Skin Sapiens CEO and founder James Jardella never expected to start his first business during his time at Bath. However, when inspiration struck during a trip to Bolivia, James returned to the University determined to take full advantage of the enterprise support available and start his own travel business. James recently returned to the University to speak to keen entrepreneurial students at the Enterprise Welcome event about the business skills he developed at Bath.
Why did you choose to study at Bath?
It was a mixture of factors really. I knew I wanted to study engineering, I loved maths and physics, but I wasn't passionate enough about cars or planes. I did love people and medicine though, and Bath was one of the few places in the country at the time where I could study mechanical engineering applied in the medical industry. I also loved that it was a campus university, which was important in my decision to come here.
What was your experience at university like?
The first two years of my course went into the rigor of engineering and maths, but in my last two years I chose as many design and business models as I could.
I spent five years at Bath, with a one-year sabbatical where I travelled and learned Spanish. It was an amazing experience and an important part of my personal development.
I would say that mechanical engineering is a pretty full-on course, the pace is fast. When I came back from my sabbatical, I started a social enterprise project with the help of some of the societies at Bath.
My course and my enterprise project became two things that were running in parallel – it was tough in terms of juggling and balancing everything but ended up being doubly rewarding in terms of what I was able to achieve in my time here. There were definitely a few moments when I wasn't sure I was going to graduate because I was putting so much time into the project that I was not always as well prepared as I should have been for some of my exams!
Tell us about your student enterprise project, Travellingbug.
The passion for it came effectively from my passion to travel and volunteer – I wanted to use my time abroad to help communities and become immersed in their culture. You usually have to pay multinational organisations around £10,000 to go and spend four weeks volunteering internationally. Instead, I went off on my own and by pure chance met an incredible charity who I ended up working with for years. When I finished teaching English to school groups in Bolivia, I said to them, “Would you like to have more people like me come back?” And they said yes, absolutely.
There were two groups of people that wanted to be in touch with each other, so that’s the service I wanted to provide. People wanted to volunteer abroad, so I put them in touch with the relevant parties for a much-reduced application fee, and then we used that fee to fund charitable projects in those same communities. With support from the SU, I was able to get advice and mentorship and enter business plan competitions. I blossomed from there.
When I came looking for support from the SU, I was not clear on what I wanted. What I found was a lot of hands-on help from students – some of them even came with me to South America on our pilot project a year later. The SU also provided me with mentorship and press exposure I needed at the time.
Can you describe your career journey since graduating?
It's interesting because when I started my student enterprise, I thought that was going to be my career, that's what I'd be doing when I graduated. But I often felt when I was creating the business that we ran into problems with scaling, and that I was reinventing the wheel a lot. I thought, I've not actually had any formal education in business other than what I've taught myself and the limited couple of modules that I did through my course.
I thought it'd be good to see how big businesses are successful – that was the premise of completing the graduate programme at L’Oréal. But I think having run my own student enterprise helped me stand out from the crowd in that application process. I then went on to spend years at that company, and other similar companies, throughout my career in consumer goods.
Tell us about your company, Skin Sapiens.
I did engineering and learned how to make things you could touch. Then I went to L’Oréal and learned how to sell things that you can touch into national retailers. I was really inspired by The Apprentice – I thought it'd be really cool to be able to go into them one day and pitch my own product.
I felt that after five years of working at L’Oréal, I'd picked up that pitching skill. I spent the rest of my career going into progressively smaller businesses to launch products.
Finally, I started Skins Sapiens because too much within the beauty industry is said about claims of what a product can do, but not enough is really said about what goes into a product. Everyone talks about hero ingredients, but no one talks about what those actually are, what the entirety of this thing we’re putting on us is made up of. If you know what you’re putting on your skin, you get better skincare outcomes.
Are there any tips you’d give to students who want to work on their business pitches?
Know your audience and tailor your pitch. There are a million things you can talk about when you go into one of those meetings, but choosing what is relevant to the situation is hard – that's where practice helps.
Do you have any advice for students who come to Bath with an idea for a future company or enterprise?
Don't ignore it! There are so many missed opportunities where people have a desire to do something and through lack of knowledge or not feeling the timing is right, they don’t go for it. There’s no perfect time to start something, the best time is now!
What advice would you give to prospective students thinking about studying at Bath?
Come! It has been amazing. Honestly, I’m so glad that I chose to come to Bath. All the things that I did while I was here have become a massive part of who I've grown to be as a as a person and as a professional.