More than 170 students and recent graduates from across the UK are set to launch and grow their own businesses after taking part in a ‘bootcamp’ run by a Dundee-based entrepreneurial support service.

Unpreneur created the free training programme to help young people coming out of university to navigate the tough job market as the unemployment rate continues to rise due to the pandemic.

The University of Glasgow is among eight universities across the four nations which took part in the pilot scheme, which aims to encourage self-employment and provide a “valid alternative to a traditional graduate job”.

Following the success of the bootcamp, Unpreneur – which offers advice to young businesses – is outlining plans to expand the event to include more universities and in-person delivery next year.

Participants attended six weekly workshops which covered a range of themes: develop the right mindset to run a business; finding customers; market products and services; setting goals through increased self-awareness; build and develop a team; making connections to gain advice and investment.

The Unpreneur Bootcamp was fully funded by all eight partner universities, which were: Sheffield Hallam University, Birmingham City University, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, University of Glasgow, University of Liverpool, University of South Wales, and University of Sunderland.

One business which has benefitted from the support of the inter-university bootcamp is Freedom in Waves – an activewear brand based in Northern Ireland.

As the harsh impact of the public health crisis on frontline workers became clear, full-time anaesthetic associate, Emma Hughes, founded the company to add a pop of colour to quality outdoor clothing, spread positivity and encourage people to “seek freedom outdoors”.

She said: “My goal is to create a positive, powerful and supportive community through our clothing design. The logo – a bold forward-facing arrow – conveys the powerful message to keep going. Wear it; and you inspire others to do exactly that. The intention is to use that vision of a stylish design incorporating forward direction to encourage everyone to keep going, even on days we feel we can’t.”

Freedom in Waves activewear. UNpreneur/Supplied

Kallum Russell, chief UNpreneurship officer at UNpreneur, co-founded the startup in 2017 to provide the entrepreneurial support he wished he’d received when he launched his own business after graduation.

He said: “The damage that the coronavirus restrictions have done to our economy means that it’s harder than ever for graduates to find employment. We know from previous experience that bringing together participants from a range of backgrounds and regions can help support and accelerate their business journey through shared learnings and collaboration. 

“As we build back better following the coronavirus pandemic, we need young companies with innovative ideas, who will create the jobs and wealth we need to rebuild our economy. We want to share the learnings we’ve built up over several years of running business incubators and enterprise training in universities, to help budding business owners learn the skills they need. These tricks of the trade can turn a good idea into a viable and thriving company.”

Darren Chouings, business incubation manager from the lead institution partner, Sheffield Hallam University, said: “We want to send a clear message to students and graduates that setting up their own businesses is a feasible and exciting option.

“Together with the team at UNpreneur, who are leaders in student enterprise, we brought together seven other universities across the UK to give students and recent graduates the skills and confidence they need to launch or grow their own companies. If you’ve got a great idea for a business and you get the right support then being your own boss is hugely rewarding and a valid alternative to a traditional graduate job. The workshops helped students and graduates develop the confidence and gain the skills needed to launch or grow a business venture.”

UNpreneur has worked with a variety of colleges and universities across the UK and overseas, supporting students and graduates “who are serious about starting a business here and now”.

It currently manages the incubator at Edinburgh Business School and runs a series of workshops and guest lectures on topics such as marketing, leadership and negotiation skills.