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Textbooks and Turnover: Nottingham’s student money makers

“Free broadband for every student home in Nottingham.” These are the words of Callum Hives, the fresh faced businessman and medical student. “Naturally we’re hoping to move past Nottingham pretty quickly, but it’s a great place to start. It’s disruptive, but that’s the idea. We know it’s going to upset a lot of people.”

Callum Hives is a hugely successful part-time CEO of a company that currently turns over around £100,000 a year and looks set to grow significantly. He is also a third year medical student at the University of Nottingham.Starting at the tender age of 15, Callum set up a small, boutique IT support network in his native rural home of Lincolnshire.

Undercutting the existing corporate IT services available in central Lincoln, Callum, along with like-minded school friends, capitalised on the gap in the market by offering affordable one-off services to small businesses. Within a few years, the business had its own office, a solid customer base and several employees.

Callum is setting up a revolutionary new service provider geared to completely usurp the current dominance of Virgin and BT in Nottingham.

Becoming a limited company in 2012, CalCom Enterprises (the main business, imaginatively named after its creator) is now making its first foray into the world of telecoms.Along with a partner, Callum is setting up Snap Broadband, a revolutionary new service provider geared to completely usurp the current dominance of Virgin and BT in Nottingham. Although not technically completely free, after a one off installation payment residents in a house will have free access to their unlimited 10meg internet for as long as they want.

“It sounds like a lot, but if it comes naturally to you, you don’t look at it in the same way”.

To have done all of this on top of gaining excellent GCSEs/A-levels AND getting into medical school at the age of 20 seems like a huge achievement. So, is Callum proud of himself? “Not particularly,” he shrugs. “It sounds like a lot, but if it comes naturally to you, you don’t look at it in the same way. I suppose in the same way that you turn up to Uni every day and at the end of it you get a degree. It’s just what you do every day, so I don’t really feel like I’ve over-achieved.

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Callum Hives in his CalCom stash

“I want to continue with my medicine degree. If I feel like the business is going particularly well I might consider becoming a full-time CEO, but if I still fancy [becoming a Doctor] I’ll stick with it.” Even with this huge workload, Callum has high hopes for his Snap Broadband model’s popularity: “We’re hoping to have around 66,000 people signed up. Those numbers are enormous.”

“I then put my phone on silent and head off to be a medic”.

His average day certainly doesn’t make it sound as easy as he makes out: “I wake up at around seven or eight, make any business calls that are outstanding and sort out the time-sheets for my employees. Everything sorted- I then put my phone on silent and head off to be a medic. Around two I will try and check my emails and chase up any jobs that haven’t been done yet. At four I’ll check in with the guys [his employees] and do the accounts, which are always fun.”

What if something urgent needs addressing? “Obviously I’m on call 24/7 to our biggest clients and that’s interrupted a few nights out in the past, which can be frustrating. I’ll pick up client emails in lectures and if I get an important call I will just walk out, but it’s actually not that bad. I get away with quite a lot.”

“I would love to sit in my pyjamas and watch Jeremy Kyle all day”.

Callum’s work ethic is undeniably rigorous. That said, there is one vital aspect missing from his day, one element of the university experience that is crucially absent: the refined student art of doing absolutely nothing. “Yeah I do feel I miss out on the wider student experience sometimes,” he says. “I would love to sit in my pyjamas and watch Jeremy Kyle all day if possible. I’d love to spend more time in the skydiving society and TEC [the PA and lighting services society], but I just know that I’ll never have enough time. I’m just too busy and tired, and at the end of the day I want to chill out.”

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Callum occasionally finds some time to relax

Not all of these student business owners express a similar strain on their student experience. Adam Bodini, co-founder of clothing label Bungo, found the academic/business balance more straight-forward. “Let’s just say that the modules we chose in our final year weren’t exactly the ones where you had to overexert yourself,” Adam admits. “However, this gave us the freedom and the time to start Bungo. I think our decision to start this business was probably the best decision we made at Uni, a far better decision than deciding to study Business Management. Bungo has taught us more about business and the world than the entire three years of studies put together.”

“With Bungo being a hobby that we love, the balance was much easier to find”.

Evidently your degree has a huge bearing on how you run your business whilst at University. Adam and his partner, James, both started Bungo partly as an escape from the essays, lectures and seminars that are part and parcel of University life. “With Bungo being a hobby that we love, the balance was much easier to find.”

James and Adam on a Bungo shoot.

Adam and James of Bungo Clothing

If you’re thinking of setting up your business whilst juggling a degree, a driving passion seems vital. Tom Barnes, recent alumnus and co-founder of 2Magpies Theatre – a company which focuses on site responsive theatre around Nottingham – puts his entrepreneurial spirit down to his love of the stage and a desire to reach a large audience.

“It’s an exciting job that doesn’t feel like one”.

“Our inspiration is to make exciting shows that are seen by as many people as possible. We’d like to tour nationally. It’s an exciting job that doesn’t feel like one, so to continue to do that would be great.” All of the students who spoke to Impact attributed a deep-seated love of their field as the reason they started up.

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So you’ve got the idea, you’ve got the passion; now you just need some experience (and preferably a bit of money). At Nottingham, help is at hand to aid young entrepreneurs start up their own businesses. The Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, located in the Sir Colin Campbell building on Jubilee Campus, might not sound particularly exciting, but through this institute the EnterpriseLab is run; a free-to-use student-only help centre for anyone seeking assistance in the formative stages of their business.

“The EnterpriseLab is a fantastic resource”.

Among other things, the Lab offers networking events, office space and one-to-one business surgeries with professional advisors. If you’ve got even the tiniest inkling of an idea for a workable business, the EnterpriseLab is an indispensable resource.

When setting up Bungo, Adam and James certainly benefited from the resources available. “The EnterpriseLab is a fantastic resource for networking and an ideal workspace for students with an idea they want to explore.”

Tom of 2Magpies Theatre is also full of praise for the Lab. “They are brilliant. Highlights include sitting down with an accountant and saying: ‘We know nothing about tax, insurance, anything. Can you start at the beginning?’ They were really helpful and didn’t patronise us, which is always nice. We also had the opportunity to apply for a grant which involved a training day and then a pitch to a panel. We got that and it was invaluable for covering initial costs and giving us some capital to try out some new ideas.”

Every single student start-up business Impact approached has somehow been involved with the Enterprise service.

Every single student start-up business Impact approached has somehow been involved with the Enterprise service at some point. But what else is on offer for UoN students who want to work more directly with other students?

Joe Kaz and Ian Botterill, two members of the Nottingham Entrepreneurs society committee, tell Impact what opportunities their society can offer. “The society itself provides students who are hoping to, or perhaps already run their own business, a forum through which to share, explore and improve ideas and conceptions about entrepreneurship and the running of business. We host events on a weekly basis ranging from ‘idea hacks’ where ideas are pitched, peer-reviewed and discussed by the society, to talks from those who have first-hand experience of creating a start-up at university.”

“Nottingham has a huge community of students who want to start a business, but they are often put off by the lack of a specific skill”.

One resource they are currently setting up for society members is a “skills database” that will allow members to search for entrepreneurial students with specific skills or interests that may be of help to them. Joe explains why he thinks this particular tool is needed for UoN entrepreneurs: “Nottingham has a huge community of students who want to start a business, but they are often put off by the lack of a specific skill, whether this be iOS development or marketing. Providing a tool to help students overcome this issue could prove to be very powerful.”

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Nottingham Enterprise

The society has gone from strength to strength in the few years that it has operated, working in conjunction with the EnterpriseLab to support some of the University’s most successful business alumni.

What if you’re not hoping to take the world by storm with an iron-clad business model that will completely change the way we think/eat/do the washing up?

But what if you’re not hoping to take the world by storm with an iron-clad business model that will completely change the way we think/eat/do the washing up? One way creative types have been supplementing their cash flow to fund such projects is through the advent of crowdfunding: the most popular crowdfunding site being Kickstarter, which has been used to fund everything from Zach Braff’s new film to American Psyhco the musical.

Alice Child, a producer at the Nottingham New Theatre, successfully raised £150 through her Kickstarter page. She explains to Impact how it all worked: “Kickstarter seemed ideal as all the projects I saw were small, creative and privately funded. You offer rewards in exchange for people’s money. These rewards could be as small or as big as you liked – it seemed perfect for our little show. The rewards are basically a way of giving something back to people who decide to give money towards your project. We gave themed cupcakes – the more money, the more cupcakes! It was win-win.”

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Alice and Lauren’s Kickstarter page

Would Alice recommend it to other student projects? “It’s a good platform that people trust, and gives you a chance to explain your project, make a video, and give your backers rewards,” she says. “I would however say that if you have time, raising money in other ways is probably more rewarding. Organising socials, events or cake sales will get more funds, and it will feel less like begging…”

If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you’ve managed to scrape some resources together from the various options on offer, the question may pose itself: why stay in Nottingham? 2Magpies’s Tom Barnes makes a good case for staying in the Midlands: “I think it’s big enough to be worth being a part of, but small enough to make a big impact. We’d get swallowed up in the tide of new theatre companies in London.”

 “I was once thrown out of Coco [Tang] with some friends after our fifth bottle of Moët… There were some girls involved I believe.”

The general consensus is that Nottingham is an ideal location from which to launch your business. A place to make mistakes and get things wrong before it really counts.

And what if things don’t go wrong? What if you legitimately begin to make a lot of money doing what you love? Impact asks Callum, telecoms prodigy, about the most extravagant thing he has ever done. Smiling coyly, he says: “I was once thrown out of Coco [Tang] with some friends after our fifth bottle of Moët. We were walking around like we owned the place and being very loud… There were some girls involved I believe.”

“Oh!” He then exclaims. “We also just bought a tumble-dryer for the house!”

Clearly you can take the businessman out of the student, but you can’t take the student out of the businessman.

Alex Mawby – @mawbius

Follow Impact on Twitter and Facebook.

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