Making my way to Arcube’s glass-fronted office, through modernist and lofty-ceilinged halls, it strikes me that the Alliance Manchester Business School is probably the most underrated building at UoM. Set off to the far edge of campus, like our university’s student entrepreneurs, those of us who don’t study business can forget it is there.
Entrepreneurship is a career path which is widely respected but little understood. People love the idea, with the majority of Britain’s workforce aspiring to start their own business. But few of us follow through. If you’re like me, it often seems like a distant lifestyle; the stuff of TikToks and morning routine videos.
It is easy to forget how idealised social media is. Last year, there were four million businesses with no employees in the UK. Presumably, few are run by influencers who get up at five in the morning to hit the gym and manage an Instagram empire. More of them are here at the University of Manchester than you would think.
I visited Arcube, a start-up with three employees based at the Alliance School. The creation of third-year students Prithveesh Reddy and Harvey Lowe, Arcube specialises in modernising customer loyalty programs using high-tech data analysis and the technology blockchain. Their clients include Red Bull and the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, Etihad Airways.
I met with Harvey, Prithveesh, and Dario Tameu, Arcube’s creative director, who is also in third year at MMU, to talk about their experience as students running a business. Prithveesh and Harvey met at AccelerateME, a UoM programme which aims to get university start-ups off the ground.
The group runs a 12-week accelerated programme to help students with their business aspirations. According to Harvey, being around other people who faced similar problems was particularly helpful.
Arcube was not either of its founders’ first startup. Prithveesh began a consultancy at seventeen to help high school students with university applications, which eventually employed ten people. Harvey sold health and well-being products online during secondary school, a venture that began via a bet with a schoolmate to see who could earn the most revenue on eBay. He says “It was just exciting more than anything; I didn’t mean to start a business.”
The earnings the pair made in high school were useful for getting Arcube off the ground. They tried out several ideas, including carbon credits and NFC business cards (which share contact information wirelessly to people’s phones), before settling on their current focus.
In the end, the outdated customer loyalty programmes in the airline industry were a natural calling. “We saw that this industry is massive, but the tech they use is pretty rudimentary,” says Prithveesh. Sometimes worth more than the airlines behind them, these schemes are an indispensable source of revenue.
Arcube’s work is two-end; for customers, it means benefits are customisable and kick in sooner, while for businesses it optimises data analytics so they better understand their customers. Dario also managed an NFT campaign for Etihad, releasing 3D virtual aircraft models.
Arcube is one of a plethora of start-ups to have come out of AccelerateME, which is open to students and staff from all universities in Manchester. In 2021 alone, the website lists 14 start-ups by 21 entrepreneurs. AccelerateME helps students in several ways. It offers up to £5000 in funding. It runs skill-developing workshops. It introduces students to networking opportunities and mentorship from professionals.
I spoke with Alex Radulescu, the managing director of AccelerateME and a third year IT management student. Alex worked for a start-up before alongside his degree and hopes to start one of his own in the future.
When asked how he has found running the programme, Alex was very upbeat. He appreciates supporting “young disrupters” at the school, and the chance to grow alongside them. “The part I enjoy most is the feeling that I am building on everything that generations of students have before me and that the things we do have a long-lasting impact on people’s lives and the community.”
As for what he has learned in his time at the start-up, “Followership is essential to leadership. You cannot be the latter until you have been the former.”
AccelerateME is now in its tenth year running, but it is not the only group supporting entrepreneurs at UoM.
The Masood Entrepreneurship Centre
The Masood Entrepreneurship Centre (MEC) is another focal point for aspiring businesses. It offers lessons, speaker events, workshops, and sponsorship for students. It supports 260 active businesses, with over 1,000 employees and £50 million turnover. Last year, 31 new start-ups were created through the MEC.
One such business is Urban Chain, founded by Doctors Somayeh Taherih, Mo Hajhashem, and Ayesha Naureen in Manchester. It provides peer-to-peer energy exchange services for green and affordable energy.
There is also Bright Biotech, a company which manufactures proteins for research and development. Its website surmises the business: “We transform plants into engines that produce high-value proteins.”
Staff or student, there are multiple options out there at UoM if you want to launch something of your own.
Advice for Student Entrepreneurs
Before I left, I had one last question for Arcube: what advice would they give to a student aiming to start a business? For Harvey, drawing on the people around you is important. “Try your charm, try your luck, get as much as you can out of their insight and advice.”
The difference between the idea others hold of your job and the reality of it can be tricky. “You’re not just focusing on one massive picture,” Harvey tells me, “Everyone thinks that you are, but it’s many small problems that you have to deal with. You put out fires all the time, and you get used to it but it doesn’t get easier.”
It is a line of work that demands patience. “You might be solving all these problems now, but they don’t instantly make you a gain. Months down the line it is realised into something.”
Dario recommends moving at your own speed, and not heeding the pace of others around you. “Every business has its own pace, so it’s more about making the right decisions at the right time and not necessarily as fast as possible.”
Prithveesh has his line set out from a recent TED talk he’s done; it’s all about avoiding your own mental barriers. “Young people like us have this paralysis where we try to chase that perfect business plan, that perfect time to start, but to be honest, it never really comes. Whatever little you can do today you’ve got to try and do it today.”
Alex Radulescu added: “If you are a student and you have a business or are thinking of starting one, apply to our accelerator programme and let us help you take it to the next level! Get up to £5000 in equity-free funding, workshops and mentorship from industry professionals over a 12-week accelerated programme, access to office space in Manchester, and huge networking opportunities with the investment landscape in the North. More details and a link to apply in our Instagram Bio – applications close 15th of January 2024 – @accelerate_meco.”