MBA Class of 2024 graduate Kath came to UK having established a successful business in her native Vietnam. With the support of Essex Startups team, she has launched a new business project that she hopes to expand globally.

How it started…

I came to the UK from Vietnam in January 2023 to study The Essex MBA.

I studied Business Administration at undergraduate level in Vietnam before starting a career in sales and marketing within the education industry. After eight years, I decided to set up my own education consultancy business, AMOLI, helping Vietnamese students’ study abroad in English speaking countries. I had made lots of contacts from previous employment, so quickly established my business as the go-to for scholarship mentoring and visa applications for prospective study abroad students.

As the business grew, I began to consider the possibility of expanding the service offer and entering new markets. I decided that I needed to enhance my business skills through further study and by studying abroad I could explore the possibility of introducing AMOLI to new markets. Having applied to several overseas business schools, it was the specialist module focusing on entrepreneurship and strategies led by the Essex Startups team that confirmed my decision to choose the University of Essex.

When I arrived at Essex, I begin having regular meetings with the Startups team to discuss the business I’d already established and my ideas for expansion. It was here that the concept for my new project, Study UK Mate – powered by AMOLI, was born. Study UK Mate builds on the standard services that AMOLI offers but provides in depth information that will impact the student’s overall experience, such as accommodation, settlement options, career opportunities, and cultural considerations, to help with adjusting to a foreign environment.

With the team’s support I successfully received funding by participating in the Dragon’s Den and Pecha Kucha pitching events. These experiences not only boosted my confidence in the scalability of my business into new markets but allowed me to obtain invaluable feedback on the style and structure of my pitches.

Later on, Spark On was born when two ideas met: Study UK Mate - a platform to support international students in the UK and Spark On - an ecosystem to support the personal development of young people. After I met with the other four founders in the UK and exchanged ideas, we realised the common points of the two ideas and the harmony in vision, so we decided to establish Spark On with the desire to provide the most comprehensive support for young people on the journey to conquer their dreams, develop themselves and achieve success when studying abroad.

How it’s going…

During my MBA I obtained a license agreement for Studio X, allowing me to use the address as my registered UK office. Having this connection provides great benefits in promoting my business to new clients and enhancing its profile. However, the biggest benefit for me was the mentoring I received from fellow entrepreneurs, in particular graduates Abi Bright and Cami Valenzuela Arriagada. The support and guidance they provided helped to keep me motivated and striving to achieve my goals. Whenever I visit the UK now, I spend as much time as I can visiting the team, using the space, and networking with the start-up community on campus.

Finding the work life balance is an ongoing challenge. It was particularly tricky during my studies at Essex because I was running my business alongside the intensity of completing an MBA. I used to work virtually with the team in Vietnam between 3am-6am, then allow myself a bit of downtime before my classes started at 9am. I am lucky that I find joy and happiness in my work, so I established a routine that allocated time for me to manage each aspect of my life. I must admit that during exam season I did find the juggle difficult, but once I established a process of delegation with my team it gave me the freedom to prioritise rest and work as effectively as possible.

There are certainly sacrifices that need to be made. During my time as Essex, I didn’t have the opportunity to get involved much in extra-curricular or social activities, but I still made friends and had fun along the way. Working in this way has taught me to make the most of every minute of free time that I have. During my last months before I finish the MBA course, I visited more than 20 cities in the UK to understand the cultures in different regions and network with educational institutions. I have found that using free time to explore and have fun makes my work more enjoyable.

What’s next…

I still have a long way to go with the visa application to allow me to return to the UK and continue the expansion of my business here, but huge progress has been made so far in establishing Spark On in Vietnam. I’m so grateful to the Essex Startups team for the support they have given me to get to this point, things are looking very positive for the business.

Major changes are on the way, as I’m currently five months pregnant. It is an extremely exciting time, but it’s going to be more important than ever to have effective plans in place for myself and my team to ensure that my business continues to thrive. The message I want to send to the world is that nothing can limit your abilities or challenge your professionalism. Pregnancy does not slow down my work or affect my productivity; it motivates me even more to prove that all biases against women are unfounded.

I’m happy to help any aspiring entrepreneurs to reach out to me on LinkedIn for any kind of business advice or guidance. It’s important to me to be able to be an ambassador for student and graduate entrepreneurs and ‘pay forward’ the support I have received from the University community on my journey.

Words of wisdom…

When you’re starting out having a clear vision is not essential, the most important thing is that you act. Make that first meeting to begin the conversations, otherwise you’ll never progress beyond the idea stage. The more you plan the more chance you have of making your business a reality.

It’s not an easy process, you must commit. Be proactive, do your research, and understand the demand. You won’t be spoon-fed, but the Essex Startups team will take you through the essential steps needed to create your business plan and make your dream come to life. 

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.