April 25, 2018, by Ryan Parker
Lili’s journey from Wuhan to meeting the Queen
Lili Zhu from Wuhan, China, is a graduate from the University of Nottingham’s BA Film and Television Studies (2015)
A bit about me
Call me Lili. 6 years ago, I arrived at the University of Nottingham to pursue a media degree. I jumped off the plane fresh-faced straight from a course at Tsinghua University with a whole new country to adapt to. Never did I ever foresee that I would be where I am now; a BA Film and Television Studies graduate, a proud 26 year old owner of a start-up business, and an excited holder of an invitation to meet the Queen this summer, at Buckingham Palace! I’ve been told I was invited for my contribution to the Chinese community in the UK. It’s amazing what’s possible when you work hard and make the most of your opportunities in a new country.
Settling in to the UK
Growing up in China, I wasn’t really interested in business. My father was a business man and he always seemed so busy. Always working and no time to relax, that lifestyle just didn’t seem to agree with me.
Like many other international students, the first leg of my time in the UK wasn’t totally smooth. My English wasn’t perfect and I understood very little about UK culture, everything seemed a little overwhelming and I was completely clueless about my future. For many Chinese students, the choice is obvious. Stay with what you are familiar with. Many of them would choose to stay in their Chinese friend circle and hesitate to actively engaging with new things and people.
It is very tempting to choose the easy way out, however, deep down I know this would defeat the purpose of an international education. Even though it is hard, I must push myself and keep learning. And that is precisely what I did. I signed up different societies to experience new things, I was a member of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), I volunteered at a local charity called Sue Ryder and I even pushed myself to sign up for the new theatre, to perform comedy. It was quite a challenge, trying to be funny in a second language! But I survived. Over time, my English has improved significantly, many people started to mistake me as British. I started to gain an in-depth knowledge about UK culture and society.
Setting up a business in the UK
During my final year, a friend of mine was trying to set up a small business in the UK, but she didn’t really understand the system very much. She asked for my help. I then started to research about this topic and realised that the University of Nottingham had a specific department designed to help students and alumni to start their own business. So, I got in touch with them and the rest as people say, is history!
Ingenuity Lab at UoN
I was completely blown away when I met the Head of the Ingenuity Lab Steve Chapman. He explained to me how businesses operate in the UK, how the university can provide free working space, business advice, legal and accounting help, investment etc. It was so different to anything I learnt before. I suddenly realised, you don’t need a lot of money to start a business. A business is a way to solve a problem, and what you need is a pair of sharp eyes to spot the problems and an innovative way to solve it.
That’s when I decided to start my own business ‘Miiito’. Over the years, I have personally experienced and witnessed challenges that Chinese international students have gone through. China is in a unique position both economically as well as politically, as Chinese international student, we have some challenges, but with it comes so many opportunities and potential!
Although I have to admit, starting a business is hard! I am in a completely new territory again, and I have to learn everything from scratch. But this time, I have the help from the Ingenuity lab and the University. My business actually focuses on adding to the University Careers and Employability service, by providing extra China-specific training regarding the Chinese job market.
Receiving my Tier 1 visa
The University of Nottingham is the UK’s largest Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) Visa sponsor. They approved my business idea as viable and therefore sponsored my visa upon graduation, so I could stay in the UK to start my business. The process is simple and straight forward, easier than I imagined. As long as you have a good business idea and finances to fund just your living costs, you are given opportunity to build a real business. I even have my own company office now, based on Jubilee Campus.
There are two vital things you need to build a business: people and investment. The university has an amazing network of local business owner, investor, and alumni. The Ingenuity lab always hosts networking events where we can have the opportunity to learn from the experienced professionals.
As regard to finances, the Ingenuity lab host a start-up competition every year to fund valid businesses. Personally, I received £7,000 in total from the lab, and that became a vital resource to test my ideas and business plan.
How is the business going?
Since I founded the company, we have achieved several awards including the Enterprise Award, Asian Business Award and Paragon Law Award. We’ve already helped hundreds of customers and I feel really proud that our contribution has been recognised by the Queen. I can’t wait to attend the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace this summer!
Some final words of advice
If I could offer a piece of advice to any new students, I’d encourage you to speak English, make new friends, take-up opportunities and whatever you wish to do, don’t be afraid.
If you want to start a business, speak to the University, and most of all find out where your true passion lies, work hard, and all will be fine.
All the best, Lili