Student Nannies’ Career College: Ten tips to make it… as a student entrepreneur

Written by Tracey Blake

Today we’re speaking to 21-year-old Connor, the founder and director of TruRegard – a product design company whose revolutionary Tru-Unity Door handle needs no grip strength, fine motor controls or hand pressure to use. Still a student at Brunel, Connor was a finalist in Enterprise Nation’s Student Startup of the Year awards.

1.Tell us a bit about your job, what the average day looks like and what’s involved…

My days as director of TruRegard now are spent doing a lot of very different work, each day is something new. Being an entrepreneur means trying to understand what people need and what they want. That can be tricky, as what people say and do are often very different things. In the last week alone, I have been sculpting clay models, creating graphics, webpages; doing untold sketches, diagrams and designs. Setting meetings with Industry professionals and working with some great people to map, track and understand complex issues. In short, the average day is entirely up to me.

2. How did you get your first job in this industry and what tips would you give to students for routes in?
I am currently of my third of a 4-year degree at Brunel and as part of that course I am spending a year working within the design industry. So, last September I decided to move to The Netherlands, a lovely city in the far north called Groningen. There I found myself a nice internship in a small Product design and engineering company. After 6 great months there, learning a lot, I decided to move back to London and start my own company, TruRegard, in Industrial design. I had thought for a while that entrepreneurship could be interesting and for me, I felt there can be no better way to learn to run a business, than to run a business. Since then I have met a number of entrepreneurs and, much like myself, they all just dived straight in.

3. What one piece of advice would you give to someone/a student wishing to forge a career running a start-up?
Work on an idea and, when you think it’s ready, find the people who need to know about it. If you can show you have done that, the support and funding will come. If not, repeat and try again, work out why it didn’t work and you will be even better next time. There is always a next time.

4. Who was the one person who had the most influence on your career to date?
My college design tutor, Clair, at Kingston college, she is the reason I even considered going to University to do Design. She is where my passion for design began. Her unwavering support and enthusiasm is probably the only reason in am here now writing this. She is one the best teachers I ever had and probably ever will have. So, thank you Clair.

5. Considering all the people you’ve met in your field, what personal attributes are essential for success?
Determination – and it’s especially true in the start-up world. You will hear ‘no’ a lot. It’s just a fact but the people I met who are doing the best are the ones who don’t know the meaning of no – the ones who hear no and think not yet.

6. What do you wish you’d known (but didn’t) when you first contemplated setting up the business?
Get organised fast, and really well organised. Running a start-up means doing a lot of work you have no experience with in a short time, with a limited staff (if any), who also have limited experience. It’s a steep learning curve and doing everything is just impossible. So, divide and conquer, split your time and your skills. Plan as much as is possible and find help whenever you can.

7. What is the best bit of career advice you ever received?
A homeless man on the street once said to me, “You can live to work or work to live, you have to decide if your job is your dream or your path it.” Taking philosophical career advice from a guy on the pavement is not always wise, but I liked this one.

8. What is your career highlight to date?
In my short career, I think the best part was becoming an official finalist for the Design Council’s accelerator programme, SPARK. It’s a great competition for people with a great idea who have never run a business. They give their finalists a space on a 16-week workshop training course, complete with 1 to 1 advice and even some funding! Competitions for accelerators are great, and often free to enter.

9. What are the best and worst things about your job?

At TruRegard I have freedom doing this work, of course I have deadlines and nights of no sleep spent going over an excel spreadsheet, but I am the one setting those deadlines and they are my spreadsheets. If I don’t do something I’m the one who suffers but strangely that takes some stress off, for me at least, knowing it’s all on me. The worst thing is probably my Post-it-note budget, the fact I have a Post-it budget should say enough!

10. What do you think the industry will look like in the next ten years and what skills do you think graduates will need to stay ahead of the game?
I think start-ups are going to get even more common, everyone is getting in to it and that’s great! We are getting so much innovation nowadays we need guys to innovate about what to do with those innovations. I think communication is going to be one of the most important skills – design and entrepreneurship are completely about communication. Getting someone to understand your idea, your business model, you! Working with the industry, engineers, graphic designers and manufacturers, you have to speak their language as it were because you can’t do this job solo. You design a product for others, not yourself, they will say if it’s good or not, you can’t.

Connor’s CV
Therfield Secondary school, 2006 – 2012
Kingston college, 2013-2015 – Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in 3D Design
Brunel University London, 2015-Present – Industrial Design and Technology (BA honours)
Fluctus Product design and engineering Groningen, Netherlands, 2017 – 2018
TruRegard ltd. 2018 – Present – Founder + Director

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