What business to start while doing Product Design course

Hi guys!

Briefly: I am 29YO, used to run my own import-export consultancy with 7 staff. One year ago I decided to quit my career and start something that I enjoy doing (to run import-export business in my country is a VERY stressful job). I did serious research, analysed myself, analysed what I enjoy the most and applied to Central Saint Martins (London, UK) to Product Design course. In May I finished foundation stage and will be on 1st stage in October.

In a month time I will have some one off income (˜60K$) from my previous business and I am thinking to invest in some tools that I can use for myself and do commissions to external clients to generate at some stable income. First thing that popped to my head is to rent a space, buy cnc mill, get in partnership with experienced cnc operator and start a cnc workshop. Research showed that first investment is a bit above my expectations and then I will have to pay monthly rent without certain income.

Second idea is to get laser cutter/3D printer, place it in co-working workshop what I am renting right now and earn some money by making prototypes for my classmates and external clients. In both ways I will have to make a website and promote my services through web.

I do have experience in running companies and starting up businesses however creative field is a bit new for me. I would really appreciate your advice.

For those who already have finished studies: what small business would you start in the uni if you were back there with current knowledge?
For those who is still in uni: what would be great to have in your university? What seems to be a problem? (not enough equipment in workshop? no 24/7 access to machines? something else?)

Please share your thoughts, maybe someone somewhere has similar situation and it will be great to coop on this problem.

PS: I am open to any other business ideas and cooperation. :slight_smile:

You might want to rethink the making money off your fellow students while in school idea. Making stable income off of students from other programs in the near by region might work out better for you.

My students had to go outside last year for lazer cutting service due to the in house lazer cutter being out of order during crunch time. They really helped the students a lot.

If you are really savvy, you could set up a program/business that helps employ grads who need to find work. Many grads work in small prototype labs here in Seoul and do the final thesis model work for seniors who are working on their capstone project.

With your import/export experience, you might even try your hand at distributing 3D printers in the regional area you are in.

Good luck…

Ah it is unfortunate you are going to CSM. I’m not sure how the course has progressed over the years but during my time it seriously lacked in teaching us the skills required for the professional world. Everything that makes me employable right now are skills I had to learn in my own time after I graduated. It’s too late to do anything this year but I’d recommend seriously looking in to transferring to either Loughborough or Northumbria for your Second and Third years. Also look at taking a year out between those years to do an internship before graduating - something CSM doesn’t offer or even encourage it’s students to do during the summer.

The shop facility idea is decent although your busiest and most profitable times will be seasonal i.e. two to three weeks before projects are due. Given you will be on the same course not only will you have to complete your own work on time but also run a fair shop allocating the right machine time to your paying customers who will be on short fuses due to their own needs to prototype. Supply and demand.

I remember during the run up to deadlines the laser cutter was almost impossible to use and the technician required you to be in the building at 7am in order to put your name on the list for the shop opening at 9am. The list was full at 7:1oam for that day. There was also no 3D printing facilities and only one CNC mill.

Before you do anything I’d work out your expenses and profit margins. For example if you purchased a couple of FormLabs printers you’d need to work out the cost to buy the printer, material costs per print, rental time for the use of the printer. You can’t overcharge as your classmates will think badly of you (taking advantage) but you also can’t undercharge as this business is a way for you to make a living…

Sketchgrad, after completing foundation I think CSM is quite nice. There is absolute freedom and no pressure at all. I am saying this because my first BA in Chinese Language was accomplished in China where education system was based around memorising all the characters and sentence constructions.

Foundation here was fun and easy though. We now have access to lynda.com and I learned CAD, PS and ID there. I did not feel pressure that I have to memorise some technique to pass exam and I think it turned out well for my mindset. But to be honest I have no idea what to expect from BA in CSM As far as I know they moved ID course to new building and invested quite a lot of money in the facilities. Another advantage of CSM is I will be exposed to different clients and if I am lucky it might end up with internship or placement.

Regarding laser cutter services, what projects are most profitable for them during the whole year? I mean what generates stable income to cover all costs for rent and staff?

Have you heard of someone who installed laser cutter at home? I have a small balcony, so maybe with some adjustments it could be turned to a little worksop area?

What about making small home appliances and selling it on etsy/ebay or even start own ecommerce business? Has anyone tried it?

Depending on your career goals, I think developing and bringing to “market” a product you designed would be the most valuable use of time. It would teach you how to design for sales, the process of bringing a product to market, and you might be able to make some money in the mean time.

When I say “market”, it could be anything from a craft fair to a kickstarter campaign or something bigger.

Thanks for advice GHoge!

Anyone else on this forum tried to market little hand-made products?

You could try doing short, self-initiated, projects with the goal of selling them on Etsy. Like GHoge said, it would teach you the basics of bringing a product to ‘market’, sourcing, and small scale production. There are sites like Shapeways and Ponoko where you can upload your designs and other people can buy them. I know of a few people that make money from those sites, but they aren’t getting rich.

I can appreciate where you are coming from but I am speaking to you as someone who has personally gone through the course and can tell you there is only a very small number of my graduating year that ended up in a proper design job. The new building is great but the facilities aren’t a reflection of how good the teaching on the course is. Everything available is merely a tool but unless you are shown the proper way to use it then it is useless.

It’s not about memorising a technique to pass an exam. It is about honing your craft that will enable you to have a long a fruitful career in design. Something I found that CSM does not equip you well to do.

This is something I can 100% guarantee will not happen. The ‘clients’ you are exposed to are meant to demonstrate what it may be like to work with an external sources similar to in a consultancy whilst still guided by the school. They are not companies in the design world that could even offer an internship or a job so would not be looking to bring on board a student, simply because there would be no one there to work with you.

Things may have changed since I was there but I’m just trying to give you a warning that you may need to work harder in your own time to pick up some of the things the school doesn’t teach, those are things that employers look for.