City life | By Matthew Little

Shaping the shakers of the next social generation

There has never been a greater focus on tackling global issues with business than now. A heightened awareness of sustainability and inclusivity sees student entrepreneurs set out to solve global challenges with start-ups.

Students have always played major roles in enforcing change. Yet they are now more equipped than ever before to apply their ideas in businesses where they can mould solutions to real world problems with their own hands.


However, in such a fierce financial climate where roughly 50 per cent of start-ups fail during their first years, the question is who can help shape the shakers of businesses’ next social generation? The answer is in business incubators like City Launch Lab, where 50 companies and 90 individuals receive a kick-start to start-up life with personal coaching and mentoring provided by industry experts.


With 615 jobs created by start-ups from the City Launch Lab, entrepreneurs can compete for investment, seek support and join a community of experts and likeminded thinkers.


Two years on from winning £5,000 at the CitySpark pitching competition, which sees Launch Lab residents compete for cash prizes, Korean-Vietnamese vegan food hybrid Eat Chay, secured a two-and-a-half year deal space in Shoreditch Boxpark.

Liz Nguyen (MSc Marketing Strategy & Innovation), one half of the Eat Chay duo, targeted reducing meat consumption by creating Asian vegan food using familiar ingredients.

“We were always interested in cooking but we wanted to create something different and made a point to use plant- and fruit-based ingredients in the food that we grew up with back home.


“We learned a lot in the Launch Lab and winning CitySpark was very helpful as we developed skills in pitching concisely. This is one of the most important skills to have because when we meet customers we are able to capture their interest quickly.”


While the kimchi is on order at Eat Chay, the Launch Lab is still bustling with business talent focused on making a change.

Ziki Nelson, (MA Creative Writing), co-founder of African comic book company, Kugali, started his journey to fight for representation and inclusivity in the entertainment sector.

He says: “You have superheroes, but none from Africa. The idea that Africa could not have a hero who represented its culture did not sit well with me.”


The online platform which shares the best stories from Africa sold 4,000 hard-copy comic anthologies last year and boasts 2,500 readers across 20 countries. Ziki’s fight for African culture and setting to be recognised in comics has been developed in the Launch Lab.


“I do not think we would be where we are without the support from the City enterprise team, who helped me to evolve quickly as an entrepreneur when refining my business concept. In terms of the audience, it is an opportunity for our readers to maintain their connection with their ancestors. I guess I wanted them to be proud of their culture.”

With new members accepted every year, some of the UK’s brightest business sparks are only just starting to flicker.

Going from strength to strength is Umadevi Dassaye’s (BSc Actuarial Science) Shellpod Shampoo, an eco-friendly alternative to bottled products, which has already won a host of Launch Lab competitions.

Upon recently joining the space Umadevi says: “Being a member of the Launch Lab has been amazing. They find us mentors who challenge us and offer space where we can refine our businesses alongside our studies.”

“There is a real sense of community in the Launch Lab.  We are surrounded by other start-ups and help each other,” she added.


Business has changed and entrepreneurs can no longer succeed on their own, meaning communities for young thinkers are vital for survival.


With approximately a quarter of students starting businesses at university, institutions must recognise the need to support young entrepreneurs whose stories will build the next generation of enterprise.