The Student Entrepreneur: Balancing studies and running a successful juice business


As we kiss goodbye to summer and dive into our autumn term, many of us are thinking about the endless nights out that we’ll be having and the rate we’ll be spending our student loans as a consequence…

Although there’s one student who put his money into more enterprising ways, George MacGill, the director of Alpha Juices. Alpha is the first student business to be officially stocked on our campus and also the first in the UK to do this.

Intrigued by this accomplishment I jumped at the chance to have a chat with George.

M: What inspired you to set up your own company?

G: The idea was born out of the student lifestyle. The amount of pizza and vodka in my diet was increasing more and more as terms went on! I was in the worst shape of my life, my skin was horrendous and I had no energy during the day.

I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I consumed a fruit or vegetable so I started trying to look for ways to increase my intake. The easiest way to do that was to juice them.

Whenever I went in stores I wished this product was available after a night out or on a run to a lecture, which is when I realised that if nobody else was going to do it I might as well take matters in to my own hands.

M: How have you elvoved your brand from its initial stages?

G: We conducted feedback that was really positive, which was encouraging! Following this, we had two main areas of improvement. In my attempts to take juice away from being something usually associated with hippies and middle-aged women (I am not knocking either of those groups, my mother is both!) and make it more appealing to our generation, we went too far with our packaging and our bottles looked like sports drinks.

Many people didn’t realise it was 100% raw fruit and vegetable juice, so we changed the name of our juices and redesigned the branding to suit the product. The other issue was taste; people liked the taste of our drinks however they didn’t love them.

I knew this was going to be a difficult task without deviating from our values, however we added some popular fruit flavours, such as lemon and pineapple to enhance the flavour.

M: Have there been any setbacks while ensuring the company progresses forward?

G: The biggest disappointment was that we didn’t even make the shortlist for Plan ENVY, in which students submit their business plans to receive funding from the University. This stung, however getting rejected from the Enterprise Internship over the summer (a scheme which gives students maintenance funding over the summer whilst they work on their business) stung even more.

Notwithstanding, we have since changed every aspect of our business from the recipes, to how the drinks are made and how they are sold. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. It also gave us the extra motivation to prove them wrong, which I believe we have done.

M: What were the challenges first starting off manufacturing for sale?

G: There were so many challenges that came with preparing drinks in a student kitchen. Waking up to see the remnants of pre-drinks and empty pizza boxes made me realise that we couldn’t carry on making juices at home.

Making them manually was so time consuming, too. Also, people wanted to order them in bulk and, with one juice lasting 72 hours maximum, it meant that we were spending almost every day in the kitchen.

The alternative was to hire some space in town and start recruiting staff. We would also have to purchase a much larger juicer, which would of cost around the same amount as studying two degrees at UoY, which obviously was not feasible on our budget.

Having an external manufacturer means that we can now spend our time working on the progression of the business instead of in the kitchen and start taking larger orders in bulk. It is such a game changer.

M: What other initiatives have you come up with for promoting your brand?

G: We have set up the ‘Alpha Angels’ initiative who are going to be our paid student work force, promoting the brand and giving out samples of our new juices. We are also offering internships and invaluable experience with a start-up business like this to the right candidates.

We are also giving back to the UoY community by sponsoring the UOY Yoga and MMA societies.

'Alpha Angels' have been giving out free samples in Nisa all week, where they are set to return on Monday.
‘Alpha Angels’ have been giving out free samples in Nisa all week, where they are set to return on Monday.

M: How have YUSU reacted to your business plans?

G: YUSU have been a dream. The two main people have been Laurie Smith (Commercial Director for YUSU) who has always given us time as well as refrigerated storage for the drinks, and Jon Greenwood (Commercial Director For the University) provided great help for project.

YUSU and Commercial services do a lot of work behind the scenes, which very few students realise.

M: Do you have any tips for any fellow students hoping to start a business like yours?

G: Take up boxing; it will get you used to being punched in the face a lot, as that is what you will experience a lot setting up a business as a student! In all seriousness, keep a close eye on inconveniences that your peers are experiencing. When people say “I hate that…” or “Why do I have to…” find the solution!

Also time management is key, especially if you plan on balancing a new company, your degree, your social life and sleep!

M: Finally, is there one recipe you’d be willing to share with us?

G: Absolutely! Raw beet root juice (like the one in our Zeus juice). The nitrates in beet juice increase blood flow, which increases the amount of oxygen to all parts of the body, enabling athletes to perform for longer and harder. That is why a huge amount of professional athletes drink it.

The only issue is that straight beet juice tastes incredibly earthy and isn’t nice to drink. So throw in some carrots, which will help with skin maintenance, and add an apple and a lemon for a sweeter taste!