Student Katie starts new business with UCLan support

A local student has turned her hobby into a business, with support from a programme run by University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), which is partially funded by the U Start ERDF programme.

For Katie Wright, making candles out of empty craft beer cans was initially a good way of earning some extra cash while recycling and extending the life of the often colourful artwork.

However, with support from UCLan’s Propeller programme to increase manufacturing, apply for loans and build a new website, Katie has now been able to turn her hobby into a profitable business that continues to grow throughout the lockdown.

Propeller turns Beer Candle from hobby to business

Katie, who is due to graduate from a nutrition and exercise science degree later this year, was supplementing her finances while studying by recycling craft beer cans, which often include commissioned artwork on their labels, and filling them with vegan candles, meaning that the cans could be reused and the artwork enjoyed for longer.

However, after discovering that she was the only seller of Beer Candles in the UK, Katie worked with UCLan’s Propeller programme to explore whether the idea could be converted into a profitable business.

Propeller operates out of the Media Factory on the Preston campus, supporting UCLan students, graduates and staff who are thinking of becoming self-employed. The service offers free assistance on idea development, funding, business plans and marketing, including using the skills of current UCLan students to provide free technical support such as website development.

The programme has now helped to set up over 10 new businesses since the Covid-19 lockdown began in March.

Katie was able to set up the new company with the support of a specified business mentor, Craig Lawrenson, who was able to help her get the business off the ground, from officially registering the company with Companies House, through to filing tax returns, completing book-keeping courses and finding opportunities to apply for business loans.

Funding opportunity leads to increased production

In addition to helping set up the new business, the Propeller team were able to use current web development students to help her build an official website for Beer Candle UK so Katie could take orders and promote the company. At the same time, the team provided funding for Katie to help her increase her production without having to increase costs.

As a result of this funding, Katie can now produce over 300 candles per week, without increasing her manufacturing costs and now works directly with local artists and breweries to sell her candles throughout the country.

Katie said: “Many craft beer producers commission artists to make their cans stand out as more than just a drink of beer but as a piece of artwork to be visually enjoyed. By setting up Beer Candle UK, it means people can enjoy the artwork for much longer, either at home, in a beer garden or set up as a designer piece for a micro-brewery or bar.

Propeller supports leads to confidence for Katie

“If somebody had approached me 12 months ago, I would have been really worried about setting up a business or pitching for funding but the support I’ve received from Propeller has helped me to become more confident and excited about trying the new opportunities that the business has brought me.

"Without the UCLan support, I probably wouldn’t have set the company up as a proper business. The belief that the team and my mentor Craig have given me will help the company continue to grow."

Craig Lawrenson Business Advisor from Propeller, added: “The amount of business talent that exists in UCLan staff, students and graduates is huge, and we are always available to help people convert their great ideas into functioning profitable businesses.

“While the team can help get a business off the ground, we can also help new business owners learn the ropes of becoming their own boss, including business planning, funding applications and skills workshops through to desk rental and networking opportunities.”

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Katie Wright from Beer Candle UK
Katie Wright from Beer Candle UK