After pursuing a successful career in the construction industry, Brighton alumnus Mark Oakden (Building Engineering and Management BSc(Hons) 1995) built his own business. He tells the university how he launched his enterprise, Branching Out Adventures.
“After university, I took a gap year and did some travelling around the world and then went straight into construction. I gradually worked my way up through the ranks to Managing Surveyor, responsible for a team of eight surveyors managing £60m turnover, working out of East Grinstead.
“I have always enjoyed the outdoors and realised that if I don’t follow the dream now, I never would, so I took a huge leap of faith and threw in the security of a nine-to-five job and set up my own surveying practice specialising in anything to do with construction and money.
“This enabled me to invest more time and money to turning the dream into a reality.”
Reaching for his goals
“Branching Out Adventures is a high ropes activity centre providing a fun, adrenaline-fuelled day out. High ropes courses will challenge your strength, agility and nerve; while the giant swing will challenge your courage, with the zip wire satisfying your desire for speed delivering you safely to the firm, solid ground.
“Apart from being a lot more cost effective than our competitors, we add value by keeping it local and family-oriented. One of our main drivers is keeping it personable, developing relationships with all of our customers, ensuring that they have a great time and want to return and recommend.
“We have some new ideas in the pipeline keeping it original, eventually we would like to ‘Branch Out’ and set up some other activity centres – not necessarily ropes course based (as the market is becoming quite heavily populated) but certainly outdoors and tree based.”
What challenges did Mark face and overcome?
“Firstly getting investment, secondly location, and now we are up and running, it’s marketing. We hugely underestimated the expense of this and how important it is (rather naively). During the planning stage we thought it would just happen, as we had confidence in everything we had worked on, we just thought people would hear about it and come straight away within months of being open. We have now been open two years and are still at 50 per cent capacity.”
What is the best thing about running your own business?
“Excitement, challenge, the unknown, and being in control of your future.”
What advice would Mark offer a student thinking of starting a business?
“Go for it, but make sure you do masses of research and understand as best you can what you are taking on. Speak to people, understand all the stages involved. It’s not easy and you have to be committed.”