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Henley Summer Start-Up Boot Camp 2020 Engages Over 80 Aspiring Entrepreneurs to Start Their Own Business Doing What They Love

Henley Summer Start Up Boot Camp 2020 Screenshot 2 mtime20200629193827

The Boot Camp, now in its eighth year, is a hands-on, practical course that explores all aspects of starting a new business from the ground up. Hosted by Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship and led by the PopUp Business School, the Boot Camp offers participants a new approach to starting a business, without the need for lots of money or a business loan. By covering everything from building a website to the best methods to market and sell a product, participants get to grips with all the building blocks of growing their business and gain the confidence to make money doing what they love, with some even making sales within the first week.


Despite not being able to hold the event in person due to the COVID-19 restrictions, attendees were enthusiastic to get started on Monday. Jurek Sikorski, Executive Director of the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship, opened the Boot Camp by welcoming everyone and describing how the course would benefit participants in turning their business idea into a successful business. Jurek then introduced Simon Paine, CEO and co-founder of the PopUp Business School, to deliver the course and encouraged all to get engaged, work hard, and have fun.

Simon got participants to consider the ways in which they could start a business with little or no money by thinking differently and developing an entrepreneurial mindset. He described the five ways to bootstrap a business through borrowing, bartering and even selling and getting paid in advance before the product or service is ready. The first day also featured a talk from Amer Nahouli, a Henley Business School graduate and winner of IDEAFEST 2019 who attended the Henley Summer Start-Up Boot Camp 2019. Amer outlined how the Boot Camp had helped him develop his business idea called Sswap, a platform that allows students in halls accommodation to swap with one another; he explained that in addition to the Boot Camp giving him useful advice on marketing and identifying customers, it also helped guide him away from an expensive business loan that he had been considering for office premises.


Monday's main takeaway: everything comes back to 'who is your customer?' The better you know your customer, the better you will be able to tailor your value proposition and success in making sales.

Generating sales was the focus on Tuesday. Simon dived into how to narrow down an ideal customer through segmentation, before outlining the marketing and sales funnel. Simon’s example was of the PopUp Business School’s own experience, where they would send over 400 marketing emails to make just a handful of sales, and he stressed that it was vital for the marketing end of the funnel to be large; inevitably out of all the people that hear about a product or service, only a small number will be interested in finding out more and an even smaller number will want to make a purchase.

The day continued with a run through of the seven ‘golden rules’ of marketing, which include customers buying from those they trust and the need for marketing to get attention, generate interest, build an emotional connection and end on a call to action. Simon closed by emphasising how businesses need to look beyond just the first sale, as studies have shown it takes significantly more time and effort to win a new customer than it does to retain an existing customer and get them to make another purchase.

Tuesday's main takeaway: marketing is a GIFT when you Grab attention, raise Interest, establish a Feeling and emotional connection with the customer and Take action.


The next day, which Simon dubbed 'Website Wednesday', explained the how and why of setting up a website. Rather than spending hundreds or even thousands of pounds on outsourcing website development, Simon strongly recommended that aspiring entrepreneurs use a free platform and create their websites themselves, ensuring they target mobile users in designing the layout and the balance of text and images.

Using Weebly, Simon showed participants how to create a website, reassuring them that doesn’t need to be perfect so long as it’s minimum viable to start with. Simon emphasised that a website is always a 'work in progress', which will be constantly reviewed and updated, and start-up businesses did not need to buy a domain name to start with. Participants were then invited to set up their website using Weebly and by the end of the day the majority of them had published their website.

Wednesday's main takeaway: build a website, optimise and market it and make sure there is always a call to action when visitors come calling.

On Thursday the focus was on leveraging social media to build a customer base. Simon emphasised the importance of using a platform suitable for the business each person is building, as social media is time consuming and it's best to focus on just a few social media channels than being stretched too thin. He went onto elaborate that the best way of harnessing social media is by using it as a means of making connections and directing potential customers, not to just shout 'buy my stuff'.

After explaining how hashtags work and how businesses can connect to customers through them and other targeted phrases, Simon gave a demonstration of how to connect to potential customers through different social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. This demonstration showed how a message to the right person and mapping out their journey (e.g. by having an updated social media biography, with an explanation of who you are and a link to your website) can make a huge difference. The importance of responding to comments, shares and likes was also raised, as even a simple 'thank you' increases engagement, which can make sure that a post is viewed by more people.

Simon welcomed his co-founder Alan Donegan for the afternoon session. Alan, who recently returned from the US, addressed a multiple of topics covering podcasts to his top tips for success in starting up. He explained in five simple steps how to create and use podcasts, which are being used increasingly to engage customers, and highlighted the importance of 'learning how to sell'.


Thursday's main takeaway: engage social media and the networks customers use and where they can be found. Once you've targeted your potential customers, be sure to adopt the rule of engagement, which is 'Like, Comment and Follow'.

The final day of the Boot Camp started with an expert panel moderated by Jurek, which addressed a range of topics from employment and finance to intellectual property, legal and tax. The panel comprised of Ashan Arif, Partner at ClarksLegal, Sarah Friend, Partner of Business Tax at BDO, and Mark Shepherdson, Business Relationship Director at Santander, and they delivered valuable insights into the things that are important for entrepreneurs to consider when starting and growing a business.


Ashan highlighted the importance of preparation, identification and protection of the entrepreneur's IP and managing money. Sarah spoke to keeping good records, searching out resources that are available to entrepreneurs (including and keeping the affairs of the business tidy. Mark, who was attending his fourth Boot Camp, spoke about the importance of building and utilising a network and not incurring costs you don't have to, very much at the heart of the course.

In the afternoon the focus shifted to company structure, with Simon lying out the options to be a sole trader, a limited company, a partnership, a community interest company or a charity and emphasising that being a sole trader was generally recommended for new start-ups as it made for less paperwork and time away from making sales. After a whistle-stop tour through business tax rates and keeping accounts, participants ended the week with the '12 pop-up principles' to adopt when starting and growing a business among, which gave all participants inspiration to build their business.

Friday's main takeaway: success is built on trust, one of the Pop-up principals. Trust is at the heart of every successful relationship and people buy when they know, like and trust the person they buy from.

At the end of the course the budding entrepreneurs that attended had lots of positives to say about the Boot Camp:

"I signed up to this event as I had planned to keep myself busy while staying indoors and I am still amazed at how useful and informative the event was, to the extent that I was sad when it came to the last day of the programme. I found this really useful and helpful." Esosa Oduware, Henley Business School BA Accounting and Management student

"I started the Boot Camp without knowing what to expect. What I learned absolutely blew my mind. The techniques, entrepreneurial mindset and advice that was given to us are priceless. I feel confident and full of energy now to take my business idea to the next level. Thank you to the team, you are outstanding!" Rieke Sproten, University of Reading Postgraduate Food Systems and Food Ed Consortium alumnus

"Thank you for the Boot Camp opportunity, everything was very helpful and I have gained some more inspiration about how to start a business." Georgia Christophi, local resident

"Thanks very much for organising this course. It is really a pleasure to learn and I have benefited a lot from it." Yun Xiao, local resident

Simon Paine, co-founder of the PopUp Business School, spoke highly about both the participants and the impact that the Boot Camp made: "It's a privilege to work with Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship and we’ve been able to have terrific impact with the groups we've engaged with over the years. I'm always impressed by the level of challenge, intellect and potential of students and alumni from Henley Business School and University of Reading."

Jurek Sikorski, Executive Director of Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship, summarised the success of the Boot Camp: "The Summer Boot Camp, our first to be held online, delivered even more than I expected. Engagement was very high, and the chat line did not stop with thoughts, ideas and questions. A truly amazing, inspiring and exhilarating experience of what is a different perspective on starting and growing a business."

An enormous thank you to the PopUp Business school for delivering the course, the panelists who gave up their time to share their wisdom and advice to participants and Santander Universities for their sponsorship and support for the Boot Camp over the years.

A full report on the Henley Summer Start-Up Boot Camp will be posted in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship News and Events page.


Simon Paine

Co-founder, PopUp Business School


PopUp Business School is an education service provider helping people start businesses and giving help to entrepreneurs.



T: 07932 247353

Mark Shepherdson

Business Relationship Director, Santander Universities


The Santander Universities Division supports and manages Santander’s commitment to higher education. This is a long-term, strategic alliance with universities that benefits students and university staff.



T: 0118 921 1626

Jurek Sikorski

Executive Director, Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship


Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship is part of Henley Business School at the University of Reading which provides a hub for teaching and research in the subject, inspiring students from across the University to embrace, develop and apply their entrepreneurial abilities.



T: 07889 720735

Published 29 June 2020
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