5 of the strangest small business ideas to thrive in a tough economy

A difficult economy can inspire a lot of creativity when it comes to new business ideas. In 2010 entrepreneurial activity reached its highest point in decades despite (or perhaps as a result of) the recession, according to the Kauffman Foundation.

Interestingly, it is often the small and strange new business ventures that have thrived in the struggling economy. These small businesses might make your eyes widen with disbelief but they have experienced a great deal of success.

Read our list of the most unlikely business start-up ideas that have worked:

1. Rent-a-Chicken
If you have ever toyed with the idea of getting chickens (nope, me neither!) but didn’t think you could commit to looking after them, then Rent-A-Chicken could be your solution! For $250, a husband and wife team from Traverse City, Michigan deliver a brood of chickens and everything you need to look after them for the summer. This way you can decide whether or not you want to try raising your own. Clucking mad!

2. The Smashing Place
Have you ever hurled something across the room when you’re stressed or angry and watched in pleasure as is smashes against the wall? I’m not sure I have ever felt the need but there must be a requirement for this service, which has led to an unusual business venture! The Smashing Place in Tokyo caters for people wanting to de-stress. They allow people to come in, buy a plate or a cup of their choice and smash it against a concrete wall. The customer can swear and stomp their feet to their heart’s content to relieve their anger or stress. You could just break things in your own house, but then you’d have to clean up the mess and replace anything you have broken which would defeat the object of your de-stressing activity!

3. Doggles
Eyewear for dogs or ‘Doggles’ may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the business has been featured in CNN, Animal Planet, Woman’s World and National Geographic. The company has also managed to make a profit of more than a million dollars from selling them, so there must be something in it!

4. Hangover Helpers
Had a crazy night out and now feeling the aftermath of the night before? If you are suffering from a horrendous hangover and can’t face the trail of destruction left from last night’s activities call on the Hangover Helpers to bring you back into the world of the living! The two college friends from Boulder, Colorado turn up to your house armed with breakfast burritos and clean every room where the party has taken place including washing up and recycling beer bottles. This idea may sound crazy but how often have you found yourself in this situation and wished there was someone to put the pieces back together. The business idea has featured in Forbes Magazine and on CBS. I think we need a UK-based service!

5. The Pet Loo
Do you live in a flat and find it a huge pain to take your dog out in the middle of the night for them to go toilet? Or maybe you’re one of those people always leaves the party early to go home and let the dog out? The Pet Loo could be your saviour! It is a square of fake grass which sits on top of a waste containment system that you put inside your home. The company has really taken off and people are purchasing the Pet Loo to put in their basements, balconies and even their grass-less back garden.

It’s not easy being an intern – but who wants it to be easy?


Upon initially reading the strives and toils of the five female interns featured in recent Telegraph article, ‘It’s not easy being an intern’, it seemed I would have another battle on my hands defending the value of graduate internships.

Describing their intern experiences – ranging from placements at Vivienne Westwood to Whitechapel Gallery – Jessica Turner explained how she has to commute an hour each day to her internship in London, whilst Hannah Sanderson noted that most of her friends were buying houses and have cars.

Yet, essentially, by the end of the piece, a simpler message doggedly and unavoidably rang through about internships – that they were worth it.

“I never feel I missed out,” explained Hannah, who is currently interning with emergency relief charity Merlin, “because I‘m doing what I’ve always wanted to do.”

All the women’s experiences listed in the piece demonstrated one of the initial great advantages of an internship – they allow access to employment areas otherwise often strictly closed to new, inexperienced graduates.

But of course, there is far more to an internship than just a bridge into those no-go zones. They can help build professional confidence, teach all the important occupational knowhow, provide relevant contacts and provide the opportunity to acquire work experience sometimes imperative for achieving a permanent position in the employment field you really want to be in.

But no, I’m afraid they aren’t always easy.

What would be the point if they were?

Just think about all those “Devil Wears Prada” incidents you hear about – I shall set the scene:  a lucky someone has accomplished an internship – and it’s going to be ground-breaking. They just know this is going to be their step up, the break they need to really make it in the world.

Then they arrive and get handed the morning’s post to sort and the office’s tea and coffee order to prepare. Turns out, discovering who has sugar – one lump or two? And alphabetising letters are to be some of the more complicated tasks they will be allocated during their time with the company. What do they learn? Nothing. Why? Because it’s all just too easy.

Crucially - internships are a learning experience. They are meant to be challenging! They are meant to make you think and they are meant to teach you something new, not wear out and bore the skills you’ve already perfected – even if you do make a damn good cuppa.

Sure, there is a different side to ‘not being easy’. Some people may need to take a second job to top up the pennies, or have to adhere to a strict budget for a few months, retained from previously saved funds topped up with the paid expenses from the internship. A tough, tiring and limiting experience as I very well know – I’ve been there numerous times myself.

But then is this any different to those who have to do the same to get through their university degree or college course?  - Minus the fact that they don’t get the added bonus of refunded expenses? No, not really. And do those people get criticised? Of course not. They get commended for their hard work and commitment to doing whatever is necessary to achieve their aspirations. Hmm, I see a connection here…

An internship should be regarded as a similar extended curve of education. It is meant, and should be regarded by both sides of the intern agreement as a training opportunity; a chance to work alongside professionals and get the practical skills and wisdom that just can’t be taught in a classroom.  Hopefully such a vocational and colourful educational experience will strongly compensate being a bit short for a few months or having to work a few extra hours. And if it doesn’t? Then leave! No internship should ever obligate you to anything, or -importantly – go on for longer than a few months, i.e. a reasonable amount of time to learn all the tricks of the trade. If it’s not working for you, find something that does.

Despite all the intern horror stories that often take prominence in the media (c’mon – it’s the media…) there are a lot of really good, genuine internships out there, organised and structured for everyone to get the most out of them. Just take our Telegraph girls for example. Hannah is now eagerly anticipating getting involved with the relief programme for Pakistan through her internship.

And Jessica, who was working as a script development intern for Future Films, is thrilled to have just been offered a paid role of production and development assistant at the company. “I’m so pleased to be able to stay,” she said. “It’s been tough getting to this point, but you can’t expect too much because it’s a competitive industry. Because my degree was in film theory, I didn’t come away with the practical experience of being able to go on set and know what’s what. Maybe I would’ve progressed more quickly if I had.”

Like the girls in the Telegraph article, few of the graduates I speak to regret doing an internship.  Instead, they appreciate what they gained from the experience, and are enjoying the career boost it provided for them.

And sure, few of them will say it was easy. But who wants it to be easy?

To read Telegraph article ‘It’s not easy being an intern’ visit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/7956303/Its-not-easy-being-an-intern.html

Inspiring Interns is the UK’s leading internship consultancy. We provide meaningful three month internships, mentoring and graduate job opportunities in London and throughout the UK. The majority of our roles lead to paid, full-time employment. For the latest vacancies visit our website: http://www.inspiringinterns.com

Internships: It’s a win/win situation

Ben Tatton-Brown, Co-Founder and CEO of RingRing Media

Ben Tatton-Brown, Co-Founder and CEO of RingRing Media

Earlier this year, Ben Tatton-Brown, co-founder and CEO of RingRing Media sold his company for an estimated $20m after just 18 months of business. Here, he explains the value of internships in aiding his business’ success, in advancing the interns themselves, and why he recommends Inspiring Interns to other start-up companies.

Anyone starting up a new company will tell you that time is precious, money is sparse and all hands are needed on deck. When we founded RingRing Media back in February 2008 we had no idea how things were going to pan out and knew that if we were to be successful, we would need to get some great-minded, dedicated people on the team.

It was 18 months ago that we first started using Inspiring Interns. They promised to always provide the right graduates for targeted roles – and, I can happily say, have yet to fail us in their pledge. After passing over a specification of the people we were looking for, Inspiring Interns immediately  sourced, interviewed and put forward suitable candidates for us to interview and choose from, saving a lot of time and toil. From the shortlist, we selected people who we felt would both fit into and bring something to the company – important, as we hoped to offer full-time positions after the initial three month internship. Starting primarily with just four staff, we worked hard to get the company up and running, quickly getting our name on the mobile advertising map.

In June 2008, RingRing Media launched the RingRing Exchange – the world’s first and largest mobile advertising exchange. Connecting operators, media owners, publishers and mobile apps to brands and agencies through one dynamic platform, the project proved a huge success and boosted the company to an internationally recognised level. As the company grew, our interns became  full-time staff, and we hired more Inspiring Interns to both support existing roles, and fill new ones within the business.

The internship arrangement not only benefited us, but also, significantly, the graduates. All of our interns were paid for their travel and lunch expenses and we ensured they received full training and hands-on work experience in their specific job area. Obviously this was great for us if they decided to stay on at the company, but it also importantly provided the graduate – many of whom had had little or no experience in a corporate environment – with the fundamental skills, practice and knowledge to advance them in other future employment ventures.

At the beginning of this year RingRing Media was acquired by a large  mobile advertising company called Amobee headquartered in Redwood City, California, an acquisition which allowed us to complement our revolutionary mobile advertising exchange  with the most deployed telco-grade ad-serving solution in the world and benefit from Amobee’s exceptional international connections. Together, as a new company, we are expanding rapidly; we have over 75 employees worldwide across 4 continents  - ten of which are Inspiring interns that stayed on with us full-time.

I can recommend Inspiring Interns to any business looking for talented and targeted graduate staff; we are aiming to be the largest mobile ad exchange in the world, and we will continue to use the services of Inspiring Interns to help achieve our aspirations.

Slave labour graduates? Try ambitious young professionals

On the 04/02/2010 the Daily Mail ran an article entitled ‘The slave labour graduates: Cynical firms are forcing thousands of high flyers to work for nothing – or even making them pay for the privilege’. In his report Tom Rawstorne suggested that the ‘cream of a generation’ were being taken for a ride by the system of internships that is becoming increasingly prevalent in our job market.

Inspiring Interns were left rather bemused by the entirely negative picture the Mail painted. Sadly there are companies willing to take advantage of unemployed graduates – with the media sector particularly guilty – but by and large the rise in internships has been a very positive development for both businesses and job seekers.

At Inspiring Interns we rigorously check our clients before we send them candidates to ensure the placement will benefit the graduate and that the company is not using interns as a rolling staff solution.

This means that, having been trading for just over a year, we now have a plethora of grateful graduates who are now in paid employment as a result of having done an Inspiring Interns internship.

Ben Tatton-Brown, CEO of Ring Ring Mobile, has hired eight interns from Inspiring, all of whom have secured permanent positions as a direct result of doing a placement. Tatton-Brown commented: “Inspiring Interns’ service has been invaluable to our company. We have found eight superb staff members that have developed and grown within their roles, and who would not have become part of this company had they not initially completed internships.”

Inspiring Interns are always thrilled to hear when our work has helped candidates gain invaluable experience, particularly when they have gone on to secure full-time positions. We believe it is this mix of developing skills and creating careers that make our company such an attractive proposition to graduates.

Inspiring Interns – specialising in finding meaningful internships for students and graduates –http://www.inspiringinterns.com

Exciting Internship Funding News

Earn money while you intern

Earn money while you intern

Back in December we reported that the Government was planning to provide £8 million of funding to those from disadvantaged backgrounds who would have otherwise been unable to undertake unpaid internships.

We are pleased to say that this scheme now encompasses any graduate from a participating university who is looking for an internship. If your old uni is taking part you could be entitled to around £6 an hour while you complete a placement.

Working in tandem with the government’s priority areas for future industries, the scheme is particularly keen to provide grants to graduates working in one of the following seven sectors:

  • low-carbon products and services
  • digital industry
  • life sciences and pharmaceuticals
  • advanced manufacturing
  • professional and financial services
  • engineering construction
  • industrial opportunities presented by the ageing society.

Alongside the obvious financial benefits this scheme offers, graduates will also get structured support before, during and after their placement – including mentoring, pre-employment and interview training, and CV workshops.

This is a wonderful opportunity for graduates to gain fantastic experience for their CV without having to make major fiscal sacrifices. And of course Inspiring Interns can help you on the way to finding that dream placement – so why not get in touch?

Inspiring Interns – specialising in finding meaningful internships for students and graduates –http://www.inspiringinterns.com

Internship success in 2009

Since getting underway in February this yealogor, Inspiring Interns have been striving to match student and graduates with SMEs in mutually beneficial partnerships. Solving the twin crises of mass youth unemployment and the effect of the recession on small businesses has been our mission plan, and we like to think we’ve done pretty well. Coming soon: Inspiring Interns end poverty and bring about world peace.

In all seriousness 2009 has been a difficult year for many people, as the economic downturn proved to be one of the longest of recent times. Young people (students and graduates in particular) were badly hit by the lack of jobs available. Many have resorted to menial work, for which they are wildly overqualified, in order to make ends meet. Inspiring are working to resolve this situation.

By matching high calibre candidates with smaller enterprises and start-ups we provide outstanding opportunities for young people to boost their CVs with meaningful placements, while new businesses can benefit from the candidates’ many abilities as they look to grow, but without major overheads.

When she came to us Jo was really struggling to find a position relevant to her education, despite having successfully completed a Masters in marketing. She bemoaned the fact that “as there were so many candidates applying to every role, I was not even considered for interviews. I began to feel that all the years I had spent studying were for nothing because I was looking at accepting menial retail jobs in order to pay the bills. I was disheartened, depressed, disillusioned, and very skint!”

Sadly Jo’s story is all too typical of the current job market. Happily, the resolution is very typical of Inspiring’s work (this stuff writes itself sometimes):

“Inspiring totally sorted me out! They helped lift me out of despondency and set me on the right path to eventually securing a permanent, paid position. I am now working for a viral seeding agency in East London, and I am learning loads. I really get stuck in with the daily operations of the agency and my input is valued and respected. I feel that I am on to a good thing now, and I owe a lot of my excitement about the future to Inspiring Interns.” We didn’t even have to pay her to say that or nuffink. How nice.

George was in a very similar position when he came to us a few months ago: “After searching for an internship for almost a year with no luck, Inspiring Interns turned the situation round for me. They found me a position in the exact area I was looking to work in. My time there was so beneficial – with the projects and promotions I was able to take part in or oversee I gained so much.“ Cue a collective ‘ahh’ around the office and an outbreak of feeling warm and fuzzy.

So in a year characterised by much economic negativity, Inspiring Interns have gone some way to helping students and graduates turn the corner in the job market. In fact Gordon Brown has just named us British Company of the Decade*. So why not give us a go?
*He hasn’t. But he should.

Inspiring Interns- specializing in internships and work experience in London – visit http://www.inspiringinterns.com/

Interns to receive government funding

Yesterday Alistair Darling presented the pre-budget report to the country. The furor over the proposed bankers’ bonus tax and the rise in National Insurance has eclipsed one of the positive elements to the plans. Darling said he wanted to, “break down informal barriers which close off some careers to undergraduates from poorer backgrounds,” by offering students from disadvantaged backgrounds financial support for internships.

The plan is a reaction to former minister Alan Milburn’s July report that slammed internships as, “becoming a back-door for better-off, better-connected youngsters.” While some internships are obtained from the proverbial, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” approach, many are obtained through hard work and endless applications. Of course, many are also obtained through fantastic companies like Inspiring Interns!

However, whatever the method, it is unfortunate that some graduates (and their parents) simply cannot afford an internship as, though many companies pay expenses, they do not pay rent, food or gas bills. Regardless of personal politics, here at Inspiring Interns we applaud this proposal and hope that all political parties will consider implementing it in the future.

Inspiring Interns welcomes graduates from all backgrounds and nationalities and the £8m scheme is planned to be ready for summer 2010. Whatever your past, let Inspiring Interns help you on your way to a brighter future by sending your CV to cv@inspiringinterns.com.

Inspiring Interns- specializing in internships and work experience in London – visit http://www.inspiringinterns.com/

Internship now equals employment later

Work experience can unlock opportunities

Work experience can unlock opportunities

Inspiring Interns, who specialise in providing meaningful and mutually beneficial work experience, examine how important doing an internship is for students in the current graduate job market, and how it can impact on your future employment chances. For more see http://www.inspiringinterns.com.

It’s grim out there. Do excuse the cliché but beyond lectures, students loans and Monday nights out there is sadly a real world to deal with. And with the ‘current financial climate’, to use the in-vogue economic leitmotif, it can be very tough for graduates.

I appreciate that you don’t need yet another article lecturing on the pitfalls of being a university leaver looking for work. You only need to switch on the telly or open a paper to have demoralising predictions rammed down your throat.

However…it is perhaps worth thinking about your next steps after leaving the bosom of higher education, and whether you have the requisite skills and experience to secure meaningful employment.

It is all well and good saying you were treasurer of the Lads Night Out Association at university, but increasingly employers are looking for real world work experience, and if the best you can muster is serving pints in the halls bar once a week then perhaps it’s time to start thinking about doing an internship.

As you may well be aware, the larger companies that have a ubiquitous presence on campus do offer perfectly good internship programs. However these are heavily over-subscribed and only suit candidates desperate to break into highly competitive corporate fields.

For many people it is a struggle to write truthful 250 word snippets on why they dreamed of being an accountant from the day they started counting. The hugely time-consuming process of applying for the damn things, filling in mountains of tedious forms with repetitive ‘When did you overcome an obstacle’ type questions just isn’t worth it if you are unsure about your future as a management consultant in a large, soulless organisation.

The trend in the student and graduate job market is now towards gathering experience with smaller businesses and start-ups. Such positions offer flexibility, serious responsibility, and the prospect of a full-time position that offers the variety a strictly structured graduate program does not.

‘How does one get such wonderful experience?’ I hear you cry. Well you could do a lot worse than googling local firms in your field of choice and contacting them to see if they could offer you anything.

Alternatively there exist a number of companies who specialise in matching students and graduates with placements in growing businesses and start-ups, working with candidates to ensure that they get the perfect position for their needs.

Some charge students a fee for their services but others, such as Inspiring Interns (http://www.inspiringinterns.com), are completely free. Inspiring founder Ben Rosen promises meaningful work experience ‘free from coffee-making and photocopying’, in companies where the intern can make a genuine impact on their employer’s fortunes. Whilst many of their candidates go on to be offered a full-time position, all come away with a serious boost to their CV.

So when the spectre of post-uni life next rears its ugly head, give a thought to completing an internship. You’ll thank yourself three years down the line.

Inspiring Interns- specializing in internships and work experience in London - visit http://www.inspiringinterns.com/

Internship / Graduate Scheme Interview Advice

There’s more to life than clothes, but it’s a good place to start…

What to wear to an interview is a potential minefield. Though recruiters should be judging students on their sparkling CVs, not their dress sense, reports state that a staggering 37% of employers have decided against hiring a graduate due to the way they were dressed. Even something as minor as a girl not wearing tights or a guy not wearing a tie can impact on your success.

To suit or not to suit? For most jobs it’s fairly safe to assume suiting up is the way to go (law, finance, management, etc). However, in notoriously image conscious industries such as fashion, advertising, marketing and PR things are not so clear cut.

Tips:

  • Research the agency. If it’s a long established place like JWT or Weber Shandwick, chances are they’re going to approve of the smarter side of dressing with a hint of personality (e.g. colour, statement jewelry, and other interesting accessories). If it’s a younger agency, like VCCP or Mischief it’s better to go with something more casual, yet still professional (e.g. smart jeans but no low cut tops or scruffy t-shirts).
  • Do not go overboard on accessories. Keep it to one interesting piece.
  • There’s usually a recruitment video by current grads. Check to see what they’re wearing in the video and dress similarly.
  • Receptionists know everything. Call the front desk and ask for some inside info. They’re generally very helpful to graduates looking for internships or work experience.
  • Never wear a suit to UK ad agency Mother or you will be called an idiot…or worse (see clip ‘my first day at mother’).
  • If going for a fashion placement then make sure you show your personal style but try and make it fit to the design aesthetic of the company you’re applying to.
  • Before entering the interview for your dream work experience, pop into a local café and check your appearance in the mirror. Check there’s nothing on / in your teeth; clothes are straight; make-up isn’t smudged; and hair is brushed to avoid embarrassment.
  • Carry gum or mints with you for fresh breath – no one wants to know you had the tuna for lunch – but make sure you remove gum before going in.

Top tips for girls:

  • Wear heels but ones you can walk in. 69% of recruiters said girls in heels made a positive impression. From personal experience, if shoes are too high you look like a bit of a numpty tottering along the halls so safe options are wedges or boots.
  • Keep make up understated. You’re going for an interview, not a photo shoot.
  • Do the ‘sitting down test’. You’ll be seated for most of the time so make sure your skirt doesn’t ride up or that trousers are not too constricting.

Top tips for boys:

  • Make sure your shoes are polished and nails are tidy. Attention to small details will show that you care.
  • Take a woman shopping with you. We have an instinct for these things and will stroke your ego.
  • Invest in high quality garments. Worth it in the long run and you can always guilt your mum into paying.

Most importantly – be comfortable. If you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing and feel like you look good then you will naturally exude more confidence and confidence is the foundation of a good interview. If you’re still worried about your outfit then don’t hesitate to come into our London office where we can turn you from slobby student to impressive intern and find you the perfect placement!

Inspiring Interns- specializing in internships and work experience in London - visit http://www.inspiringinterns.com/

Kanye graduates to internship

Kanye boosts his employment prospects with an internship

Kanye boosts his employment prospects with an internship

The news that rapper Kanye West recently started a placement at GAP has served to underline the importance of an internship, particularly for graduate candidates who wish to boost their work experience. Of course Kanye isn’t the first big name to boost his CV by volunteering to intern at a company. Last year melancholic crooner Ryan Adams joined the staff at New York magazine Black Book, where “he helped with sorting mail, filing TPS reports, and composing extemporaneous ballads about retouching cover photos”.

Other famous celebrity interns include Oprah, who completed a journalism placement at a television station in Nashville, Tennessee, while filmmaker Spike Lee was a production intern for Columbia Pictures. Donald Trump, Stephen Spielberg and Bill Gates also went onto greater things after completing internships.

Such examples prove that a placement can be the difference between getting that job of your dreams and sliding into unemployment oblivion.

It has also got us at Inspiring Interns thinking about what other celebrities could benefit from an internship in a new field…

Thierry Henry – Maybe could do some carpentry: he likes working with his hands.

Katy Perry – Would suit something in the PR field – clearly strong on brand management.

Dannii Minogue – Should try out stand-up, excels at keeping a straight face.

Rafael Nadal – Would adapt well to the military with those guns.

Tiger Woods – Driving instructor. It’s a double joke. Think about it.

Rafa Benitez – Absolutely anything; he’ll have plenty of time on his hands soon.

Think you can do better? Not that hard, I know. Either way post your celebrity internship match-ups below…

Inspiring Interns- specializing in internships and work experience in London - visit http://www.inspiringinterns.com/