Karl Swanepoel
Karl Swanepoel
In a nutshell:
Digital platform which allows small businesses to buy digital services from freelancers, such as graphic design and programming, to marketing and business assistance.
Information Communication Technology (ICT)

A 21-year-old student from Aberystwyth University has launched a business from his bedroom which connects skilled freelancers with start-ups in a bid to help fellow entrepreneurs kick start their career.

Karl Swanepoel, who is in his final year of an Artificial Intelligence and Robotics degree at Aberystwyth University, has gained a seal of approval for his business Topwork by securing a £13,000 investment through the University’s InvEnterPrize competition. In a Dragon’s Den style competition for young entrepreneurs, Karl impressed the judges with his business Topwork which allows small businesses to buy digital services from freelancers, such as graphic design and programming, to marketing and business assistance.

Karl started his business with the help of Big Ideas Wales, part of the Welsh Government’s Business Wales service and funded by EU funds. The service is aimed at anyone between the age of 5 and 25 who wants to develop a business idea, including students and graduates.

Talking about how Topwork originated, Karl said: “When I was 14, I taught myself the basics of graphic design and website creation in the hopes of freelancing to make some money, but it was hard to get noticed and most of the platforms I looked into took a high percentage of commission which left me with virtually nothing.

“I recognised that small start-ups were also disadvantaged. It’s impossible for budding entrepreneurs to kick-start their business if they can’t afford to spend on essentials like marketing or creating a website.”

While some of the freelancers on Topwork will be made up of experienced professionals, the platform aims to encourage students to feature their services and has already partnered with Aberystwyth University’s Student Union to offer discounted seller fees to students.

Explaining this, Karl said: “The goal of the platform is to pull down the barriers of entry to starting as a freelancer. Especially during pandemic times, now more than ever it’s important to have a platform where young people have the opportunities to earn a remote income.”

With his business plan developing, Karl decided to enter Topwork into the annual InvEnterPrize competition, which was organised by the university’s Careers Service and supported by Big Ideas Wales.

To help Karl develop his entrepreneurial mind-set, he was assigned a Big Ideas Wales business adviser, Samantha Allen, who provided him with advice in writing a business plan, financial forecasting, marketing and business development.

Talking about the competition, Karl said: “Before winning InvEnterPrize, Topwork was just an idea that I had thought up sitting at the desk in my student bedroom. But the support I received during the competition was definitely instrumental to turning Topwork into a reality. It was so helpful having Sam Allen with me the whole way through, offering free one-to-one advice.”

Winning the competition prize has enabled Karl to fund the development of the Topwork website and hire new team members, Kinga Mijal and Skye Brady, who are assisting with the marketing and tech development side of the business.

Sam Allen, Big Ideas Wales business adviser, said: “It’s fantastic to see how Karl has managed to turn his idea into a business in just a few months. He’s a prime example of a young entrepreneur with ambition and determination, and now he has created a commendable business that helps other likeminded individuals join the professional world. I have high hopes for Karl and can’t wait to see where the next few months take him.”

Tony Orme, careers consultant at Aberystwyth University, said: “Karl is a driven student who has gone from strength to strength since entering the InvEnterPrize competition. It’s great to see him applying everything he’s learnt, combined with his natural entrepreneurial flare, to bring to life a solid business that aims to help others.”