Money makers: The power of the alumni

For Shachar Bialick, the support network from his university in Paris proved invaluable when it came to starting a business.


Shachar Bialick: never underestimate the importance of alumni

"We have too many cards, too many accounts, and too many products and services we use to manage our money," Shachar Bialick tells Jonathan Moules in the Financial Times. In 2012, the Israeli took a year off from starting businesses to study for an MBA at Insead, on the outskirts of Paris. He then took a job at an online payments venture called in London. But before long, he had started his own fintech company: "Curve is my biggest, most ambitious business so far," he says. "We are aiming to create an entirely new category in the banking system."

It is a business born of frustration. His mission is to simplify consumers' personal finances by creating a single bank card for multiple accounts from different providers. Since its launch in 2015, Curve has raised $12m in venture capital funding, including from Seedcamp, a London-based venture fund whose founding partner, Reshma Sohoni, also attended Insead. The support provided by the alumni network has been invaluable, says Bialick. "MBA schools are very good at building close-knit alumni networks, but Insead is particularly well known for it."

Profits from second-hand watches

Joseph McKenzie, a photography student at the London College of Communications, was so adept at repairing and selling watches to make ends meet, that it left him little time for anything else, says Liam Kelly in The Sunday Times. He ended up getting a 2:2, "which was annoying", McKenzie admits, "as I should have got a 2:1". Still, after graduating in 2009, McKenzie turned his student job into a full-time business by launching Xupes a seller of pre-owned watches, jewellery and handbags with the £50,000 he had amassed at university, and £100,000 from his parents.

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Last year, Xupes, which employs 34 staff from a converted 17th-century tithe barn on a farmstead-turned-business park in Bishop's Stortford (the Hertfordshire town where McKenzie grew up), banked £117,000 in pre-tax profits on sales of £4.6m. His biggest sale to date is a platinum Richard Mille watch, one of just eight, which he sold to a Chilean billionaire for £230,000. The market is flooded with fakes, and McKenzie admits he has made mistakes along the way. Nevertheless, his advice to launching a successful business is to "just get started and be ready to immerse yourself You learn as you go," he says, "and that's the best way to learn."

A fountain of youth

The idea for David Spencer-Percival's posh drinks business, No1 Rosemary Water, came to him after reading about Acciaroli, a village in south-west Italy, famed for its rosemary-chewing centenarians, says Laura Onita in the Evening Standard. "They're living to 100 in vast numbers and that's because they eat it," Spencer-Percival explains. A "handful" of scientists suggest that rosemary could help with arthritis, eyesight and memory. That made Spencer-Percival think how he could bottle the active ingredients rosmarinic acid, eucalyptol, glucosamine and turn it into a healthy botanical drink.

Ploughing £2m of his own cash into the venture (Spencer-Percival had previously co-founded and exited from two multi-million-pound recruitment businesses: Huntress and Spencer Ogden), he raised another £1m from high-profile investors. Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham swear by Rosemary Water, he claims, while Howard Donald of 90s boyband Take That has backed it. At £3.95 a bottle, it's not cheap. "We don't make it because we want to make lots money because we are losing lots of money. It costs what it costs because we're small. My mission is to make it cheaper."

Prince Andrew starts his own Dragon's Den

"I'm an ideas factory," Prince Andrew tells John Arlidge in The Sunday Times magazine. The Queen's third eldest son, and sixth-in-line to the throne (soon to be seventh with the Cambridges expecting) likens himself to the Victorians. "Prince Albert was the entrepreneur-in-residence at Buckingham Palace," says the prince. "He was doing it in the Industrial Revolution. I am doing it in the digital revolution." He's serious, notes Arlidge. The Duke of York's latest big idea is called Pitch@Palace. His staff compare it to entrepreneurial reality show, Dragon's Den only friendlier.

"It is a global contest in which young tech entrepreneurs compete for backing and funding in front of a live audience and Andrew," says Arlidge. The final is held at St James's Palace. There have been notable successes from the scheme, which is funded by donations and corporate sponsorship. One featured start-up, a London-based neural networks firm called Magic Pony Technology, was sold to Twitter for a reported £110m. The prince estimates the contest has generated almost half a billion pounds' worth of economic activity. "We had 20,500 applications for 42 places for our event in China," he says. "I am referred to at home as the entrepreneur-in-residence at Buckingham Palace."

It's good news, notes Arlidge: "As another member of the royal family told me at an informal lunch... when he heard I was meeting the Duke of York: It's about time he found something useful to do'." There is, however, a new rival for the title of royal entrepreneur-in-residence Prince Harry's fiance, the American actress, Meghan Markle. "I've never wanted to be a lady who lunches I've always wanted to be a woman who works," she has said in the past. As well as acting, Markle ran her own "inspired lifestyle" blog called The Tig, and has taken on several philanthropic roles. "She is clearly entrepreneurial," says Henry Mance in the Financial Times. Prince Andrew should take note.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

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