So, how has it been?
It’s been a real rollercoaster journey – but a very good rollercoaster. When I started in the role last year, I probably didn’t have that much of an idea of what I was really getting myself into.
I knew it would be very different from my relationship management role in NatWest, but didn’t realise just how different it would be. If you speak to any of the people who have taken on this role in hatcheries around the country, they’ll say the same thing. We knew that the bank was taking on something new and exciting, but we had little idea of how it would actually pan out. My two directors made a leap of faith. They had been involved in setting up the team for about a year or so before I came on board.
What have been the highs and the lows?
The highs have been seeing some of the success stories of people who have really grown their businesses. Of the original 28, three have moved out of the hatchery into their own offices and taken on staff, which for us is a huge success. There are a couple of cases where the bank has been able to point them in the right direction for investment. One entrepreneur, Gary Conroy of ‘5 Squirrels’, raised over £120,000 worth of crowd funding for his business to grow.
The other highlights for me personally have been the opportunity to work very closely with a lot of key people from around Sussex who have really engaged and who really get what we are doing. They don’t just see us as a bank out there ticking a box, because that is not what this is about. This year is NatWest’s Year of Enterprise, and it is taken very seriously.
We have great support from KPMG and now EMC2 , who have now come on board as technology partners.
The bank is very active in encouraging entrepreneurship. We now have 300 women who are business-accredited relationship managers, which means they have all been through an accreditation programme dealing with understanding working with women in business. The other focus under the enterprise banner is the Prince’s Trust, which builds on our long-standing 30-year sponsorship.
Last year it was mentioned that 80% of Brighton start-ups fail. How are your start-ups faring?
Yes, that’s right: actually, it was 84%. We’ve had a couple who have not continued. Also, we have some companies who have left the programme but who have continued to develop their businesses. It’s not for everyone. We challenge you as a person, but also challenge you in your business, pushing you to grow and scale your business. It’s not just about using the free office space and having access to all the workshops: you have to be engaged.
Statistically, it’s a bit early as we are only a year down the line, but I believe that Entrepreneurial Spark will be bringing out their stats monitor around September or October, which will incorporate all the new hatcheries, including Bristol, Brighton and Leeds.
In August, you will see the third intake at Brighton. Are you attracting different types of companies?
It has changed. The second intake was very different to the first. A lot of the first intake were very new businesses, very new startups who needed hand-holding. In the second intake a lot of the businesses were a lot more established and the individuals were a bit more mature and experienced.
The message we really want to put out is that we are not just supporting start-up businesses; it is really a programme to help businesses scale and grow – and that can be businesses turning over £1 or £2 million. It is for businesses that need that help and assistance to grow and scale.
We are benefiting from the fact that people know more about us now, and the awareness is much higher. The chamber of commerce are brilliant at getting the word out there about what we are doing. My role is to keep that momentum going; we are always looking for people and mentors.
As you build up a mix of ‘nesters’ (those businesses invited to stay beyond the usual six months) and ‘chiclets’ (new cohorts), the dynamic will keep changing…
That’s right. There’s never going to be that point where you think you have cracked this, and all my colleagues would say exactly the same thing. Every single day is different, meeting different people with different ideas and ambitions.
What do you know now that you didn’t know 12 months ago?
I now know a lot more about the mindset of an entrepreneur, about how challenging it can be to start your own business. It’s not an easy process; a lot of these guys have given up a lot to focus on these businesses. They’ve given up well-established jobs and security to basically pursue their passions, whatever they may be, in their business. I’ve learnt a lot more about understanding what drives them and motivates them. That’s one of the biggest takeaways for me throughout this last year.
I do feel I have grown a lot as a person. I’ve probably never had to challenge myself so much as I have in the last year. I have been doing things that I would never have experienced otherwise, such as standing up in front of large groups of people, doing presentations and doing talks at awards ceremonies. I’ve acquired some personal skills and earned the satisfaction of knowing I have helped businesses.
Are you still looking for new applicants and mentors?
Yes, definitely. Our next intake starts on 10th August, and we will actually open the applications for February the following week. We are always looking for mentors, especially in the tech sector.
ENTREPRENEURIAL SPARK IN NUMBERS
(As at December 2015)
660 businesses helped
Over 1,800 jobs created
£45m of investment raised
88% of businesses who have been through the programme are still in business
£85m of turnover generated
Run alongside partners NatWest and KPMG, Entrepreneurial Spark® is the world’s largest free people accelerator for start-up and scaleup businesses. Open to businesses from all sectors and completely free, Entrepreneurial Spark® takes no equity in supported businesses. For more information, please visit: www.entrepreneurial-spark.com