For final year student Alice Colligan, it was seeing a poster on campus advertising Sparks services that prompted her to re-think her plans for a career in the medical devices sector.
Having an inherent entrepreneurial streak as a teenager she refurbished and sold bicycles Alice got in touch with Spark and find out how her business idea, Youmi & Teepee, could become a reality. From conversations with her mother, a primary school teaching assistant who also runs an after-school club, Alice knew that encouraging children to enjoy reading was key to their progression. She came up with a versatile teepee design that could be used as a reading corner or for imaginative play in an education setting or alternatively as a bedroom play den.
I saw what was on offer from school equipment suppliers but wanted to create something special and inspirational, said Alice. I worked on my designs, carried out some market research with teachers and parents, and took my business idea to Spark. Alices groundwork impressed Spark and she was awarded an enterprise scholarship. That funding, plus the prize money from Alices first place in the pre-trading category of the 2014 Spark business plan competition, meant the teepees could be manufactured and in stock before the start of trading.
Its been a journey of problem-solving and hurdle-jumping to get to this point but the Spark team has always been there for advice and support, she said. Im going to target both the education and domestic markets initially and see which one proves more successful; from there Ill tailor the business accordingly.
As a sole trader, Ive had to think about all aspects of the business and make all decisions myself. Without the Spark team and their business advisers, that would have been an even more daunting prospect. The guidance Ive received in everything from creating a meaningful business plan, to building a website, to giving confident presentations, has been essential in getting me to the brink of trading.
Alice is already thinking ahead for Youmi & Teepee and hopes to bring production to the UK whilst maintaining a competitive retail price. Thats important to me so Ill be speaking to UK manufacturers as soon as I can, she said. Ive also got ideas for other childrens items for school and home. Its been a challenge getting to this point but now I cant wait to start trading and give it my all.
You can follow Youmi & Teepee on Twitter @YoumiandTeepee.