For international students with a great business idea, universities in London can sponsor students to remain in the UK via a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa. The visa enables them to stay in the UK for up to two years to set up their business*. Study London spoke to Indian graduate Mustafa Khanwala, recently shortlisted for the Mayor of London’s International Student Innovation Award, about the visa process and his time in London.
Mustafa and his co-founder, Tanvi Bhardwaj, started their business MishiPay whilst Mustafa was studying for an MSc in Engineering with Finance at UCL (University College London). Described as ‘smart shopping technology’, MishiPay uses theft-proof technology to enable customers waiting in shops to scan, pay and leave – and avoid the queues.
Supported by UCL’s Innovation and Enterprise Department – who work with students and staff to encourage a spirit of enterprise, create links with the outside world and accelerate UCL’s innovation and impact – Mustafa successfully applied for a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa after finishing his masters in September 2015. The additional year in the UK enabled Mustafa to focus on MishiPay and build up his business after which he was successfully awarded an endorsement by TechCity UK for the five year Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa.
Commenting on the visa process, Mustafa said: “Getting the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa gave me time to develop MishiPay, bring Tanvi on board as a Co-Founder, build the team up and take the business much further than just an idea. The two years of the Graduate Entrepreneur visa are really just for that – to prove the viability of your business plan until you can either raise enough investment to get a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa or gain enough recognition and merit to get the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa.
“First things first though, it’s important to get the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa which can be easier than the other Tier 1 routes and can give you that leeway without adding financial or other constraints. I think it is a brilliant first route for all international students considering starting an innovative business. However, the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) application has specific requirements. First, you need endorsement by your university that you have a genuine and credible business idea. In most universities, you also need to clearly demonstrate how innovative your business idea is and how it will create value. Certain universities may have an extra procedure or two. For instance, at UCL, we first speak to a student business advisor. If they find the idea credible, they set a date to pitch in front of a panel. The panel will then assess the visa application based on a business plan document and the business pitch you give in front of them. Tanvi, who applied for the same visa at the University of Manchester, went through a similar process.
“Each university only receives a quota of 20 endorsements a year from the government and so it can be competitive. I’d encourage students to take the process very seriously and definitely come up with the best business plan and pitch at the time. It is very good practice anyway, as you will no doubt need to do similar presentations to investors and customers in the future.”
Commenting on the support he received from UCL, Mustafa said: “Being a student at UCL was very beneficial – not just because of what I learnt in my degree and the contacts I made – but also because of the support from UCL’s Innovation and Enterprise staff. I also used the MakeSpace at UCL’s Institute of Making – a workshop space with a range of tools and machinery that are free to use and amazing for prototyping new inventions.”
Anna B. Sexton, Business Acceleration Advisor at UCL Innovation and Enterprise, provides advice and guidance to UCL students who are seeking to start and grow their own businesses.
Anna said: “We’re always happy to support students like Mustafa. Our team at BaseKX co-working space works to inspire students to activate their entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial skills so they can apply them, whether starting a business, as an employee or dealing with the challenges of everyday life. Our mission is to help and support as many of our students, staff and recent alumni as we can through advising them how best to turn the seeds of their ideas into viable, resilient and sustainable businesses. We offer a wide range of interactive, experiential training programmes designed to develop their entrepreneurial mind-set, gain confidence to pitch and learn the practical business nuts and bolts needed to succeed via enterprise bootcamps, masterclass workshops and entrepreneurship guest lectures. To help scale businesses we offer a range of high profile enterprise competitions, investment ready workshops and access to our thriving co-working space.”
Mustafa was thrilled when he received the good news about his visa application. “It really made my day and my parents and family were delighted as well! When you are building something innovative and starting a new company, you need to put every ounce of effort and focus into it. There is almost no time to think or worry about anything else. However, if you have the looming issue of a visa over your head, that gets very difficult; on the one hand you want to fully focus on your business but on the other, you will not be able to continue doing your business here unless you get this sorted out. I was just so relieved!” he said.
Find out more about Mustafa in our International Student Innovation video. See our website for more information about options for international students to stay in the UK after their studies.
* The Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa is open to talented students who are developing a world-class business idea. International students need to be identified and sponsored by their university as having the potential to create their own business in the UK. Students can apply for permission to stay in the UK for an initial period of one year. If the endorsing university agrees to sponsor after this, students can apply again and may be granted further leave for another year. For more information about the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa, see the UK Home Office website.