Students and graduates are often amongst the best entrepreneurs – they have the drive and energy to start a business, with their place of study behind them to help. In the first of our new series, we’ve caught up with Greg McClarnon, former University of Hertfordshire student and founder of Splaat Media. Read his story below.
Would you be able to give us a brief overview of the business?
The business is called Splaat Media, and we do three different kinds of photography. The first type of photography is where we work with about 900 different schools a year. We go in and take photos of their school drama and dance performances, and set up a really arty display of photographs we take at the performances. The parents, when they come in, get to look at the photos of the performances and purchase from us. We then post out the photos to the parents and take all the aggro of doing that away from the school in a really attractive and creative way.
The next service that we operate is a live sports photography service, which is where we attend live sports tournament events and take photos of the participants, and we work doing this out of our Splaat Media van. The parents can then come over to the van and pick up a tablet computer that runs our Splaat Media photo app. They can view and order any photographs they like of their children at the event, and then in the van, we’ve got printers. We print out the photos, frame them for the parents, give them away and they can walk away from the event with a permanent memory of their child’s achievement.
The final kind of photography is corporate photography, so that’s where we attend staff parties, product launches, prize-givings and take photos of the guests and then print the photos with the event’s branding, so that could be logos, or titles. We print that onto the photograph as well, frame it and give it to the guests as a permanent memory of their time at the event or the party. They’re the three types of photography that we focus on.
How do you think university helped with the business?
University really helped me and I definitely would be nowhere near as far along as I am now had I not gone to university. It helped me in two main ways: the first way was the degree. I learned things in my studies that have helped the business. Some particular modules stood out, like the accounting module, the legal module, and a module on industry practice which all helped.
The second way, which probably helped more, is the support the university has given me. The University of Hertfordshire really pushes the fact it’s a business-facing university, so what they’re saying by that is that they’re giving you the skills you need for working life, and if you want to be self-employed they’ll support you with a range of different services, from office space to business mentoring. I’m also in the final of the University of Hertfordshire’s business competition, Flare and the result comes out on the 24th September. There’s £8,000 up for grabs as the first prize, and then a further £5,000 for two others.
They’ve also given me support to take on other students – I’ve got a placement with a student who started on Monday; she’s working for me for a year and last year I had a business student as well, so they work for me full time, full pay, and they’re students at the university so it’s just the extra support that they give me. As well as this, the office space is really helpful in particular.
Have you got any tips or advice for people who are, or are about to be, in your situation?
I’d say if you’ve got a business idea while you’re at university, don’t wait until you finish to practice with it or to try it out. Give it a go while you’re at university. Get yourself a website, get yourself a business card and practice selling and see if your business will take off. If it does work, great, get procedures in place and professionalise the operation a little bit more, but I’d say the important thing is just to test it and see if it initially works. It’s particularly important to do that whilst you’re still at university so that if the business takes off and it’s a success you can go straight into it rather than searching for graduate employment, which I know is tough.
What I managed to do was work on my business while I was at university and get it to a stage where, when I graduated, I could continue working on it without having to search for a job to subsidise the business, so I could get it to a stage where I could sustain myself.
To any university students who want to start a business; I’d say absolutely just go for it. Again, you’ve got your student loan coming in, so you don’t have to rely on the business to give you an income. You can be as creative as you like and try lots of new things without the pressure of having to pay your bills at the end of the month because your student loan helps you do that.