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advice Enterprise SU Gradfest2021 Start Ups

‘Finding the confidence to launch my own business’

Francesca Morelli, International Business with French graduate on pursuing her start-up dream. 

Francesca Morelli

Business in the blood

I loved my degree. I was one of those people that was just so interested in what I was studying. I come from a family business background, my family owned an ice cream business on the north coast of Northern Ireland. I’ve worked in my family business most of my life, so I already I always had an interest in business. But as well as with my Italian background, I kind of loved thinking about business in a more international context. So really, this was the perfect degree. 

International experience

For me, I love travelling, I love languages. But then, as well, I was really keen to enter into the business world like, like my family have done since 1911. What I really loved about the degree was the placement aspect in the third year. So that was a compulsory element to my degree, we had to go to a foreign country to a French speaking country, to undertake a placement. So in 2017-18, I find myself in Paris working in a startup studio. So a startup studio is a fairly new model. It’s essentially where there’s kind of one founder or funder, really, he partnered up with some early stage entrepreneurs, to develop their businesses from the ground up. 

First taste of the start-up scene

[In the start-up studio] they pull resources, which is great. So it meant that not only did I have the chance to work in one start-up, but I had the chance to work in a few start-ups, and that we were in the one office together, we shared knowledge. We all worked together nearly as part of the one company even though we were all working on little separate companies. I just loved the whole start-up aspect I was started working on one of the start-ups when their platform had just under 2000 followers. And by the time I left at the end of that year, the platform had grown to over 10,000 followers, I was starting to generate some revenue. So for me in the very kind of traditional sense of business, I was very used to you know, you give me £1.50 for a scone, and it cost me 50p to make it and I make my profit. And this is very different model where a lot of them were building for acquisition. So I got very used to ‘Okay, we’re working every day towards an end goal, we might not make money straight away.’ But that’s kind of start-up life. And I really fell in love with the whole thing. The fact that these people around me were so passionate, they were so dedicated to a common goal, knowing that maybe years down the line, they would sell out to a big platform or a big company and make loads of money. It might have taken them years to see that. But it was in everybody’s minds. I think I just really fell in love with it, with the passion of everyone I was working with. 

Entrepreneurship at Queen’s

I came back to Queens in the middle of 2018 to finish off my degree. I was contacted by a start-up founder in Belfast to come on board his team after he had seen what I’d done in France.I had been on his LinkedIn network for a while. We started working together on a tech start-up in Belfast. And my final year ended up being completely crazy. I was a director in this start-up. I was doing pitching competitions. I was going for funding. I was starting to ask business people to you know, become involved in what we were doing. And that really gave me amazing experience. And in my final year of uni, I also got involved with everything.

There are so many amazing opportunities out there that disappear once you’ve graduated. So really do try and get involved in stuff. The things that I was interested in were the likes of QUB Dragon, Innovate Her, these are run by Enterprise SU and the Students Union. If you’re interested in business, if you’re interested in start-ups, do go on to Enterprise SU’s website and see what all they’re up to where they’re on social media as well on Instagram and Twitter, and they’re always running great things. So do go and have a look. But I got involved in those programmes, which, you know, come out of it with Degree Plus as well which was fab.

Giving back to the start-up community

Enterprise SU gave me amazing support. After final year, I’d spent so much time with the Enterprise SU team that helped me so much. And I’ve done some so many of their programmes that I actually then applied for a job in their department. And I, this was really good timing for me, because while I was working on the start-up, while I was trying to build this early stage business, I was able to work with a team at Queen’s and kind of advise those students coming behind me so they can learn from my mistakes.

So two years later, I’m actually still at Enterprise SU. And I continue to support and advise students, start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Spotting a gap in the market

I now own completely my own business called VAVA Influence. We are Northern Ireland’s first dedicated influencer marketing agency. I decided that there was a great opportunity there for the event marketing agency, and I took a step back from the tech start-up. It means that it’s okay to try new things. And there was an opportunity there a gap in the market and myself and my business partner, Chloe really jumped at the chance. So I mean, it’s working okay, for me right now, our influencer marketing agency is doing really well.

It’s doing well we’ve built a client base. And we’re still growing. We’re still learning every day. But I wouldn’t had that had I not just throw myself in. I took advice and support from everybody. I got all the free advice go in. I talked to everybody that would talk to me. And it really is working out for me now. And we’re hoping that it will grow and grow into the future. So if you do want to start your own business, if it’s something you are thinking about if you want to get further support, advice, do get in touch with us at enterprise SU and we will be able to signpost you

Leveraging your network

Since graduating in 2019, I’ve had some amazing experiences. I would not have the network I have no I had it not been for LinkedIn. Some people cringe at the very idea.

But if you can at try and work up the courage to get on LinkedIn, to start posting, you don’t have to pretend to be this whole other persona. Be yourself on LinkedIn post about what interests you. Post about what you might like to explore, do some reading, connect with people that you think are relevant in the industry, you might want to go in to connect with people you admire, read and learn, LinkedIn is brilliant. And I really would encourage anyone studying at the minute or anyone who has just graduated to get on it and start building up that network. It can be a scary thing to do. But it doesn’t have to be you know, just try and take it in your stride and, and start putting yourself out there. 

Don’t be scared to reach out and talk to people ask for help. Even more so now I think after COVID people are really willing to support graduates to support students and give advice, you know, you’re not being cheeky asking for it. And if there’s somebody you admire, or somebody you’d like to ask for advice, do send that message, you will find it really worth it.

Keeping the faith

There is a lot of pressure [on graduates]. It can be difficult that I’m no stranger to that. So what I would say is that if you do find yourself in that position, don’t lose heart, everybody is in the same situation right now. And what I were trying to say is, you know, look online at stuff you can do to improve your skills, there are so many free courses and things you can take online at the minute that will improve your CV at the will improve your skillset. There’s, you know, Google digital garage, there are so many courses online now that you can take for free, that are going to improve your skill set and your CV as you go out and look for opportunities.

The more you do and the more you get involved with the more appealing you’re going to look to an employer.

Got an idea for your own business? You can contact Francesca at Enterprise SU and check out theEnterprise SU website

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