Case study

Getting more than a degree: Žaneta’s enterprising journey

For international student Žaneta Musilová, university has been about more than just study. As well as gaining a 2:1 degree, Žaneta has worked continuously to fund herself, and used the university support on offer to boost her employability and launch her own business. All of this, despite being struck down with Long Covid for five months.

The internship, entrepreneurial ambitions, and Long Covid

During the first year of her Criminology and Psychology Joint Honours degree, Žaneta Musilová decided to apply for an events and project management internship at the University’s Enterprise Centre. This was perhaps surprising given her choice of course, but events management had long been of interest to her. Her application was successful, and she started the internship in January 2020.

This turned out to be a key moment because it opened her eyes to so many opportunities and brought her into contact with some influential people.

“I was helping to organise lots of events that brought students and businesses together, and networking with lots of people from inside and outside of the University,” says Žaneta. “I also found out about the University’s Be the Boss programme for student entrepreneurs, and because I already had a business idea, I joined this and the Innovation Hothouse to help me develop that idea.”

Unfortunately, the UK then entered lockdown, and this disrupted everything. All the face-to-face events that Žaneta was helping to organise stopped, although her internship did continue remotely. Žaneta’s business idea — which was to launch a dance events company – also got put on hold. On top of all that, she had to battle with vision problems brought on by Long Covid, which forced her to have a five-month break from her studies.

Building experience with support from the University

As an international student with no financial support from her family, Žaneta needed to work while studying to fund herself. Initially, she had various casual jobs such as waitressing. But during her internship, she met the University’s Conference Manager, who gave her a part-time job working on Reception in the Enterprise Centre, mainly at weekends. This turned out to be the first of many professional opportunities the University has given her. 

After recovering from Long Covid and experiencing two further lockdowns as a student, Žaneta began a role as an administrator in the University’s Apprenticeship Hub. Through this, she developed her skills in problem solving, organisation, stakeholder management and report writing.

“My manager was very flexible with my hours of work, allowing me to study when I needed to,” says Žaneta. “Of course, because they were part of the University, they understood the importance of my degree.”

She continued in this role for over a year while completing her degree, and then in June 2022, moved to a co-ordinator role in the Conferences team to cover a secondment. “I have always enjoyed events management, so I wanted to move back into this area of work,” explains Žaneta. 

When the person on secondment returned, Žaneta needed a new role and found it again in the University. Because of all the business-to-business experience she had amassed by this time, Žaneta secured a job as a B2B Marketing and Social Media Assistant. Marketing is a new area for Žaneta but it couldn’t have come at a better time:

“I was already thinking that to develop my own business, I needed to learn marketing, so it was perfect timing!”

In recognition of her employment experience, as well as her involvement in several student competitions and the University’s mentoring scheme (where she was mentored by the Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary), Žaneta was able to achieve the Gold Futures Award. This award is offered by our Careers and Employment Service. It recognises any activities that students undertake to develop their employability, outside of their course. It was another valuable addition to Žaneta’s already burgeoning CV!

The University has always been very supportive of my career, and flexible. Even when they can’t help with a particular query, they will always signpost me to organisations that can.

Žaneta Musilová
Graduate and entrepreneur

Developing her own business

The vision of running her own dance events company had been put on hold for a couple of years, but it had never gone away. In autumn 2022, Žaneta started to work on her business idea again. 

As a keen dancer herself, Žaneta had taken part in dance workshops while at University. But she’d had to travel to London to find the types of events she was looking for. When she realised that other people from the midlands had travelled to these events too, she saw an opportunity:

“I wanted to provide more dance opportunities in this region,” says Žaneta. 

Her company, Infinity Flow, will offer classes and workshops in dance styles that are not available here yet, such as Dancehall and Afro. Žaneta ran her first workshop in December 2022 with the help of two teachers from London. Eventually, she plans to offer summer camps, competitions and other services as well.

Žaneta has also now re-joined Innovation Hothouse to get support to develop her business.

“They provide monthly meetings with experts who give talks and free advice on specific topics, such as accounting and finance, legal matters, and others,” explains Žaneta. “These were topics I knew nothing about, so I’ve learned a lot. For example, I met a person who works for the University’s law clinic, and at the time, I was looking to develop my contracts. They were able to help me develop these for free, which was amazing. So, through Innovation Hothouse, you meet people who have all the answers.”

Žaneta now plans to develop and invest in her business in her spare time, while she continues to work full-time. Her next steps are to get a fully funded intern for 80 hours (thanks to the University’s DRIVEN programme), who will create content for social media to help promote the business. She also wants to re-enrol on the next Be the Boss programme and try to gain some start-up funding through that. 

“I am realistic that it will probably take a year or two to really build up my business. I know it needs investment. I hope that after that, it will be making enough money that I can afford to work in it part-time.”

With Žaneta’s work ethic and dedication, this certainly looks likely.