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Kevin McCabe – Cardiff Martial Arts

IMG_3220Cardiff Martial Arts is a martial arts tuition business. The man behind it is Kevin McCabe, and, under his guidance, the company runs approximately 25 classes a week across the Welsh capital. Kevin has also founded two other businesses, Cardiff Sports Massage and TKD Supplies.

It is safe to say that Kevin did not follow the path of the standard Astrophysics graduate, starting Cardiff Martial Arts shortly after graduation: “I don’t regret going to university at all, but I didn’t want to do a postgraduate course or go into research. I’d had my fill of science.” But his current work isn’t such a far cry from his undergrad degree. “I often talk about things like kinetic energy and the principles that underpin the sciences, and apply it to athletic movement.”

Kevin describes Cardiff Martial Arts as something that resulted from a long held interest. “I started training myself when I was eight. This is something I’ve always done, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” He reminisces: “I remember telling my parents when I was very young that I wanted to be a taekwondo instructor like my teacher at the time. They always told me I could do that, but it didn’t really hit home until I was 22 or so.”

Was starting a business worth it? Kevin clearly thinks so. “The best thing about my job is that it doesn’t feel like a job. I’m very fortunate that I do something I love for a living, and that people are happy to pay me for the privilege. It’s very nice not having to slave away at something I don’t enjoy. I often say to people that the main benefit of being self-employed is that you can so something you’re passionate about.”

Kevin has taken that passion and now serves about 250 people across the capital. Sample classes include Little Dragons, which focuses on early years tuition, and a kickboxing class aimed at teenagers and adults. “My youngest student is 4, and the eldest is nearly 60.” Many of Kevin’s clients are children. “It’s important to me that we attract families and encourage people to do things together,” he explains. “There’s a phrase that I read a few years ago, which says that ‘A family that trains together stays together.’”

Having a diverse client base is a point of pride for Kevin. “There’s one venue in particular in a culturally and ethnically diverse area that I teach classes in, and I’m quite proud of that. It reflects the larger community that we’re in. I think that to bring all sorts of people together into a Taekwondo class where they’re all treated equally and wearing the same uniform is great,” he says. “Sport is the greatest leveller.”

When Kevin started out, he was a member of Puma Martial Arts, who he describes as instrumental in terms of the assistance they gave him in starting his business. “I had seen other friends and colleagues start up clubs and make them a full time business.” He had a small inheritance he used to get started, and now, Kevin is a member of the International Taekwondo Federation, a body that extends far beyond the boundaries of the UK. “Through the ITF, I have regular training myself, and there are instructor courses and organisational courses that the organisation provides.”

Kevin didn’t always imagine himself as somebody who would start a business of his own, let along three, and attributes his success to communication with his clients. “There are plenty of people who are very skilled in their area of expertise, but don’t perhaps have the people skills and charisma to follow through and build a business out of it.”

“I’ve always believe that people buy people. You could be the best martial artist in the world, but if you lack that ability to communicate, you won’t be able to teach.” He continues: “Communication skills and people skills are hugely important, and those are skills you get in most degrees as a result of working in seminars and on collaborative projects. Those are skills I picked up on my degree and when I trained in taekwondo classes as a child, and having that confidence to relate to people and to communicate effectively has enabled me to succeed.”

Fact file:

Name: Kevin McCabe
Business: Cardiff Martial Arts
Martial Arts tuition
Degree studied: BSc Astrophysics
Graduated 2005
Location: Cardiff

Marc Thomas – Plastik Magazine

Marc Thomas is a freelance publisher and journalist based in Cardiff. Marc is a former Cardiff Student, studying European Studies at undergraduate level and following this with postgraduate study in Magazine Journalism. He now runs Plastik, a blog about the city’s culture, and is involved in a number of projects including Swn Festival and the Welsh Music Prize. In his own words, Marc Thomas does lots of different things.

“Really, what I do is a mixture of journalism and design – usually, publishing.” All of Marcs’ work is undertaken on a freelance basis, but “rarely in a conventional sense.” “I don’t write for magazines; I normally make them. An organisation will say to me that they have an event coming up, or that they have a project they need to make sense of [and need a magazine made], and I’ll produce something for them.”

Marc says that he got into design “by accident,” having done a number of pieces of work over the course of his studies. He began to write more about the subject, and, learning a lot through that, took the time to get better at it. He widened his portfolio of skills, and is now able to code and build websites from scratch.

These aren’t skills he learned as part of his undergraduate qualification, but it was his Erasmus year that gave him the idea to start publishing Plastik. “I looked at cities like Paris, that had an established culture of their own, and when I returned to Cardiff, I saw it as a city in a sort of flux.”

Plastik cost “basically nothing” to start, and Marc began his work without contacts. The website is ad-free, and does not turn a revenue, but Marc has built a business off the back of it; Plastik is the first thing that his clients and contacts see. “I wrote to people I thought were interesting and interviewed them, learning all I could. In turn, I ended up building relations with these people that fed back into my work. It was all cyclical.”

Lots of people start websites, blogs, and digital publications; the cost associated with doing so is very low, but competition is fierce. So what’s the secret to trading successfully? Marc explains: “In practical terms, you have to follow the money. People don’t want to fund the creative industries the same way they want to fund science and technology.” But it runs deeper than that. “You can’t try and be someone else. Every publication, every brand is different – they’re for different places and different people. You can’t replicate them.”

He says the most important thing is to produce quality work. “You can be as well-known or popular as you want, but if you don’t produce good work, none of it matters. I never wanted to be the sort of person who produced second rate work to get ahead. Of course, it’s basically an iterative process – it’s inevitable that in six months’ time, you’ll see flaws with everything you’re doing now, but you should be happy in the moment. It’s the only way to reach the point where you start creating things that are enduring.”

Fact file:

Name: Marc Thomas
Business: Plastik Magazine
Freelance Journalist and Publisher
Degree studied: MA Magazine Journalism
Graduated 2011
Location: Cardiff

Graduate Successes

At Cardiff University Enterprise, we’re dedicated to enriching the lives of staff and students and assisting them in bringing their ideas to life. But our work doesn’t stop there: we’re also on hand to offer support and networking services to our graduates.

We’ve reached out to some of our graduates who’ve gone on to start successful businesses of their own, producing a series of case studies. These case studies showcase the achievements of some of Cardiff University’s brightest alumni, both in terms of their current business and the journey that took them there.

Case studies:

Dan Keil & David Stone – UKLoupes

Award presentation for the HSBC Start-up Stars International award, 2010. From left to right, Dave Stone (Managing Dirtector of UKloupes), Huw Morgan (Head of Business Banking, HSBC Bank plc) and Dan Keil (UK Sales Manager for UKloupes).

Award presentation for the HSBC Start-up Stars International award, 2010. From left to right, Dave Stone (Managing Dirtector of UKloupes), Huw Morgan (Head of Business Banking, HSBC Bank plc) and Dan Keil (UK Sales Manager for UKloupes).

UKLoupes is a medical supplies business formed by Cardiff graduates Dan Keil and David Stone that supplies dental loupes. Speaking to Cardiff University Enterprise, Dan explained the science behind dental loupes. “Loupes provide the user with an enhanced magnified image of what they are looking at, helping the user to improve their quality of work and dental treatment.”

He added that they helped to ensure users sit with proper posture, preventing the onset of back problems and neck pain. “Essentially, loupes are an advanced magnification tool that allow those operating on intricate work areas to enhance their vision.”

The company is now a highly successful business based in Bristol that markets its products across the country. Products are assembled and distributed at their head office, and the company prides itself on exceptional service both before and after a sale is made. UKLoupes began when David Stone, then an undergraduate dentistry student, identified a need for cheaper equipment, both for students and active professionals.

“Historically, dental magnification has been overpriced, and has thus prevented students from purchasing dental loupes,” said Keil. David Stone presented the idea to other students, who, faced with the high cost of study, were highly receptive. “Dave was in a particularly good position, and many of his friends bought into his ideas about wearing loupes immediately.”

Since David and Dan graduated, many more people have been attracted to UKLoupes, with the company being crowned the regional winners of the HSBC Start Up Stars awards in 2010, going on to compete in the finals in London. “One of the best parts of the evening was when Business Secretary Vince Cable tried on a pair of our UKloupes.”

Vince_cableDan explained the attention: “I think the story of how UKloupes was started attracts a large amount of award nominations and publicity. People love to read about how two Cardiff Uni students started a business from scratch with just a simple idea, and then after many years of hard work have turned it in into a profitable company, with plans to expand further still.”

So what’s the secret to their success? “Hard work, more hard work and some luck along the way.” Dan explained the importance of working with the right people, too. “Create a good team around you and then feed off the energy and ideas of these people.”

Ambition is also important, as well as good communication with your customers. “Set goals and objectives and then work out good strategies to achieve these. Be quick to reinvest and stay ahead of the competition.

“Take advantage of your position; Dan and I used You Tube, Facebook and Twitter a lot because it enabled us to reach our core market very quickly. You must play on your strengths in order to succeed.”

Closing, Dan offered advice to budding entrepreneurs. “I would personally advise new entrepreneurs to make the most of every opportunity, attend business events and network as much as possible. It is often the case that contacts made in the early years will be crucial to help the business grow in the later years.”

“Don’t be defeated by early challenges and obstacles,” he added. “Problems that are overcome in the first couple of years make the business much stronger in the long run. Finally, one has to be willing to work hard for nothing in the early years. In the early days of starting UKloupes everything was reinvested, one has to be in it for the long run and not short terms profit gains.”

Fact file:

Names: Dan Keil and David Stone
Business: UKLoupes
Dental magnification equipment provider
Degree studied: Dan Keil: Business Management and Accounting
Graduated 2012
David Stone: Dentistry
Graduated 2011
Location: Bristol

Dave Saunders – Agile Therapy


In 2011, former Cardiff University student David Saunders set up his own business, Agile Therapy. Based in the Students Union, the company provides a range of treatments, including physiotherapy, massages and orthotic care. Talking to Student Enterprise, David describes his experiences as an entrepreneur.

What is Agile Therapy?

Agile Therapy is a healthcare company that provides treatment, preventative advice and rehabilitation for all kinds of injuries. The treatment we provide includes physiotherapy, massage, dietetics and orthotic care, David explains. Although Agile Therapy is based in the Students Union, the company is open to clients from all over Cardiff and South Wales.

How did you get started in Enterprise?

Since qualifying from his undergraduate degree in 2004, David has dreamt of creating his own business. Whilst studying for his Masters degree in Cardiff, he noticed a gap in the student market for physiotherapy and sought to set up his own company after leaving his previous job. It was just the right time, David explains, as his work decreased allowing him to dedicate enough time to start his business.

Looking back, David has been involved in various different enterprises from a young age. First sub-contracting a newspaper round from his brother as child, the entrepreneur then went on to sell various products in university before setting up his first business selling supplies from India. However, David decided to leave his previous business in order to set up Agile Therapy.

What are your plans for the future?

My ultimate aim is to create a franchise, David explains, keeping the office at the Students Union as a student clinic and hub whilst adding new branches to the business. However, before this takes place David intends to set up a management system.

Have you had any problems so far?

The biggest obstacle that Agile Therapy initially faced was the location of the business. Sharing their room with the 1st Aid facilities within the university meant that the company had to learn to co-operate with other groups in order to resolve the situation. However, now both groups manage the facility together by working together to avoid any issues.

How has Student Enterprise helped you and your business?

After applying to Student Enterprise, David was offered office space in order to help him develop his business. The company used this to create and improve their plans for future products and design their own app. Furthermore, David explains that he received essential business advice from Student Enterprise member Iheanyi Ibe to help him improve his business. Student Enterprise has been a brilliant help with Agile Therapy, David concludes.

What advice do you have for others wishing to set up their own enterprise?

According to David, when starting up your own business it is important to think sensibly. You need to understand and have confidence in your market and start a business for the right reasons. Looking at his past businesses, David reflects that in order for a business to be successful it is important to give it your full attention and time. In addition, having a secure income or funding is essential in order to overcome any initial start-up costs.

Fact file:

Name: David Saunders
Business: Agile Therapy
Physiotherapist offering a range of services including sports massage and dietetics.
Degree studied: MSc Sports Physiotherapy,
Graduated 2013
Location: Cardiff University Students’ Union

Marketing Assistant Wanted

A Cardiff University Graduate business is looking for a Marketing assistance with passion and flare. Candidates should be social media savvy and have an entrepreneurial outlook to help the growth of the business.

This is a fantastic opportunity to get hands on experience with a young passionate company, working an exciting industry, and across a number of disciplines.

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Too Many Saucepans?

5 Things I wish I’d known before starting University

I’ve been asked to write a post contemplating my first days at University (now rather a distant memory) and the things which would have been useful to know before I started, so I could have avoided wasting time and money and make the most of my 3 years there.

So a few of my suggestions to think about as you prepare for University

1)      Indulge your interests or discover a new one

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