“After graduation we went back to our lecturer who helped us with business plans, grant proposals and business links. Without BU behind us it wouldn’t have been so easy – the support was huge.”
You don’t expect to end up going into business with the guys you live with at university, but that’s exactly what Ben Story, Luke Williams and Will Gunaratne did.
Although Luke and Will were close to turning away when they first met Ben, and life would have been very different if they had.
Ben, Luke and Will all graduated from BU's Software Engineering Management course in 2005. The three then went into business together and founded Avius in Bournemouth in 2006. In 2015 the company expanded and opened a US office in Florida, which Ben now manages.
Luke jokingly recalls the moment they first saw Ben who had replied to an advert he and Will had put out for a housemate.
“We’d agreed to meet outside McDonalds and it was 50/50 at that point. We walked down the road and saw this loud, slightly obnoxious, guy on the phone. I remember he was wearing Bermuda shorts on a freezing cold day – we weren’t sure if we wanted to live with him at that point…”
But Ben quickly won the boys round and it soon became obvious that they had a lot in common, not least their course.
Will and Luke fell in love with Bournemouth when they came to visit for an Open Day. Will remembers enjoying lunch in the sun overlooking the sea.
“It just seemed so nice compared to some of the built up concrete cities of some other universities we’d visited”.
Ben even developed a tagline when he moved to the area. “I’d say ‘I’ve got no reason to leave’ and it wasn’t until this opportunity in America came up that I did leave," he remembers. "I do miss Bournemouth though, but we stay in touch a lot over messages so I’m always in the loop.”
The three friends still use skills they learnt on their degree now: “Everything we did in our degrees helped us get to where we are now. The usability section has really stuck with us – we’ve always seen that as really important. We learnt a lot about pushing ourselves through university, which we still do now. We learnt a lot about ourselves.”
Like many BU courses, Software Engineering Management offered a placement year, which Ben describes as “invaluable - the placement year in industry changed the way I looked at university. The first couple of years I saw as an extension of A Levels and it wasn’t until I had that placement experience that I thought a bit more practically. It gave me the opportunity to work with real customers. I’d advise students to make the most of that year”.
Will also recalls learning a lot through his placement year at Microsoft: “It wasn’t until I got to my placement that I would start to put myself in situations where I was challenged, and sometimes I’d fail. Before then I was always scared of failure, I would only push myself as far as I knew I could succeed – but if you’re not failing you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.”
The three friends work well together and their business style has evolved over the years. Ben admits that they have their differences, but will always remain friends.
"The nice thing is that we’ve had conflicts within the business walls but then we can happily go to the pub afterwards and still be best mates.”
Luke agrees and adds that they "play devil’s advocate with each other, which I think is healthy. If someone brings an idea to the table it’s our job to critique it”.
They do agree on many things though and one thing is that it’s important for current students to get out there and make the most of meeting people.
“Get out there and don’t be shy," recommended Ben.
"Go to events - there are some great networking events in Bournemouth. Try and get involved in as many things as possible and if you want to work for a company then send the CEO an email or a letter. Do something to stand out and don’t be afraid to be different.”
Another thing they all agree on is how much they enjoyed their course and that it’s something they’d recommend to others. Ben didn’t have a computing background like Will and Luke but thrived on the management side of the course: “I loved the management side of things; it’s what I still focus on now. The staff were great and we’re still in touch with some of them.”
Luke agrees “The teaching style was really good, really on point. The resources were always there if we needed them. We always felt like there was support available if we wanted it.”
“There’s a sense of pride in being a BU graduate and that’s why we’re happy to be involved with this. We never say no to helping out the university and giving back.”