"I knew I had the entrepreneur persona, that's something that brought me to the University of Essex!" 

Alicia Torres studied MSc International Marketing and Entrepreneurship at Essex Business School. Over the summer, she worked with Essex Startups and participated in the Big Pitch during which she successfully secured funding to launch her own business. Alongside planning for her own launch, she is currently working full-time as a Marketing Manager for an online beauty marketplace. We caught up with Alicia to find out more about her business plans, her studies and what she’s up to now.

Alicia Torres, who studied MSc International Marketing and Entrepreneurship, stands on a balcony. She is smartly dressed, and she is stood smiling directly towards the camera.

What inspired you to start your business, The Harbour Workspace?

I knew I had the entrepreneur persona, that's something that brought me to the University of Essex! It’s like a gravity that I knew I could start my own business, I just wanted to get my Masters done first. 

I had started writing down ideas, I have a journal that I keep with me. An idea I had was something which I wanted whilst I was in Southend, I found that there's not a lot of study spots. I think the library can feel a little like a social area, sometimes it’s hard to work in there and if you want a coffee, you have to leave. That's kind of where the idea started building; I thought if only there was a place that I could go and hang out but didn't have to pay to be there. I wanted a place that would be good for your soul, a place that you could feel productive and you could find a community.

Where do you envisage your business going? 

From that idea of being like a library but not, it became a co-working space and that space being more focused on the community, being built by a community. The idea would be that it is scalable, it could easily be in Southend or in New York.

The overall idea would be providing somewhere someone can work safely, but also find their neighbours, or maybe go to a supper club or do a pitching session. It's also giving back to the community so everyone that is going there, a portion of those profits are going to be used for maybe a CV building class or skill sharing for someone that is in an underserved situation, someone who is working a job but knows they have that drive to reach a career. You can easily skill share or give an apprenticeship in this situation. 

How are you juggling that alongside your other full-time job?

Essex Startups has given me so much support and had so much patience with me too, because I have such a unique situation where I’m not a UK resident so I can't live at home while building this – I have to have a full-time job! It does require a lot of evenings and a lot of weekend research and just constantly keeping an eye on what the industry looks like, what different trends are. 

My next goal is to just start networking like crazy in the Southend area and that of course is probably going to be early mornings and late nights, but I’m so willing to do it! It’s so fun and I am so passionate about it, I really want to get it going. 

How did Essex support you with starting your business? 

I got an email from Essex Startups, and at the very bottom it had ‘schedule a meeting for a brainstorming session’ and I thought: 'cool, I’ll go hang out with someone and brainstorm!' 

We had such an amazing first session. I think I came with full-on notes, I'd prepped all this stuff and really felt like it was going to be a business presentation and it was so low-key and so chilled, she just let my mind go and ramble!

During my degree, I had done my entire dissertation on co-working spaces and marketing them, so I had a lot of the background work and I was just refining it every week on competitor analysis, financial forecasting and what my executive summary would look like. 

What elements of your degree do you think helped you most with building your business plan?

I did my undergrad in Texas, the programmes here are a lot different. In the US, you get to choose all your classes for the most part. When I started at Essex, they gave me my plan. I think I only got to choose two or three modules but I'm so thankful for that because whilst there were a lot of things about marketing I did know, having worked at a social media agency and in marketing, it was the deeper ground roots of marketing that I wasn't sure on, and business functions like supply chain

I think that those bits of the degree helped to pull everything together. Sometimes with marketing I’m only thinking of a creative angle so for me it was important to understand those functions and to do it in an international school! Almost all students in Southend are international. It was lovely to be able to speak with people that weren't just from the United States, that had that mindset and people that interact with different companies or from different situations. I think that meeting other marketeers completely opened my mind.

How do you feel the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted your plans?

With everything that's happening with the pandemic it's opened a big dialogue for people to start voicing how they actually feel about working in offices and now I do think that no matter what setting you are in, you can feel more comfortable to say if you don't work in the standard way. It's not a mould and it’s started to open and get that conversation started.

It's also the commute factor that I really wanted to target because commuting to London, that’s two hours a day that I'm spending on a commute that I could be spending somewhere else or maybe just getting to know my neighbours - I didn't know any of them. It's so unfortunate that a potential business partner or your next best friend could be in your building but because you’ve spent so much time commuting back and forth, you're not really a part of your neighbourhood.

What made you choose Essex?

The programme.  I was living in Austin and was working at a social media agency and I knew I wanted to get a Masters. I knew I wanted to study more of an international subject, but I couldn't do that in Texas, it just didn't make sense to me to study that subject while still at home. I Googled 'Masters programme UK', not even marketing! Knowing that it was marketing and entrepreneurship in one it brought it home for me. I knew that it was something I had to do!

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