University Bootcamp puts fledgling entrepreneurs through their paces

Twenty-five of Leeds’ most enterprising students have been learning the ropes of managing their own business at the annual Bootcamp run by the University’s business start-up service, Spark.


The fledgling entrepreneurs – including undergraduates, Masters and PhD students – won their place through a highly competitive process to pick out the individuals and business ideas with the greatest potential.

The Bootcamp’s two-day residential programme, held at Weetwood Hall on 15 and 16 December, provides an intensive grounding in finance, law, intellectual property, business planning and marketing to give the students a head start in their chosen business ventures. It is part of a broader package of support provided by Spark that includes a £5,000 start-up fund, mentoring from established entrepreneurs, professional business advice and – newly opened this year – incubation space.

Third year medical students James Gupta and Omair Vayani have created a platform – MyCQs – that allows students and professionals to create, share and practice multiple choice tests on all kinds of subjects via a website and mobile app. The idea was born during their exam revision, when they realised that devising questions and testing each other was much more fun – and effective – than sitting alone with a book or lecture notes. The platform has already gained 11,000 users since it was launched just four months ago. James says of the Bootcamp experience:

“Although this isn’t the first business I’ve started, I’ve realised I really did things on the hoof in the past. This time we’re able to do things properly, with the help of the professional business advice that Spark gives us access to, particularly on the legal and finance side. We’ve had some really exciting initial success with MyCQs, but the support we’re getting will enable us to scale up and take what we’re doing to the next level.”

Masters student Hannah-Rebecca Joy Guscoth and first year Katharine Terrell agree. They are developing separate – though related – business ideas: Hannah-Rebecca a new academic disability studies journal for students and graduates to publish in; and Katharine an online translation of abstracts of journal papers into British Sign Language, to make research on Deafness and disability more accessible. Hannah-Rebecca’s idea is already well advanced; she’s hoping to get the first issue of the new journal, Considering Disability, out within the next few months.

Hannah-Rebecca said: “Bootcamp has been a very intense two days but really useful, and I’ve learnt things I can put into practice straight away. It’s also been great to discuss and share ideas with the other students on the programme. The support Spark provides is fantastic, particularly the new incubation space. It’s really helped me to have a place to work on my business that’s completely separate from home and studies.”

Matt Turner, founder and CEO of the UK’s largest diners’ club, tastecard, is a former University of Leeds student now giving both time and money to support Spark. “There was nothing like Spark when I was a student at Leeds and so it was several years after my graduation before I got my first business off the ground,” he says. “The programme provides today’s students with just what they need: clear advice on what to do and the mistakes to avoid. Once I understood what Spark was about, it didn’t take much persuasion for me to offer my support and I’m looking forward to being a mentor on the programme this year.”

The range of support that Spark brings together is one of the programme’s key strengths, as Kairen Skelley, Head of Business Start-up at Spark, explains: “The format we have at Leeds, based on a community of alumni entrepreneurs, business support professionals and key staff across the University, is unique in the sector and it’s one of the secrets of our success. But at the heart of it all are the students, who – despite still following their studies – give their all to take their businesses forward.”

Posted in: