Sam is 27 and graduated from Aston University in 2013 with a degree in Computer Science. Whilst he was at university Sam was one of four students who worked for a company which was being piloted by the Engineering and Applied Sciences department; he really enjoyed working with the company and became friends with a fellow student who worked there called David. The two of them decided that they wanted to develop a similar business of their own.
Their business, Codevate, launched in 2013 and is a custom software development company that builds custom web and mobile apps for start-ups and SMEs across the UK. The company enables clients to build software products and helps them to innovate in their respective sectors. Sam and David are currently running the business full-time and feel that things are going well; Sam noted that the company is attracting a very broad range of clients.
Whilst Sam and David were studying for their final exams they received an email from the University advertising the BSEEN project. Sam said that their initial reaction to the email was “well that sounds exactly like what we need” as they knew how to create the products they wished to provide but not how to run a business. They signed up to the project together before they graduated and finished officially receiving support from BSEEN in 2014. Despite this, Sam reflected that in some ways they don’t feel as though they have left the project as their company is now based in the same building as BSEEN and they regularly keep in touch with staff on an informal basis. Sam believes that BSEEN is still very much a ‘community’ for past participants.
The workshops that Sam and David attended “really opened up [their] eyes” as to how to run a business, providing them with skills such as the ability to engage with people, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their team and learning how to market their business.
Sam and David initially had some problems finding a mentor that they were able to work with as they felt that some of the mentors “shied away from what we were doing because they didn’t have much experience in that sector”. When they approached the mentor that they ended up working with they explained to him that they had no problems with the technical knowledge needed for the business but were looking for help with the skills “we didn’t know about”, i.e. help with setting up a business. The mentor understood this and helped Sam and David come up with an effective plan to streamline their marketing so that it didn’t take up too much of their time.
BSEEN provided the business with a grant of £3,400, which they used to buy the equipment necessary for testing their software in different environments. Sam also secured a £1,000 prize from Santander to put towards the purchase of this equipment, which he believes can be attributed to the skills he learnt from BSEEN.
Sam felt that the most useful aspect of the support was the office space which BSEEN provided. He explained that this was because it was in an extremely convenient location and being based in a science park gave their company “that wow factor which helped convince [clients] we were serious”. Without this space they would have had to have worked from home which Sam feels would not have made the same impression. Working in an office also helped to improve their teamwork and made them more disciplined than they might have been if they were working from home: “Having access to office space helped shape us as individuals, as a team and helped convert clients.” Sam and David were so impressed with the building that they decided to rent their own office space within the building in 2014.
Sam and David’s original business idea had also included an e learning platform which helped children learn how to code. This was something that was dropped as a direct result of their BSEEN experience; thanks to the competitor analysis and product market skills that were provided by the scheme, they realised that there was not a market for this product and that they wouldn’t have made any money from it. This was their decision but Sam felt that without the skills from BSEEN they probably would have continued “blindly on to the moneyless future.”
Although Sam and David had always planned to stay in the West Midlands, their BSEEN experience helped them to recognise that it would be much easier to start a business in this area. This was because it made them aware of the levels of graduate talent leaving the West Midlands meaning that there was a huge market for the type of work the company does.
Sam estimated that the support would have cost him around £12,500 but added that the commercial value of the support was substantially greater, explaining “I don’t think it would be a business [without BSEEN] so it would be the whole [net worth]! We’re on track to turnover a quarter of a million this year so that much.”
Sam felt that there were no other types of support or training that BSEEN needed to provide, explaining:
“I’ve not really found myself saying oh I wish they’d taught me this at BSEEN they kind of gave us the tools to understand how to go away and learn more if we needed to. When we started off I didn’t even know what a profit and loss account was… Once you learned about that you’ve kind of got the tools to find other resources … BSEEN isn’t there to make your own business for you, BSEEN is to support entrepreneurs and give them the tools that they need to be an entrepreneur and be a successful entrepreneur.”
However, he did make the suggestion for future projects that it might be more effective to provide the support in stages, whereby further support could be made available after the initial training based on a review of the participant’s involvement with the project up to the point in question.
Codevate is currently expanding their core team and once they have achieved this they hope to start offering graduate apprenticeships from September in order to offer additional services to clients such as IT support and a helpdesk. They also hope to focus on their residual income and begin developing their own products.