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14 February 2012| PR 12/27

How they made a million: Loughborough University research investigates young entrepreneurs

The first research study into how young entrepreneurs in the UK build highly successful businesses has been published by a Loughborough University academic.

James Hickie, a researcher in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, has published an investigation into young entrepreneurs under the age of 30. All the businesses built by high fliers taking part in the research had turnovers of between £1 million and £90 million. 

The research has been published in the academic journal Industry and Higher Education as the UK government implements policies to encourage young people to consider entrepreneurship as a career.

James, an Economic and Social Research Council sponsored PhD candidate, interviewed 15 young entrepreneurs to find out how they were able to build successful businesses from a young age. Some of the entrepreneurs started businesses when they were just 14 years old.

The research considered how these business founders drew upon aspects of their family background, education and work experience to start and build resilient businesses that have survived the economic downturn.  Sixty per cent of participants had an entrepreneurial family member, which they recalled as being an important influence in their decision to set up their own business.

The research has also investigated how the young entrepreneurs built their businesses from a marketing, finance and people management perspective.  Participants stressed that these were not skills that could be learned in the classroom.  They learned mostly from experience as they grew their businesses and by seeking advice from mentors and investors.

Most participants found the people management of their businesses more challenging than the financial or marketing management aspects.

Despite difficult economic times, these young entrepreneurs were able to raise the money themselves to create their businesses – without having to use the bank of mum and dad.  It was noticeable that the younger ones mostly self-funded their businesses or used business angels, while the older participants were more likely to approach venture capitalists in raising the capital for growth.

Even before setting up their main businesses, the group recalled practising their entrepreneurial skills through playground ventures.  For example, at primary school, one participant sold ‘push pops’ in the playground for a profit after buying them in bulk. 

While most of the businesses in the study had a strong online presence, they operated in varied sectors, including education, entertainment, food, media, property and utility provision.

James said: “Previous research about young entrepreneurs has generally focussed on their problems and lack of growth, but I wanted to find out what factors distinguished the multi-million pound business owners who took part in this study – what enabled them to grow their ventures so young. 

“Already, some of these young entrepreneurs have sold their first business and are now going on to set up their second and third ventures.  The next stage of the research involves interviewing some of Britain’s leading business angels and venture capitalists who work with driven young entrepreneurs to fund them and help make their businesses succeed.’’


For all media enquiries contact:

Sarah Hall
Marketing and Communications Officer (Enterprise)
Loughborough University
T: 01509 228684
E: S.Hall@lboro.ac.uk 

Notes for editors:

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2011 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for the UK’s Best Student Experience every year since the poll's inception in 2006. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

It is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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