Enterprise success stories

Ben Ivey


What do/did you study at the University of Exeter?

1st in Economics with a proficiency in Mandarin

What is your business all about?

I sell university branded sports bags to sports societies and universities at student prices.

What is your business’s unique selling point (USP)? What is your main form of advertising? Who are your main competitors?

I have large competitors such as Kukri and Canterbury but also small local competition that may supply university bags. However my unique selling point is that my bags are personalised for the society. Furthermore, the society will keep part of the revenue from selling the bags so that they have more money to spend as the see fit.

Where did your idea come from? What is the start-up story behind your business?

I have always wanted a business, whilst at Exeter university, I tried various times to create businesses but none of them to the scale I am now. I imported 50 Chinese character books from China and thought I paid £1 for the books so shipped them first class for £8 however a few days later I realised I had converted it into the wrong currency and paid just over £90 for shipping! I have learnt a lot from these earlier mistakes and when I saw a niche in the market for sports bags in May 2013 I took it upon myself to create a design and really push this idea through.

Juggling your academic studies with your new business as well as still having a social life must be a challenge. How do you accommodate the three and what does an average day, if you have one, look like for you?

At university you have to organise yourself, for me I tried to organise daily the times at which I need to do various things for both business and studies. However, whilst drinking a lot at university, this is always difficult to do. The best advice is to do the most important thing first and find the technique that best suits you that makes you as productive as possible.

What things helped you learn how to run a new business? Has there been anything or anyone in particular that has helped you along the way?

Talk to your friends but remember a lot of them sugar coat what they will say to you as to not hurt your feelings. So ask them honestly or ask strangers as you know them will give you an honest reply. The innovation centre and Ignite were a great help as they offer really good advice when you feel overwhelmed. Using them to find out what to do next is so important as it allows you to receive advice from people who have made mistakes before so that you don’t have to.

What support have you received from the University?

I received financial support from the innovation centre as well as business advice through their accelerator program. Furthermore, I was the first student given the right to use the Exeter university logo and crest on bags.

What do you think has been your key to success so far?

Seeing and exploiting a niche in the market has been the most important thing so far and hopefully that can carry on in the future

Have you made any mistakes along the way? Is so, what have you learnt from these? And further, if you could go back in time, are there any things that you would change or would do differently? Everyone makes mistakes when setting up businesses but it’s only from these that you learn. You don’t learn from successes anywhere near as much as your failures. If I could go back I would definitely have built a team around me, as it does get difficult sometimes not being able to bounce ideas off a partner.

What can we look forward to in terms of your business? Have you got any future plans for it?

I am looking to expand to all universities in the coming year and will be working on other projects in the future.

How about yourself? Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?

I would love to set up lots of different businesses in various sectors. In five years having a variety of successful businesses that provide me with a constant income stream is my main aim

What advice do you have for other University of Exeter students who are looking to start their own business?

Don’t be afraid to start it as you only regret things you don’t do in life not things you do. Take the risk especially at university where there is so much support.