UCL alumna Anastasia Agafonova shares her experience of applying for a Start-up visa and founding a business, with support from UCL Innovation & Enterprise.
Anastasia graduated from UCL in 2019 with an MA in Political Analysis (Russia and Eastern Europe). She successfully applied for a Start-up visa, with sponsorship from UCL, so she could stay in the UK and launch UKHired. UKHired is based at the Hatchery, a dedicated space within BaseKX, UCL’s startup hub in King’s Cross.
Originally I imagined UKHired as a niche job board for vacancies with visa sponsorship in the UK. However, it quickly became more than that. It's a platform that shares valuable resources and information guides on how to move to the UK and land a job with visa sponsorship.
We have a unique algorithm that selects job ads based on the Home Office visa requirements, which results in a fast and simple job search.
UKHired was recently listed as a finalist in the 2021 Migration Challenge organised by a global venture capital fund Seedstars and International Organisation of Employers. This is an international competition for startups that work on solving migration issues. As an early-stage startup, we’re extremely excited and honoured to be selected from the 99 applications.
Plans for growth
Right now, the UK is making a post-Brexit transition and transforming the immigration system. Soon, both EU and non-EU citizens will need to obtain a work visa, so this is the best time for a platform like UKHired.
At the moment, our target customers are skilled global professionals and international students. But as we develop our product and network, we want to start working directly with British employers and help them find candidates with the right skill set, especially for jobs that are in the shortage.
Accessing support and mentorship
I joined the Hatchery at the end of March 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, unfortunately, I couldn't access any facilities, such as free office space.
Nonetheless, the Hatchery staff worked very hard, offering lots of virtual resources and events. We have weekly virtual meetings with our business advisors and other startup founders, which I find very insightful and useful.
I've also been participating in the Hatchery’s amazing mentorship programme. Each startup is allocated 1 or 2 mentors based on their needs. Mentors are people who have significant business experience and industry knowledge. I was lucky to get two mentors who understand the needs of my business very well. Without UCL, I would never have connected with these wonderful people.
Applying for UCL visa sponsorship
As an international student, I needed to switch to Tier 1 Startup visa to open a business in the UK.
While doing my master's degree, I found out that UCL can sponsor startup visas. There are certain requirements that you need to satisfy to pass the vetting stage, which includes an initial meeting with a business advisor.
I met with Jivko Hristov, who later became my business advisor at Hatchery. He approved my business idea but poked some holes in my business plan and gave feedback on how to improve it for my startup application. After that, I incorporated Jivko's advice and developed my idea further, collected evidence and prepared my application for sponsorship.
The visa-application process took around 3 months, from January, when I first submitted my business feasibility plan until March when I received my startup visa. At a final selection stage, I had to make a presentation and answer panel interview questions. Overall, I think the process of getting a startup visa with UCL was very straightforward and went smoothly.
Advice for potential entrepreneurs
Being an entrepreneur means you’ll always be learning new things.
As a founder with limited business experience prior to launching my startup, I learnt the importance of using the power of your network. There are many great people and accessible resources out there if you’re willing to reach out and ask for help.
The second most important thing I learnt is that you shouldn't be a perfectionist. It's much better to release a good-enough MVP (minimum viable product), collect feedback from your clients and improve it, rather than trying to get everything right first time. Give it your best shot and don't obsess over the ideal product that you imagined.