he had an idea for a business during his first year of study, he knew who to contact and attended a workshop hosted by Spark on campus.
‘I did a lot of sailing alongside my studies in my first year, so I must admit I didn’t progress my business idea too far,’ says William. ‘But I was studying the enterprise part of my degree through CEES, and on the Spark mailing list, when I heard about the Enterprise Scholarship awards scheme. The opportunity sounded great, and I’d gained relevant knowledge through the CEES Starting Your Own Business and New Enterprise Planning modules. So I entered by submitting a presentation and a short write-up about my business idea: what it was, where I’d like to take it, and why I felt I should gain scholarship. I passed the first stage, and was invited to present my business idea in front of a Spark Leadership panel. They awarded me the grant and I used it to launch my business, Beyond Bees.’
Combining biotechnology and enterprise
Beyond Bees offers beekeeping management services to restaurants, hotels and offices with rooftop space to increase their company’s corporate social responsibilities. ‘I’d always wanted to study enterprise as part of my course at university, and wanted to do something using my biotechnology knowledge,’ explains William. ‘I’d been considering how businesses could be more sustainable and renewable, so I looked into the urban beekeeping market.’
William admits he had no personal beekeeping experience, but spotted a real emerging trend. His Innovation & Creativity in Business and Entrepreneurship in Theory and Practice modules gave him greater knowledge of business budgets, which he could apply to his business idea.
As part of my enterprise modules, I’d been discovering how businesses’ corporate social responsibility budgets could be used to help wider communities rather than solely their own business goals
William explains. ‘My idea for a corporate beekeeping service helps businesses improve sustainability in a way that’s easy, and surprisingly accessible. If they have the hosting space, we offer consultation, installation and maintenance of two or three beehives, and extract honey that can be labelled with company branding.’
Growing networks through Spark
Enterprise and Entrepreneurship education at the University of Leeds has given William a great framework to understand how businesses are built. It’s also provided him with a wide network of contacts and support.
‘The wider CEES and Spark networks are incredible,’ William says. ‘They always know someone within your business industry who you can talk to, and have helped me build great partnerships. For example, they’ve connected me with a local student beekeeper, linking us up because we both entered business plans on similar subjects. CEES and Spark have also helped boost my business’ pre-trading state, and I’ve gained new clients in Leeds such as John Lewis and Harvey Nichols.’
William has also attended virtual enterprise bootcamps. ‘Current and former scholars have given presentations about their career paths,’ he explains. ‘I’ve learnt so much from them, and the events have given me the chance to network with others in similar situations and share ideas.’
Furthering opportunities with grant funding
William received his £3,000 grant at the end of 2020, alongside access to Spark mentors and his own office space. He’s used the funding to contribute to business, set-up costs, such as building and hosting his website, which would have been inaccessible without the Spark grant. He’s also been able to buy beekeeping equipment, suits and hives and book a place on a local beekeeping course.
As well as the practical support, William credits the grant approval process for increasing his confidence to take his business forward. ‘Explaining my ideas and interests in a presentation helped me overcome the mental barriers to sharing my thoughts,’ he explains.
Having someone validate my proposals, and back me to progress them, has given me a real boost to just go for it.
‘Spark has been incredible at providing ongoing support whenever I’ve needed it,’ William continues. ‘If I want to get in contact with someone specific, or have a question about how to do something, or how to do it better, I always get a response that gives me the advice I need. And if I’m not getting in touch with Spark, there’ll always be someone there checking in on how I’m doing and seeing what support they can provide. It’s invaluable.’
After graduation, William plans to progress Beyond Bees, continuing to work with his fellow student beekeeper and keep his affiliation with the University of Leeds, talking to people about beekeeping and how he can support new students working with Spark.