Case study

From marketing student to entrepreneur

Sam Appentsen graduated six months ago but already he runs two separate businesses. His entrepreneurial spirit was encouraged and nurtured at university and in his final year, he managed to juggle studying and the development of his fledgling companies.

Learning to understand people 

Sam says he studied the BSc (Hons) in Marketing (Consumer Psychology) because he “wanted to understand people — why people buy things and how their choices are influenced by marketing and their cognitive functions.”

He says he had a great mentor at the University of Derby — Hildegard Wieshofer-Climpson, Lecturer in Marketing and Operations. “She was a great support to me — providing campaign ideas as well as advice about time planning and management. She also gave me confidence and self-belief. I always knew that I wanted to set up my own business, but this support nudged me along with my plans.”

One practical way that Hildegard helped was by suggesting that Sam completed four modules in the first semester of his final year, to get the bulk of the academic work done. He was then only left with two modules in his final semester, which enabled him to focus more on his new business.

Another tutor Maria Potempski also made it possible for Sam to attend extra modules outside of his course about communications and packaging — knowledge which he says has proved vital to his career.

Developing digital skills and business experience

Another organisation that was influential in Sam’s career was the company, Premier Self Storage.  During the first year of his course, Sam completed a 100-hour internship there and developed digital skills such as website design and social media management. After the internship finished, he continued to work for Premier —over the summer and then part-time during his second year at university — culminating in a placement year with them between years two and three of his course.

“At Premier, they coached and developed my skills,” explains Sam. “For example, I presented at monthly meetings, which helped to develop my confidence. My time at Premier has been essential to my development.”

3 people, 2 men and a girl, looking at the camera around podcast equipment.

Starting his own venture

During the latter part of his course, Sam started to build his first business, NOUS Digital, with a business partner, Ian — a designer from an agency background. Sam’s blend of skills in digital marketing and consumer psychology, combined with Ian’s creativity, has enabled them to offer clients something different. Sam explains: “NOUS is a digital agency with a difference. It’s different because we work in-house with our clients, often embedding ourselves within the company a couple of days a week. We supplement or even become that company’s marketing department.”

He feels this way of working enables them to understand their clients more and leads to a longer term, more productive relationship. The agency has been operating for around 18 months now.

At the same time as setting up NOUS, Sam and Ian also set up a subsidiary, Cakecrumbs, which is a subscription web design and online advertising service. Cakecrumbs is designed for start-ups and early stage businesses with little marketing budget.

Making the most of university support

As well as building up Sam’s knowledge and skills, the University provided a range of other support that helped him get his business ideas off the ground. “I presented at a Network of Entrepreneurs event,” explains Sam. “This is a group organised by the University, which brings local, national and international entrepreneurs together with students who have an interest in working for themselves. It led to me being offered a free place on a course called Public Speaking and Presenting with Confidence, organised by Jonathan Leach of Indigo Drum Communications.”

He also attended careers and graduate fairs at the University, and whilst he wasn’t looking for a job, he found talking to different organisations boosted his confidence and his knowledge base. On top of that, he enquired about other services, such as Be the Boss and the ‘incubation units’ (affordable workspaces for start-ups) and hopes to be ready to move into the unit for the creative industries, Banks Mill, in the near future. “The University has always been a great source of information and learning,” says Sam.

Looking to the future

Sam’s work ethic and understanding of people shines through when you talk to him about his future plans: 

“Now I am working on the businesses full-time, we plan to grow steadily and open new doors. I believe relationship building is key to any business. To have an open and honest relationship with your clients, including the business outcomes, is extremely important.”