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DMU graduates are shining example of start-up success

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A footwear business set up by two De Montfort University (DMU) graduates is being celebrated as a shining example of start-up success as the Houses of Parliament today (16 April). 

University Alliance, of which DMU is a member, and NAUCE, which supports enterprise growth in the UK, are calling for the Government to better support graduate start-ups| by launching a project which demonstrates the value of supporting university enterprise. 

The project highlights 10 graduate success stories, which includes Kindred Sole|, an online shoe boutique set up by DMU retail buying graduates Beth Widdowson and Lizze Leary.  

Beth and Lizze, both 24, had the idea to set up a business during their first year at university and after winning a place on Enterprise Inc|, a business incubation and support programme run by DMU, the duo set up in the university’s Innovation Centre| in 2009 – a month before graduating. 

More than three years on and business is booming, not only in the UK but also in America, Australia and Japan and last year the company was awarded second place for ‘Footwear Brand of the Year’ at the converted Footwear Industry Awards.   

“We both wanted a degree that we could use and the retail buying course at DMU was just that – it combined creativity with business,” said Beth. 

“It didn’t take us long to develop the idea as we are both a bit obsessed with shoes but neither of us knew about the practical side of running a business. Enterprise Inc made the difference between us having a good business idea and actually having a business. The support given through the scheme is great – it’s a bit like running a business with stabilisers. The stabilisers are well and truly off now but we wouldn’t be where we are now without it.” 

Lizze added: “Kindred Sole is a lot of work and our lives are very different to a lot of women our age but we absolutely love what we do. The business world tends to be more male dominated so we love talking to girls at school and university and hopefully encouraging them to follow in our footsteps.” 

Statistics by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that in 2010/11 there were 2,771 graduate start-ups in the UK, 145 of which were by DMU graduates – the joint second highest university in the whole of the Midlands. 

Between 2008-2010 turnover from graduate start-ups also doubled to more than £270m.

Professor Steve West, chair of University Alliance, said: “Entrepreneurial graduates are a huge driving force for innovation, employment and economic growth. The central role that universities and their graduates play in realising the Government ambitions of an entrepreneurial society is now widely acknowledged. 

“Our education system needs to foster creativity, innovation and enterprise. We need to ensure our schools, colleges and university develop and foster creativity in the way in which we design and deliver our curricular. This will need support from Government, industry and the public and private sectors. 

“The future growth, wealth and health of our economy will rely on our creativity, innovation and enterprising spirit which will need support to translate energy, enthusiasm and fantastic ideas into sustainable business propositions. We need a true partnership to deliver this. Not words but funding and action.”

Hushpreet Dhaliwal, chief executive of NACUE, said: “Student and graduate enterprise are powerful players in transforming lives and driving social change. The recognition of entrepreneurship in the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey this year is a really positive step. 

“Despite the success we have seen there are challenges that need to be addressed. It’s important that we look at new and innovative ways to support graduate entrepreneurs. Using and promoting empty properties and spaces for the use of graduate start-ups is just one of the many ways we can nurture local start-ups.”  

Posted on Tuesday 16th April 2013

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