From the Are You Not Drinking Much? society at Kent University, to socials and cookery demos based around plant-based food at the University of Bristol, students across the UK are using uni life as an opportunity to set up societies, clubs and even businesses based around their lifestyles.
Take Nafisa Bakkar, 23, a Muslim who struggled to find stylish, modest clothes as a student studying natural sciences at University College London. “I’d go on Asos to buy a maxi skirt or a dress, but it would have a slit in it, it would be half see-through, or it would be short at the front and long at the back! It became a really long-winded process,” she says.
“At first I thought it was a personal frustration, but I kept hearing ‘Oh I wish this skirt didn’t have the slit’, or ‘I really like this dress but I’m going to have to wear a top under it’. I realised the problem was much bigger than me.”
This inspired Bakkar to start up Amaliah, a fashion site that collates modest clothing options for young women. “At the end of university, I started covering up more because I wanted to be seen for my ability rather than physical appeal. People often assume women of faith make lifestyle choices passively but you will find a wave of women, Muslim or otherwise, choosing to take control over what they wear.”
Since launching the site, Bakkar has been overwhelmed by the feedback she’s received, including from non-Muslims. People are surprised that it was personal frustration, and not a love of fashion, that motivated her. “It was my personal interest and goal in wanting to work on something meaningful that really helped me shape the business,” she says.
Blue light from screens was the thing that wound Dhruvin Patel up – and drove him to create a business at uni. Tech-addict Dhruvin Patel, 23, found himself glued to screens as a student studying optometry at City University London.
“Like most of my friends, I used my phone constantly throughout the day, and then went to my tablet two or three times a day to check news in the morning, read books, or watch videos in the evening. I was addicted.”
While at university, Patel took a placement at Vision Express and discovered glasses that protect against blue light. “This got me thinking: why is there nothing out there for people who don’t wear glasses?”
Patel researched the effects of blue light and found that exposure to it can stop you sleeping. So he developed a protective screen that viewers can place over smartphones, tablets and computer screens to diffuse the harmful blue light.
He’s since sold over 5,000 Ocushield products globally, and was even asked to supply screen covers for the Welsh national rugby team. “They said they wanted their players to be well rested, and have the most energy. So they approached us to get screen protectors on the team’s phones and tablets.”
Part of the business’s success is down to the steady increase of people using screens every day. “It’s a growing market, especially for students. And children use screens constantly too.” Many schools are now supplying students with screen protectors.
Being a tech addict has helped Patel to shape his business. “Because the product was made for people like me, I’m able to see what works best. I regularly try out different types of protectors on my screens.”
Fitness has always been at the forefront of Andrew Norton’s mind. Norton, 22, a sport science and management graduate from Nottingham Trent University, says sport was a big part of his childhood. While at university he realised his lifestyle was the perfect grounding for starting a business around protein supplements.
As a regular supplement user, Norton had become frustrated with having to buy huge tubs of one flavour, and then work his way through them. So he developed Which Whey?, which supplies servings of ready-measured protein supplements in a variety of flavours.
“I wanted to match the supplement to people’s individual activity levels,” says Norton. So he created personalised supplements for individuals depending on their sporting goal – whether that was being achieved through running, cycling or playing badminton.
“Without my passion for fitness, I never would have started the business,” he says. Because the hardest part was starting the company, he urges any students with an entrepreneurial spirit to “just to get the ball rolling and get it started”.
At university, all three agree, you have the opportunity to shape the world around you by following your lifestyle passions into societies, charities or businesses. “Surround yourself with those who nurture the good in you and erode away the bad,” says Bakkar. “You’re never too young, too inexperienced or too lacking in contacts to start something.”
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