Starting a business

Starting a business or social enterprise involves identifying a solution to a pressing problem or issue. This problem should be one experienced by enough customers, clients, users or beneficiaries to make it viable.

Starting a business takes commitment, dedication and a strong desire to solve the identified problem. It is suitable for anyone inspired by the challenge of starting their own venture and open to developing the skills they need.

For additional information, see the Prospects website:

Self-employment profile


University of St Andrews Entrepreneurship Centre

The University’s Entrepreneurship Centre can support you to start a business or social enterprise. It also offers the opportunity to meet with advisers.

Entrepreneurship takes many forms, such as:

  • founding a business
  • social innovation
  • joining an existing start up
  • intrapreneurship (innovation inside a business).

Key skills that are useful when starting a business or social enterprise include:

  • ability to spot opportunities
  • acquiring the resources needed
  • networking
  • communication and influencing skills
  • leadership
  • ability to solve problems and think laterally
  • organisation and planning
  • commercial awareness
  • managing people and resources
  • resilience and flexibility.

Examples of businesses started by St Andrews students and alumni include:

International students

If you are on a Student visa, you are not permitted to engage in business activity, including starting a business. However, you can work on an idea and develop a business plan. Check your visa conditions and see the support for international students pages for more information.

The University is licensed to endorse individuals for the Start-up visa. This allows international students the opportunity to stay in the UK for two years following graduation to start up a business.

Preparing to start a business

Starting a business or social enterprise is challenging, and you will be responsible for how things progress and what is achieved. To prepare, you should research the sector and speak to entrepreneurs to find out about their experience.

Getting involved with like-minded people gives you an opportunity to explore ideas and learn more about the sector. The St Andrews Entrepreneurs Society and Enactus St Andrews offer opportunities to meet entrepreneurs and get involved in entrepreneurial projects and activities.

Make a connection

To get a career in any sector, you should talk with people who are in the sector already. For entrepreneurs, this is especially important, as the path to start up differs for each business or social enterprise.

Make contacts and connections wherever you can. There are many opportunities available in the University through the Entrepreneurship Centre, CEED, the Students' Association and within academic Schools.

For further help with networking in general, see the make a connection pages.

Finding an idea

Start with a problem – not a solution. Customers and users buy your product or service because it solves a genuine problem or need. The more pressing the problem, the more likely people will want it solved.

Remember that there is no secret formula or guaranteed method for finding an idea. However, great products and services solve a genuine problem or meet a real need. What frustrations do you have or observe others having? What’s missing in the shops or locally? What could you do better or differently?

Once you’ve identified a problem you want to solve, there are many tools and techniques for developing ways of solving the problem. For any idea you come up with, you’ll need to work through the steps in the 'How to start up' section below. 

How to start up

The path to start up is unique to each business. Before you invest time in creating a product, service or technology, spend time exploring the idea, speaking to potential customers and users, and developing a clear value proposition and business model.

Start-ups which meet a genuine need or solve a clear problem for a significant number of customers or users, in an innovative way, are more likely to succeed.

To help you start your own business, consider the following steps:

  1. Generate ideas – consider which needs you can meet and problems you can solve.
  2. Talk to customers who may have the unmet need you identified.
  3. Identify a niche market segment – reflect on what you found out and repeat steps 1 and 2 until you have a good understanding of the customers' needs.
  4. Hypothesise the value proposition – a clearly defined statement of the benefits a customer or user will get from using your product or service.
  5. Test the value proposition – create a simple, inexpensive version or example of your product or service and get potential customers from your niche market segment to try it out. Evaluate and analyse the results objectively and quantifiably if you can.
  6. Revise the value proposition – use what you learned in the test to improve and strengthen the value proposition so your product or service more closely meets the needs of actual customers.
  7. Investigate channels to reach customers – think carefully about the process you need to have in place to convert a potential customer or user into one who pays for or uses your product or service.
  8. Go out and acquire customers and users – get ten customers or users to pay for or adopt your product or service.
  9. At the same time, build your execution team, raise needed finance and establish resources and relationships needed to build your business model.
  10. Enjoy the journey, and speak to advisers and mentors frequently.

Additional resources

  • Business Gateway - Help and advice for businesses.
  • Entrepreneurial Scotland - An independent charity that exists to equip you and your organisation with the mindset, skills and connectivity to deliver personal and business growth.
  • Set up a business (GOV.UK)
  • Flying Start - Dedicated to getting student and graduate businesses started.
  • National Enterprise Network - A membership body for those committed to the support and development of enterprise.
  • Prince's Trust - Provides professional support for young entrepreneurs in Scotland.
  • Prowess - The UK association of organisations and individuals who support the growth of women's business ownership.
  • Start-ups - A site for aspiring entrepreneurs. It includes lots of practical advice and case studies of people who’ve done it.
  • National Library of Scotland - Provides information and resources for starting a business.
  • Shell LiveWire - A flagship enterprise development programme to promoto entrepreneurship.
  • Leonard Cheshire Disability - Information for disabled entrepreneurs.