By Claire West

The number of graduates choosing to work for themselves fresh out of university — rather than becoming employees — has more than doubled in the past year, according to research by online freelancer marketplace PeoplePerHour.

PeoplePerHour, which has more than 450,000 freelancers and small business owners on its site, looked at the number of entrepreneurial graduates who signed up on the website within a year of leaving university.

Over the past 12 months, the number of recent graduates registering as freelancers or micro-business owners has increased by 105%, with the number of male graduates up 114% and female graduates up 96%. The most popular skills being offered by grads are website design and mobile app development.

PeoplePerHour figures also revealed that the number of 18 to 21-year-olds registering on the website has increased by 70% over the past 12 months, suggesting that a growing number of young people are choosing the self-employed path over university.

The last graduate unemployment figures* from the Office for National Statistics showed that around one in five new graduates were out of work, while a significant number were forced to take lower-skilled jobs after leaving university.

Many graduates have specific skills that are in demand from the business community, and with the average hourly rate charged by freelancers on PeoplePerHour around £22 per hour, graduates numbers have boomed on the website since last year.

And with the average cost to start a business from scratch just over £300**, for a graduate leaving university with little or no start-up funds, the prospect of going it alone doesn’t feel as daunting as the days when you had to ask your local bank manager for a business loan.

Advancements in mobile and online technology have also made it much easier to start-up and run businesses from anywhere. And small business owners are able to tap into a global marketplace of highly skilled freelancers, and run a flexible workforce, hiring more staff when they need them, rather than taking people on full-time.

Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder and CEO of PeoplePerHour, comments: “The Prime Minister’s enterprise adviser Lord Young believes it’s a good time to start a business, and it seems Britain’s young graduates are doing just that.

“For those leaving university with student debts, the barrier to launching a business is typically a lack of start-up capital — and even though working for themselves may be an ambition for the future, the obvious and sensible first move is to find a job.

“However, we’re seeing a growing band of ambitious graduates who aren’t daunted by the prospect of venturing out on their own, and for those who do take the leap, it’s never been easier or cheaper to start a business.

“The online and mobile revolution means you can literally launch a business from your kitchen table. There is no need to rent a permanent office, and you don’t need to commit to full-time staff when there are thousands of skilled freelancers throughout the UK, who are available for hire. And if you need advice and support, there are online business forums buzzing with people ready to offer their expertise for free.

“The internet has give the small business owner of today access to a global marketplace of opportunities and expertise. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking, and we expect to see more graduates, encouraged by seeing more and more of their peers starting business ventures, choosing to work for themselves, rather than fighting each other for existing vacancies.”