Class of 2022 graduate Dani came to the UK from Colombia after being awarded a scholarship to study The Essex MBA. He has founded a business addressing the digital skills gap for the older generation.

How it started…

I started my first business in Colombia, providing drone pilot training to public service providers, such as the Police and Fire Services. I didn’t have any grand ambitions when starting out, it was simply a way to share my knowledge of a skill I had developed. But this was the catalyst in my entrepreneurial journey, as I began to develop the skills and knowledge required for running a business.

I came to Essex after participating in the Essex MBA Shark Tank for entrepreneurs and business practitioners based in Latin America. I won the pitching event and was awarded a scholarship to come to the UK and study The Essex MBA.

The original plan was to study for the MBA, while expanding the drone training company into the UK market. However, when I arrived in the UK in October 2020, travel was still very restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, localised lockdowns were being enforced, and all teaching had moved online. Although my business had been successful in Latin America, its income was not enough to sustain life in the UK.

I met with Andy Mew from the Essex Startups team on my first day in the UK, to ensure that I was aware of the limitations relating to my visa and to discuss my options as an entrepreneur upon graduation. After this initial meeting, I joined many of the workshops and had mentoring with Entrepreneur-in-Residence James Cracknell to enhance my understanding of running a business in the UK.

I found a job in marketing to help support my income and began to think about the ways I could adapt my business for the UK market. It was a lot for me to juggle, however taking on a job gave me peace of mind in terms of living costs and also allowed me to advance my transferable skills.

Business development…

During my MBA study, there were changes in government legislation for international graduates and it became clear that if I was going to stay in the UK longer term, I would need to apply for a Start-up Visa and create a new business from scratch. While considering my options for the future, I began creating content for my social media channels on a daily basis, sharing my general knowledge of marketing and digital communications to help people wanting to develop their own knowledge in this area. At this point, I didn’t have a set goal, but I knew that growing a community through being disciplined and sharing consistent, useful content would give me the foundations of a customer base further down the line.

With my background in offering training, both with my drone company and via the content I was creating for social media, I knew that I wanted the basis of my business to involve sharing knowledge. The content I was sharing on social channels had gained traction and saw me go from two thousand to sixty thousand followers on Instagram, for example, over a three-month period. I became committed to understanding my audience and their needs in order to offer the right solutions.

It was during this process that I found my niche, and beginnings of my business Digital Wisdom began to come together. I identified a significant skills gap for older people in this digital age and decided to focus on addressing the challenge of providing accessible and effective digital education for seniors. I worked closely with Andy and Lauren from the Essex Startups team to hone my ideas and rework my business plan to prepare the Start-up Visa process. The help and support I received was extremely useful on both a personal level and for the development of my business.

How it’s going…

I have developed a free online introductory course that focuses on key digital skills and promotes the benefits of working remotely. Following completion of this, participants can sign-up to a six-week, paid-for programme to enhance their skills further. I have recently completed the pilot phase for the six-week course, interacting with participants to maximise my understanding of the consumer journey and adapt the course content to their requirements. The feedback received from my first cohort of participants has been invaluable in confirming that my curriculum is fulfilling market expectation and in helping promote the course to my second cohort of participants – for which I already have 60 people registered.

I will be leaving my current part-time employment in marketing later this month to focus on my business. I have had very little balance recently, resulting in me working seven days a week and not taking a day off for the last three months! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach but having founded a company before I feel more confident in pushing myself to be ‘all in’ for the short term so that I have a solid foundation to grow from. I have a very clear plan and am willing to make the sacrifices now for future gain.

I recently participated in the Essex Startups pitching event for a Santander Microfinance Grant and was delighted to be awarded £3,000 toward the progression of Digital Wisdom.

What’s next…

The money awarded from the Santander Microfinance Grant is going to be put towards hiring an editor, which will enable the creation of higher quality, specialised and competitive content for my social channels.

I have been researching further investment opportunities and am preparing to pitch for these.

The company I originally founded is still running back home in Colombia; however, I am no longer actively involved in its daily operations.

Words of wisdom…

Ideas are not enough, it’s important to have a product/service that fulfils a market need. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have all of the knowledge about running a business, but by launching a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) you’ll be able to ensure your product/service has value by evaluating the user experience. With this insight you can begin to make the adjustments needed to ensure success.

Be willing to adapt, you are not smarter than your market. The key is to test – by listening to market feedback, you can perfect your offering.

Don’t spend lots of time and money on advertising, as often the quick, low-investment options have the best impact.

Find out more

If you have a potential business idea, or are interested in developing your business skills, find out more about the training, events and support Essex Startups offers to current students and recent graduates.