For most university students, the idea of starting their own business seems like some far off fantasy. Businesses are expensive, and let’s face it, most investors don’t have the greatest faith in the work ethic of millennials. So how do the new generation of entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground?
With data from the Foundation for Young Australians showing that entrepreneurs in the 18-24 age bracket are underrepresented, it is clear that young Australian entrepreneurs need more support to be able to make their ideas a reality.
RMIT’s New Enterprise Investment Fund has been created to provide budding student entrepreneurs with the financial and practical support needed when nurturing and overcoming the challenges of a new business. Successful applicants are eligible for an interest-free loan of up to $25,000, as well as mentoring from industry professionals.
RMIT graduate Cassie Lucas is the creative force behind multifaceted business Firecracker, an events business that encompasses catering, styling and graphic design. We sat down with Cassie to find out about the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in the early days of a new business.
“It’s not easy when you don’t know when the next job is coming in. The work is still sometimes inconsistent”, Lucas says.
“The other challenge is self confidence. In the beginning I was asking myself, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Can I support myself?’”
Although many students may have a fantastic business plan, many don’t have the resources to know where to actually begin. Business mentoring is a huge part of the NEIF program, with all mentors providing guidance and insights on a pro-bono basis. These mentors help students with anything from developing sustainable business plans to building relationships with customers, and any other issues that arise surrounding the business.
Lucas agreed that a mentor is critical for new entrepreneurs, saying “it’s really hard to step outside of the business, or to step outside of your vision, so to have someone who is interested in it and who wants to see it do well, is invaluable”.
A survey of sixty-five current and former entrepreneurs who engaged with the Foundation for Young Australian’s, Young Social Pioneers program, also found that 75 percent of participants identified financial issues as a barrier to starting up their own business venture.
The interest-free loan component of the NEIF program aims to help young entrepreneurs overcome this initial financial barrier when embarking on a new business venture.
Lucas, who studied landscape architecture, said that had the NEIF grant been available when she graduated in 2005, she probably would have been able to pursue a landscape practice that she started with her close friends.
“Back then I probably would have applied for the $25,000 to open our own landscape practice. It took me another 7 years after I graduated to get into events and catering”, Lucas says.
Lucas agreed that the financial side of things can be particularly scary, and said that it can take up to five years before you even start paying yourself a proper wage.
“You’ve just got to trust that it will work out, and you have to work hard, you can’t just expect it to fall into your lap” says Lucas.
“It’s really important to have the passion for what you’re doing, you can’t do it 50 percent. You’ve got to do it with your whole heart”.
The NEIF program is always looking for budding entrepreneurs who can illustrate their plan to build a sustainable and innovative business, especially those that will be viable in the next 6 to 12 months. Application rounds take place each year in May, August and November.
When asked what her best advice was for new entrepreneurs, Lucas said, “Take the leap and the net will appear”.
“I think that when you’re starting your business, you can say to your friends, ‘Hey I’m trying to get this business started, this is what I really want to do, this is what I’m about, can you help me by telling your friends?’. People are generally happy to help, you just need to ask for it, it’s taken me years to learn that”.
More information on the New Enterprise Investment Fund can be found at the NEIF website. Don’t take a backseat to your dreams, and apply today.