Not all students graduate to pursue a career. Some set up their own ventures. Cardiff University nurtures early student ideas through a Student Enterprise pipeline that offers advice and insight to help the business grow. This year, three of the four finalists in the graduate category of the Wales Start-Up Awards have grown through Cardiff’s Enterprise and Start-Up scheme. Here, Mohamed Binesmael explains why he founded Route Konnect – a company developing sensors to detect and process real-time traffic information – and reflects on why success rarely happens overnight.
‘Graduation! What a day. The start of a new era for you! Some will tell you to enjoy the next few months before the decades long slog of a “career”. But why does that have to be a slog? Deep inside, I knew I didn’t want to subscribe to that mentality.
The graduate career versus further academic study is often the usual discussion. However, two other options you may have not considered are developing a business, or freelancing.
Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to explore three of these paths. During my final year in 2017, I had the opportunity of developing a concept as far as The Telegraph STEM Awards finals. That kickstarted my interest in making the concept a reality.
After graduating in 2017, I decided to pursue further study with a PhD. You often hear about all these founders that left for their business. At the time, I could not envisage that this would ever happen to me. I felt that I would continue the PhD to the end.
Taking the business fulltime was in a way forced on me after I had persisted with applications to competitions and accelerators whilst focusing on my PhD in 2018. One of these accelerators happened to be organised by the Dubai Government, and we were invited out there for two months.
This of course meant I had a clash. And you’ll face these difficult decisions too if you’re keen on pursuing a different path. Thankfully, the university was really supportive of me, and the decision in my supervisor meeting boiled down to whether I paused for three months, or a full year.
I went for that full year because I was really keen to explore the opportunity to its fullest. I’m still in the middle of that year out. Of course, this poses its own difficulties, and during my time at Dubai, I had been made aware of the huge benefits of freelancing.
How to Do It Right
Running a business can be boiled down into two key elements. You need to find customers, and you need to build a minimum viable product for those customers. This process is difficult and may need you to pivot on your assumptions and approaches many times.
The way you test if you’re going down the right path, is by continuously pitching at small competitions and events, applying to competitions, and gathering constant feedback.
That process of experimenting however means that you’re not necessarily making money from the business just yet. At least not anything that’s stable compared to a graduate job or funded research. Accumulating savings before taking the plunge with the business, or dabbling in freelancing could help provide that stability whilst not committing to a rigorous schedule of a job.
The key aspect with freelancing, is to hone in on a skill that’s not only highly sought after in the market, but also one you enjoy. I personally love making presentations for people and writing about technology. For you, it could be website designs, graphic designs, forms of copywriting; be it fiction or otherwise, or even programming.
Freelancing won’t happen overnight either. Build up your reputation, and create a portfolio of your work. Be sure to also pick up on some online courses as you may not be as sharp as you thought for your skills!
Having a degree, with all the translatable skills you’ve now picked up, opens your doors wide open. In this day and age, those options of picking your next step are also diverse.
Wanting to develop a business today to win investment is no longer just about having the idea. You need to test it, and you need to win customers over by bringing value to them for their problems and needs.
I’m still in that process, and it’ll still be a bit of time before that “overnight success” happens. The question is: Is this the right path for you too?’
Mohammed Binesmael’s Route Konnect will compete alongside Daniel Swygart’s Alpacr and Joseph Ward’s SmallSpark in the Wales Start-Up Awards on 20 September 2019.