It’s been a year since our founder, Ellie MacDonald, began the world’s largest business accelerator programme, Entrepreneurial Spark in Leeds. It is, therefore, about time she discussed how the programme has benefited her and the business so here’s her story…
Having only been in business a few months, I attended a number of Leeds Business Week events, organised by the Yorkshire Mafia, in October 2015. One of the seminars was held at Entrepreneurial Spark to tell fledgling business owners like myself how they could help me to grow my business.
I attended the event and hearing from the Entrepreneurial Development Manager for the Leeds hub at the time, Dale Sidebottom, as well as inspiring business owners, Stacey Kelly from Your Very Own Story and Sarah Stevenson of SL Social (both of whom have since become good friends of mine) I instantly knew this was an inspiring place I had to be part of.
Applying for the programme online as soon as I got back to my laptop, I received an invitation a few days later inviting me to interview and pitch my business, something I had never done before!
Researching more about the initiative, I knew it would be a big investment of my time. They asked for full participation on the programme which would mean less time in my existing Huddersfield office and working from home, attending evening events every other Wednesday, and ‘getting comfortable with being uncomfortable’ through various challenges including pitching competitions in order to push myself to grow my business.
I remember feeling scared but actually, it helped me to realise that I did want to grow my business and scale-up to afford a team behind me in order to become a leading Yorkshire PR agency.
What I didn’t consider all that time ago, was just how much support I would receive from the programme.
Nervously, I attended my interview with seven fellow aspiring ‘Chiclet’s’ where we had to pitch in-front of each other. Embarrassingly, I sat down to deliver mine, too nervous at the time to stand up. The pitch then followed at interview with ‘Enabler’ Mike Stephens, alongside Dale, who asked me questions around what makes my business different, how I feel about collaboration and they also advised how I couldn’t sit to do pitches in future! I promised I wouldn’t and gave it everything I could to prove I was worthy of a place on the programme.
I was over the moon to learn I had been accepted onto the programme and invited to attend ‘bootcamp’; my start date on the programme was February 2016 for six months, with the option to apply for another six months, up to a maximum of 18 months in total.
The bootcamp was held over two days and was a fantastic opportunity to meet a buzzing room full of inspirational entrepreneurs. We learnt about the mindset of the successful entrepreneur, how to build a business model canvas and broke off into groups to launch our own innovative group business which we would present to the remaining teams. The ‘Apprentice’ style challenge saw us learn how to work in a team and was great fun, I made connections that day who have since become great contacts, friends, and even clients!
But it was really from beginning the programme where I have really benefited. Sharing the office space with these people and leaning on them for support, as well as my Enabler, Mike, who I would see formally every two weeks for a ‘temperature check’ in which we would discuss challenges and ways I would grow my business. Setting my own agenda and actions, it was then up to me to #GoDo just that. Mike definitely saw a lot more of me than just the two weekly temperature checks! He was always available to lend an ear when I needed to offload the latest challenges which comes with the roller-coaster journey of running a business, and he helped me explore options to take on my first recruit as my business really became established. Even the staff who haven’t been my direct contacts for support have been so helpful at getting me through various business and personal challenges. I was sad to say goodbye to the original members of the Leeds hub as their careers progressed, however, new Enabler Natasha Barber-Evans and Entrepreneurial Development Manager, Melissa Hulme have carried on the roles and support amazingly.
The two-weekly event nights I worried about having to commit to became one of my favourite parts of the programme. Detesting pitching initially, I am still shocked that I have not only overcome my fear of public speaking, I have delivered my own events and seminars, proudly and professionally, and have even learnt to enjoy it! Event nights were also a great opportunity to share good news, cheer each other on to keep excelling, and, as it usually followed a few drinks in the neighbouring bar, it was a great opportunity to socialise and network with my peers.
We have been rewarded well for working hard too. Regular awards ceremonies have seen us enjoy fabulous nights with winners of pitching competitions, business growth (which I was shortlisted for in July 2016) and I am over the moon to hold the title of the last two ‘Chiclet’s Choice’ awards, scooping £1000 prizes as voted for by my peers for the PR support I provide fellow business owners with.
I have even picked up significant work as part of the programme with several clients who are also part of the programme, proudly displaying our results on the shared ‘press wall’.
In just over a year, I have come a long way. I have overcome a number of hurdles, personally and in business, and I am now based full time in the Leeds hub with my growing team of four, a feat I’m not sure I could have achieved without the support from Entrepreneurial Spark.
Having recently held successful reviews with my team, one of the pluses for them working for MacComms is being based at Entrepreneurial Spark. It truly is the most positive and collaborative spaces, whether you are sharing success or leaning on a shoulder to cry on, the entrepreneurs, NatWest team who fund the programme and Entrepreneurial Spark team are all genuinely the best bunch of people you could wish to have around you.
It is fair to say I have personally come along way since joining the programme. I have developed my confidence, my brand and my business and as such I will remember my time on the programme fondly for the rest of my life.
We’re coming into our remaining three months of the programme before officially flying the nest in August 2017 and I am now applying to stay involved in the programme as a community partner.
If you have a start-up or scale-up business, I would strongly urge you to apply and benefit, as I have, too!
For more on Entrepreneurial Spark visit http://www.entrepreneurial-spark.com/.