On the day of his last university exam, business graduate Lewis Bowen started his company AIR, which produces environmentally friendly candles.
What inspired you to start your business?
I’ve always wanted to run my own business. I like the idea of making products that solve a real problem. During my course I started learning about harmful fuels and wanted to do something to reduce their use.
Where did candles come into it?
If you buy a candle in the shop, the chances are it’s made from paraffin wax. It’s a completely unnecessary use of fossil fuels. My company produces a range of clean burning fuels to overcome indoor air pollution. This includes our bio-oil LightMe candles, which are free of soot, avoid spilling wax and are environmentally friendly.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
University is the best place to build a business. You have access to so many different skills and contacts. In business, having a good network behind you is all-important. I got mine through the people I met while at Hallam. I met my first retail partner on a Hallam leadership course, and my operations manager is a friend who I met in my first week at university.
7 lessons I learned about running my own business
- It takes time
Anyone can have an idea. It’s the implementation of that idea which is key. It will take years of blood, sweat and tears to get your business making a good income, so be prepared to make social and financial sacrifice.
- Don’t give up at the first hurdle
At some point you will be told ‘no thanks’ by a potential customer, investor or key stakeholder. Take time to understand how to develop that ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. For example, can your product or service improve? Can you develop your team?
- Use the help on offer at uni
At university you are surrounded by a whole world of help. Universities have an enormous network and resources available, from market data and packaging design to video production and accountancy.
- Learn to embrace failure
People get defeated by failure, but the biggest part of starting a business is that you are trying to do things differently to everybody else.
Pushing boundaries and doing things differently will mean that failure will happen – it’s part of the cycle. You have to fail and fail fast. Learn from it but don’t be defeated by it.
- Age doesn’t matter
I started AIR at the age of 23. I was definitely nervous about speaking to older, more experienced people but the fact is that age doesn’t really matter.
If you are passionate, have a good grasp on your business and respect others, people buy into you and ultimately your business.
- Build a network
When you’re starting a business you can sometimes feel like you’re on your own. Surround yourself with a good support network that you can turn to. Find a good mentor and don’t be afraid to say you need some help.
- It never hurts to ask
Nobody just has the money lying around to start a business (unless you are very lucky!). You have to be entrepreneurial both in your ideas and your way of doing business.
You will be amazed what a few cheeky requests can get you. We got a free full-page spread in the Times because of exactly that.