Student Expat-Preneurs Finding Success in London

It’s no secret that London appeals to the masses, with 436,585 students from outside the UK choosing to study in the UK in 2015, figures continue to rise. 

University College London hosted the largest number of international students in 2015, both from within the EU and non-EU students, with a total of 20,745 flocking the the prestigious London institution. According to data collected by the UK Council for International Student Affairs, business and administrative studies have the largest proportion of international students on each course, with engineering and technology coming in a close second.  

While a degree from a world-class university is strong motivation for many international students, it is perhaps the City of London itself, the most cosmopolitan and culturally diverse capital in the world, which attracts those with an entrepreneurial spirit to set up their first company.

The Rise of “Expat-Preneurs”

Britain relies heavily on entrepreneurial migrants to launch businesses, create jobs and grow the economy. According to a telling survey put together by the Centre for Entrepreneurs and Duedil, 464,527 UK companies have been set up by expatriate entrepreneurs which equates to 14% of all UK companies. 

London, meanwhile, is benefitting disproportionately compared to the rest of the UK, with a whopping 188,000 businesses led and founded by expatriates. “Expat-preneurs” have played and continue to play a pivotal role in the continued economic prosperity of the United Kingdom; it is about time these achievements are acknowledged.

Raj Anand, co-founder of Goodman Lantern

Raj Anand moved to the UK when he was just 19 years old, having previously grown up in Kuwait where his parents had emigrated to from India. Raj went to Sussex University to study Computer Engineering at Sussex University.

Raj's Story

“I chose to study in England because I imagined it would give me a well-rounded perspective to the working world. Unlike most engineers, my vision was always to start a new business. England gave me the opportunity to meet people from different walks of life and to make sure that I develop skills which are more entrepreneurial.”

After university, Raj decided to pursue his entrepreneurial drive and launched his first social media software business in 2007 at the tender age of 23. Due to this venture, Raj was named “Europe’s Young Entrepreneur” by Business Week Magazine in 2007, Revolution Magazine counted him among the 50 most influential people in Digital as well as Sussex Business Awards “Entrepreneur of the Year” - not bad start for your first start-up!

Three years later, Raj decided to move on and has since written a book for Pearson on “Recruiting with Social Media”. He later joined a Spanish multinational as their Innovation Director and within 2 years he was appointed as the CEO of the Asian and British business.

In 2014, Raj decided to launch Goodman Lantern. Goodman Lantern is a market research platform where analysts provide market research and content writing, charged by the minute. Customers can hire the analysts to join their team without putting them on the payroll.

“The idea came from my experience of running and setting up companies. I realised that while setting up a company, doing necessary market research and hiring junior analysts was time consuming. Using large market research companies was expensive. Our company takes away the pain to doing this and provides a custom built platform that automates administrative duties like task/time management, billing, etc.”

Being an “Expat-Preneur”

University played an important role for Raj in cultivating his entrepreneurial spirit: “I always knew I would start a business simply because I was always driven to achieve more. At university I started and successfully ran many student groups. I was always resourceful and believed in making the most of given opportunities.”

Among these opportunities, Raj recognises that moving abroad has aided him as well as hindering him in some respects: “I knew moving abroad would never be easy, though I was well prepared for it. As a kid we moved to different countries in Asia. This whole moving process made it a tad easier when I had to move to England in 2001. Of course, I did miss family and friends. I believe it always takes time to settle in.”

NACUE: Connecting Expatriates with the Right People

What is NACUE?

NACUE, the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs , is the UK’s leading organisation for engaging university students in enterprise. The organisation aims to boost skills, confidence and aspiration in the younger generations and celebrate entrepreneurial spirit.

Through NACUE, Raj was introduced to similar young people who had set up their business straight out of university. “It becomes even harder when you are straight out of university and don't know many people in the business world. It just gets harder when you are an expat and can't fall back to your family and friends living locally. NACUE can potentially help fill that gap.”

Raj continues to follow NACUE’s progress and wants to become more involved within the organisation.

Boris Invites Young Business Minds to “Think Green”

In recent years, there has been a steep increase in activity in young entrepreneurs starting up their own companies. This is perhaps due to the fact that Britain is becoming more invested in encouraging young entrepreneurs to launch their business plans.

Boris Johnson, previous Mayor of London, organised his “Dragon’s Den” style green initiative targeted at young entrepreneurs for the fifth year running. Each year, the winning team of the Mayor’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur 2016 competition are awarded 20,000 prize to ensure these ideas become real innovative business ventures. Boris says: “It’s vital that we support young enterprising people in setting up innovative businesses to make positive change and boost the capital’s thriving green economy.” The Mayor’s competition, which took place on March 15th earlier this year, attracted more than 250 applications from 27 London universities.

And The Winning Team Is...

FeatherFill, named the 2016 winning team, is made up of 3 students from Imperial College London: Ioannis Tzouganatos, Ryan Robinson and Elena Dieckmann; Both Mr. Tzouganatos and Miss. Dieckmann are expatriates completing their degrees in London, from Greece and Germany respectively.

Ioannis, who completed his MSc in Advanced Chemical Engineering in November 2015, decided to study abroad to advance his scientific career as well as for the purposes of self-improvement: “I could not imagine a better place than the diverse city of London. What I love most about this city is that you can encounter people, cultures and opinions from all over the world. I never felt as a foreigner in London.” Ioannis, along with him FeatherFill teammates, has a vested interest in making London a more sustainable city.

What is FeatherFill?  

FeatherFill is a home insulation product created from feather waste. The idea is to kill two birds with one stone (excuse the pun) by tackling the issue of poor insulation in London housing and feather waste from the poultry industry: “Taking inspiration from nature, we thought that since feathers are designed for this purpose, why can’t we use them to keep our homes warm?”

Ioannis explains that FeatherFill is designed to be a cheaper and eco-friendlier alternative for insulating homes: “Our aim is to incorporate feathers into insulation foam boards, thus substituting a considerable amount of synthetic materials.”Although the project is still young, the 20,000 prize money will help to develop and improve the product in the laboratory, carrying out tests for thermal properties, mould resistance and flammability of the product.

Ioannis and the team are feeling confident with progress so far: “The results for thermal properties of our early prototypes look quite promising. We are also making industrial contacts, in an attempt to gain insight into what is needed to take the project to the next step. It is still early days so we cannot foresee how it will develop, however, we are optimistic and we will continue to persevere. London would be an ideal place to commercially exploit FeatherFill, due to a large amount of homes in need of proper insulation, but it is quite early for such plans.”

Ioannis explained that he would like to pursue a PhD in Chemical Engineering and he is currently looking for the right opportunity, while FeatherFill continues to tick over. He anticipates that learning to navigate the British market and its legal framework could prove a challenge as a young “expat-preneur” but he is confident that he and the FeatherFill team will learn, grow and develop as a company with each hurdle they meet and overcome.

Ioannis admits that the skills that he developed and acquired throughout the competition are invaluable: “The competition was an amazing opportunity to gain or improve several skills. In particular, it promoted collaboration and teamwork towards a shared goal. It also helped me better present ideas in an engaging way in front of a diverse audience. Last but not least, it improved my problem-solving ability and creativity in the development of the product and the project in general.”

Student Expat-Preneurs Paving The Way

The contributions of “expat-preneurs” to the continued prosperity of London both economically and culturally are evident. Organisations such as NACUE and support from the government have allowed London to develop into a playing field for numerous international companies, hence attracting more and more international students each year to develop their own career in this diverse city. Let’s continue to support this attitude and our home-grown expat-preneurs in London.