• Sricharan Sanakkayala

The Business of Student Startups

Updated: Mar 24

Sricharan Sanakkayala writes about the current trends in the world of student startups.


When you hear the words ‘successful company’ you may think of Facebook, Dropbox, Snapchat, Reddit, or WordPress. But have you thought of what they all have in common? They all began as student startups.


Since the past decade, student startups have been fairly common, and they continue to grow rapidly. Since 2015, a new company has been established, on average, every 2 hours by students. In addition, student startups are becoming more successful over time. Nearly 300,000 employees work at companies started by the graduates of 2018/19 - an increase of over 30% from those started by 2014/15 graduates. The work of these new companies is paying off as well. The companies of 2018/19 graduates have an overall combined income of £1 billion - almost twice to those from 5 years prior. With so much success circulated around these startups, one has to wonder how it is all possible.


One of the biggest advantages of a student startup is the student body. Students are known for tackling problems with clever solutions. For instance, two MIT students kept forgetting their USB drives and were having a tough time transferring files. Their solution was a cloud-based storage and sharing system - current day Dropbox. Students find startups ‘cool’. There is an intrinsic happiness behind sitting at the dinner table and discussing the solutions to problems for hours on end. As university students, they also have more flexibility and resources than most other people. And, once in love with their ideas, they pursue it relentlessly - a quality investors love. They work hard, and if it is a success story they inspire others to get started, otherwise they begin the cycle with another idea. This endless pattern seems to be one of the main reasons for the recent increase in student startups as exemplified from this story at UCL.


When we think of successful student startups, we do not have to look too far out. Olivia Wollenberg was a UCL Cognitive Neuroscience student when she was diagnosed with severe food intolerances. She quickly realized that the current market lacked plant-based free-from treats that did not compromise taste, so she accepted the challenge and founded Livia’s. To learn business fundamentals, she competed in the UCL Entrepreneurs Summer Entrepreneurathon and won the Bright Ideas Award. Then, for two years, she diligently “produced, packed, and delivered from her parent’s kitchen”. Her hardwork has paid off as Livia’s now has 4 delicious products in many of the UK's major retailers such as Sainsbury's, Tesco, Boots, and Wholefoods. Wollenberg’s inspiring journey is the perfect example of a student startup. She encountered a problem; she utilized UCL’s vast resources that helped her to network, find funding, and gain insights about the market to propel her business; she pursued her idea relentlessly; her company Livia’s is a success. However, this is just the beginning for student startups. Our current Covid-19 situation presents many opportunities.


Despite its unwavering nature, the student culture will take a turn in 2020 due to the pandemic. According to the Creator Fund, student startups across the UK have always focused most on the healthcare sector. With Covid-19 exposing some of the world’s biggest healthcare vulnerabilities, students will attempt to solve these issues with the most innovative solutions. However, all sectors need the help of the emerging startups to solve their respective problems. For instance, rebuilding businesses would be a major market post Covid-19. Companies would want more work on improving their impact. New solutions are necessary to help companies implement their policies faster. Due to the exponentially increasing quantity of data, company information should be decentralized to avoid any major issues and increase efficiency and system scalability. With employees working remotely, better schemes for collaboration would be needed. New ways of reaching customers and reviving their inner avid consumer would be a major challenge as well. There is literally a world of opportunities, and the students today are observing it all from the dinner table.


The UCL Finance and Technology Review (UCL FTR) is the official publication of the UCL FinTech Society. We aim to publish opinions from the student body and industry experts with accuracy and journalistic integrity. While every care is taken to ensure that the information posted on this publication is correct, UCL FTR can accept no liability for any consequential loss or damage arising as a result of using the information printed. Opinions expressed in individual articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editorial team, society, Students’ Union UCL or University College London. This applies to all content posted on the UCL FTR website and related social media pages.