Ever thought about starting your own business? You could apply for funding to help get you started. Read about our students who have successfully applied for our ‘Try It’ and ‘Grow It’ funds.
James Johnson is Mechanical Engineering student and co-founder of Paradise Cycles. He has been the recipient of a QMUL ‘Try It’ award and was a recent finalist in the UnLtd Enterprise Award.
Briefly describe your business.
Paradise Cycles is a bicycle repair and custom building business that offers bicycle repairs and a custom building service, as well as repair tutorials, safety checks & maintenance advice for the citizen cyclists of east London and Queen Mary University.
Since conception the business has run a few dozen pop-up workshop sessions on campus, as well as continuing to restore and service bicycles for students and staff alike. During this period they have been developing their marketing strategies and online presence in an effort to extend their customer base and general impact.
Would your progress have been different if you hadn’t received the ‘Try It’ award?
Yes, without the funding we would not have been able to co-ordinate the pop-up workshop service at the start of the academic year, although it was thanks to the interest among the staff and relevant supporting bodies (mostly the Careers and Enterprise department) that we were able to operate on campus and reach the target market as successfully as we did.
What has the experience of setting up a business taught you?
The experience has taught me that setting up a business is rewarding work, but that it requires complete commitment throughout and a lot of due diligence to get to a position where the business model is strong enough to support further enterprise funding or private investments. There are very few shortcuts to help achieve the initial targets when setting up a new business.
Have you learned any new skills from the experience?
Yes this experience has required learning about every aspect of running a small social enterprise: basic accountancy and database skills, operations and marketing management, web developing and hosting, graphic design of marketing materials and social impact assessment skills.
What kind of support did you receive from the Careers and Enterprise Centre after you were given the award?
They were extremely helpful in arranging introductions with the appropriate Queen Mary staff while trying to arrange permission to operate on campus, as well as while exploring different ways to advertise the service to both students and staff. Both of which had positive outcomes and revealed new opportunities that may have not otherwise have been realised.
What are your future plans for the business?
I am currently refining the marketing tools we have in place (website, social media, flyers and stickers etc.), and consolidating all finances and assets in order to restructure our business model and write a business plan for implementation over the next few months. Taking into account both the rate of growth and social impact that the business has had, and can expect to achieve with continued operations, the plan will include renting a premises and taking on more overhead costs. Consequently, I plan to apply for multiple social enterprise and entrepreneurship awards or grants, as well as private investments, to enable the business to grow.
Would you recommend the Try It award to other students?
The “Try It” award is a great way to put an idea into action, even if it is on a very small scale. For me it provided not only the right amount of funding at the right time, but also the possibility to test the waters of self-employment while still studying, which has been an invaluable experience.