Rishit Radia

Jess Drew

Enterprise success stories

SIFE Exeter Presidents 2011/12:

  • Rishit Radia (Business Management 2013), and
  • Jess Drew (English Literature 2012)

SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise) is an international non-profit organization which is dedicated to nurturing the entrepreneurial skills of university students in a way that is both effective in developing their future careers and meaningful to the community. We set up a branch of this organisation in Exeter in 2011.

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

SIFE’s Mission is to bring together the top leaders of today and tomorrow, to create a better, more sustainable world through the positive power of Business.  The University of Exeter at the moment has more than 100 societies, but until SIFE initiated in October 2011, there were no social enterprise societies. Over the 5 months of running, our SIFE team at Exeter (Streatham) has grown to having 80 active members from all the different colleges. We are currently running six active projects plus one local and two international projects in the pipeline. SIFE Exeter (Streatham Campus team) is also a partner with Exeter’s Cornwall Campus SIFE team. Together, as SIFE University of Exeter, we have 120 active members, 11 projects and a total of £ 6635 raised through various routes.

SIFE Exeter’s unique selling point is being part of the only social enterprise society at University of Exeter – allowing members not only to make a difference in the community but also apply business and economic concepts. In addition, members work together in project teams, learning a range of different skills – from project leadership to communication skills to time management. The list is extensive.

SIFE’s main form of advertising is through Freshers’ Squash stalls and various recruitment events throughout the year. However we also do a lot of advertising within the community – letting people know about what SIFE Exeter is, what projects we have, and how we form strategic partnerships with local organisations and businesses.

SIFE Exeter’s main competitors are other SIFE teams in the UK. This is because SIFE UK (the Parent Organisation) holds annual series of regional and national competitions during the months of March and April. This is where all SIFE teams from UK Universities come together and present to a board of judges the impact they have to the community throughout the year, and the progress they have made as a SIFE team. The Winner then progresses into representing UK in a worldwide SIFE Competition platform. This year we won Rookie Champions at Nationals – beating 5 other new SIFE teams.

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

The idea came from the Employee and Graduate Development team. Students were notified that there was an opportunity for 2 students to attend the National Competition and come back to Exeter to start a SIFE Exeter team. We were selected to attend the National Competition 2011, and saw other SIFE students presenting on their successes over the period of 1 year.

To see what students could and have achieved in 1 year was inspiring, and we came back “SIFE-ed”. As soon as we came back to Exeter, we formed a committee, got some project ideas running and over the summer planned conducted needs assessments and developed project plans. At the start of the academic year in September 2011, we were initiated as a society as part of Students’ Guild, and had our first very successful recruitment drive to gain members to volunteer on, and lead, all our projects.

Juggling your academic studies with SIFE, as well as still having a social life must have been a challenge. How did you accommodate the three and what did an average day, if you had one, looked like for you?

At the start it was very difficult. Especially since it’s a start-up, there’s just so much to do! It’s like taking care of a baby – you feel like every decision is huge, and it is all consuming! But as the days progressed we started learning the tricks of the trade – ways to manage our time efficiently and effectively. If you can plan your day, your week, and your month ahead, and stick to the agenda, you will not only balance time between academics and business, but also get plenty of time to have your social life.

What helped you learn how to run SIFE Exeter? Has there been anything or anyone in particular that has helped you along the way?

It was the support from the University, and especially the EGD department that helped us along our journey with SIFE. There are plenty of enterprise related workshops students can attend, and the general support from the EGD team is fantastic and helped us greatly along the way. Our committee also took a big risk in signing up to a brand new, unknown society, so their belief in SIFE and passion for the projects gave us a lot of responsibility but also a lot of motivation to succeed. SIFE is also a big believer in sharing best practice tips – with other societies, SIFE teams and all the businesses we work with.

What support have you received from the University? Were there any particular curricular or extra-curricular activities that were instrumental in your and your business development?

We have had huge support from the university, which we are very grateful for. Each SIFE team in the UK has University Advisors, and in our team we have three advisors – Laura Bonner at Streatham, and Antonia Coppen and Alan Booth in Cornwall. They guide and mentor our team, providing us with support, contacts and resources that they believe will help our team, and our projects.

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

The key to the success for SIFE Exeter so far has been the willingness of every member to work hard to make a difference in the community, as well as the committee being so diligent in performing their roles and leading the society. We also believe that building strong and sustainable relationships with advisors, project partners, and local businesses will be the key factor for the SIFE Exeter team to be successful and impactful in the long term – becoming a “legacy” team.

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?

Of course, we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way! What you learn from the mistakes is important. There have been several instances of mis-communication, lack of clarity in committee role descriptions, faulty member retention plans and many more.

However, as a start-up, the more we learn from these mistakes the better. If I (Rishit) could go back in time, I would work on planning a little bit more in advance as well as keeping some contingency plans in place. I(Jess) would not micro-manage so much and encourage both myself and other team members to relax more and enjoy the experience of setting up SIFE Exeter – not let the stress of project planning etc. get too much!

Yet, overall we have no regrets from the mistakes we have made, as we have learnt from these and challenged ourselves to become a stronger team.

What can we look forward to in terms of SIFE Exeter? Have you got any future plans?

SIFE Exeter want to grow and become larger, and have a significant impact in the community. We want to extend our projects internationally, and there are several proposals that the new team are working on at the moment – one of them being working with school children in villages in India, transferring business skills and giving them a chance to set up their own small business by providing some seed fund.

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

Rishit – I see myself as an entrepreneur in 5 to 10 years time. I have a huge interest in Sustainable mining, and that is something I plan to take forward and start my own business around this. After I’ve set up my own business I would also like to start my own social enterprise in about 10 years time.

Jess – I have no idea where I see myself in a year, let alone five to ten! In the long run, the experience of setting up SIFE Exeter has made me want to start my own enterprise or social enterprise. For now, I am looking into careers which are people-focused, in businesses which are socially and environmentally pro-active.

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

Rishit – If you want to set up something of your own, then go for it. Don’t have any fear, especially the fear of failure.

Jess – Don’t dismiss business ideas by thinking “I couldn’t do that”/”no one would want that” – chances are you will see someone else doing it years later and kick yourself for not trusting your gut! If you have inspiration, harness it, and make use of all the support that is available to you at university to realise your idea.