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Young entrepreneur, Alex Iles (BA Politics and Sociology 2011, MSc Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship 2012) founded his own tour company, Iles Tours, specialising in bespoke walking tours around Newcastle after completing his postgraduate study. Laura Simpson, Postgraduate Marketing Officer (Digital), chatted to Alex about how his postgraduate experience at Newcastle University helped to get his business off the ground.

Alex is an enthusiastic, articulate and well-grounded individual, an ideal combination for someone with their own tour company. Alex first studied for a degree in Politics and Sociology at the University, which he completed in 2011. During his undergraduate studies, he undertook army officer training, but decided to leave shortly after graduating. When Alex realised that his army career wasn’t going to happen, he began thinking about what he could do next.

‘My Dad had just started a medical technologies company and it was through talking to him that I got excited by the idea of entrepreneurship,’ explained Alex. ‘I started looking at Masters’ courses. It was a combination of blind panic, dream and vision that led me to do mine.’

While looking for a suitable degree programme, Alex was determined to stay in Newcastle. ‘There’s no city that has a better combination of things: the people are amazing and there’s so much going on in music, culture and art,’ said Alex.

‘The business scene is starting to really pick up again and it has that ‘get up and go’ sort of attitude. Geordies are hard workers with huge hearts and I love that. That’s what kept me here.’

The University’s Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship MSc proved to be a perfect fit.

‘One of the best aspects of the course was setting up our own business,’ recalled Alex. ‘Our branded stationery company, Scribble Pigeon, failed spectacularly, but we still managed to take £25 each from it. It was good to experiment in a safe environment and it taught me a lot.’

After graduating, Alex started applying for jobs, but his search wasn’t straightforward. ‘I wanted to be involved in business set-up, entrepreneurship, that sort of thing. I’m one of those people who would never survive in an office job,’ he said.

After six months, Alex was growing frustrated. ‘It was Christmas 2012 and I explained to my family that I needed to do something. It was my brother who suggested starting my own business.

‘When I started thinking about it I realised that I’m good at teaching, I’m good at talking, I’m good at researching and I love Newcastle, so I looked at something that would enable me to make the most of all those elements.’

From that point Alex threw himself into his new tour business. ‘I talked to Rise Up at the University, who gave me a grant of £400 which allowed me to get a website and some marketing flyers. Without that funding I wouldn’t have had a platform on which to market my business on. It would have been a lot harder to get started without their support.’

Looking back, Alex realises how much his postgraduate studies have helped him in his business: ‘If I hadn’t done the course, I wouldn’t have had a clue. I could have just started my business, but I needed that year to think, develop and get ideas.’

‘Some of the things I learnt on the course really helped develop my skills and new ways of thinking. There are elements of my business that are directly related to my course.’

Earlier this year, Iles Tours celebrated its second anniversary and was highly commended in the North East Tourism Awards 2014. Alex has big plans to expand his tours throughout Newcastle, Durham and even develop a new tourism social enterprise

He is keen to share advice with anyone considering postgraduate study: ‘Really research your course before you start. With any postgraduate course, it’s also about the people on the course with you. I think that the value of a Master’s is weighted: one third is the qualification you get; one third is the people around you; and the final third is the experience of doing the course.’

For more information about Iles Tours visit: www.ilestours.co.uk

Laura Simpson is Postgraduate Marketing Officer (Digital) in the University’s Marketing and Student Recruitment Directorate. She is responsible for the digital promotion and communication of the University’s postgraduate courses.

Find out more about postgraduate study at: www.ncl.ac.uk/postgraduate

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published on: 17 August 2015