Start-ups start here! Essential advice and inspirational stories at a Star round table
The start-up journey can be a difficult one - especially if all your friends and family say you’re crazy.
But don’t just listen to them - there’s a whole community of people and a big network of advisers with potentially a very different view. And it could be just what you need to hear.
The Star organised a round table to discuss launching a company, attended by new entrepreneurs, specialist advisers and an experienced businesswoman.
It heard inspirational stories of success and wisdom borne of (sometimes bitter) experience.
Tom Wolfenden, chief executive of Sheffield Technology Parks, which includes the Cooper Project incubator, urged would-be entrepreneurs to surround themselves with like-minded people.
“We see people who have a great idea that’s almost guaranteed to make money. But they have friends and family at home who are naturally risk-averse, who don’t really understand what it means to run a business and a lot of them are saying, ‘think about what could go wrong’, rather than talking about the opportunity.
“To those people I’d say, ‘come and have a conversation with people like me and see if it’s something you want to pursue’.
“Surround yourself and immerse yourself in the start-up community, it can really add value to your early stage business.”
Thoroughly researching an idea, taking advice early and joining support and networking groups were all discussed.
And The Star’s role in supporting business came up.
Kisha Bradley, who established Bright Box Makerspace three years ago as a playful space for exploring tech, engineering and arts, said: “More coverage gives me more credibility.”
Tom Wolfenden added: “The Star is a trusted broker that can speak to national organisations. From my perspective, I want to say thanks for continuing to plug the tech scene.”
The start-ups at the event were:
Emily Webster who runs a macaroni and cheese business with her sister.
Adiam Amanuel who created the 721 travel and experience app
Virginia Lowes who records people’s thoughts and memories before they lose the power of speech.
Victoria Lowes of My Own Words
Adiam Amanuel of 721 app
Emily Webster of Macpot
Kisha Bradley of Bright Box Makerspace
Darren McDool of SCR Launchpad
Tom Wolfenden of Sheffield Technology Parks
Yvonne Asquith of Business Sheffield
David Walsh The Star Business Editor
Start by Googling your idea to check it hasn’t been done – then keep your overheads low if you can.
Yvonne Asquith: “It’s really important to understand whether you have a viable business idea before doing anything formal like signing a lease. Do research, find out what people want rather than assuming. Talk to competitors, often people are really keen to share.“We are not there to help every person to set up. If an idea is not quite right we’ll say. If that helps someone avoid failing within their first year then we’ll have done as good a job as with those that set up.
“Emily’s example of taking Macpot to festivals and street markets is a good example of a way to test an idea cheaply.”
Tom Wolfenden: “There are faster fail rates in other cities, we are not really risk takers. Survivability is quite good in South Yorkshire but there aren’t enough people having a go.
“We had one guy who thought he had a really good idea but as he described it to me I realised it was Hello Fresh. And when I told him, something inside him died, it was heartbreaking. If you are thinking of something Google it first.”
Darren McDool: “It’s not necessarily failure if someone has a go and it doesn’t work but we have to see people before they sign the lease or take on a lot of responsibilities. The more traditional view of try, fail and stop, is changing.”
Tom Wolfenden: “I know a millennial running a new business with £13,000-a-month turnover and two clients already. His wife, friends and parents say he is crazy. He says he’s pretty sure he can do it but no one is backing him. Whereas everyone going through a start-up generally wants to help each other.”
Emily Webster: “We were not expecting the help and advice we got from competitors like Gravy Train and Lucky Fox, which is opening next to us on Orchard Terrace.”
Darren McDool: “The feedback we get is that people who are perceived to be competitors at the start turn out to be collaborators and even clients.”
Adiam Amanuel won a tech start-up weekend with the 721 app which is like Tinder for tourist attractions.
It helps people find local events and experiences and comes with with a simple Tinder-style ‘swipe left’ and ‘swipe right’ accept or reject feature that helps improve suggestions.
Focused on Sheffield at first, Adiam has partnered with local businesses including twiddlefood, oakleycraft, and food hall Kommune who have submitted listings. She is also looking for exclusive content.
721 (7 continents into 1) is in the Cooper Project at Sheffield Technology Parks.
A gazebo, a generator and a hob.Macpot offers simple food - macaroni and cheese - and for the last 18 months, sisters Emily and Hatty Webster have been honing their skills on the street food and festival scene.
Now they are moving into a permanent home in Orchard Square in Sheffield city centre.
Emily said: “I was working a nine-to-five job in hospitality and I wanted a change. I thought, ‘I’d love to own my own cafe. I have no responsibilities or dependents. This is my time’.
"It’s been a lot of physical and mental hard work. On our first outing in 2018, we had to abandon our car and drag all our gear through several feet of snow to pitch up at Nether Edge Farmer’s Market.
“It was a great event and taught us how much effort it takes and how much reward this business offers.”
Macpot opens at Orchard Terrace on the upper floor of Orchard Square in February.
MY OWN WORDS
Virginia Lowes didn’t intend to go into business recording people who are losing the ability to communicate, but friends kept saying, ‘do it’.
My Own Words makes recordings that can be used as memory aids and memoirs when communication becomes difficult.
Virginia, a writer, was inspired to set up after a close friend developed early onset Parkinson’s disease.She said: “My business is very personal and very tailored. One-to-one sessions are really intense. An interview can be funny, emotional and sad. They are important to the subject and for their family.
“I am an experienced writer, working with people with different needs. I volunteered in the oral history department at St Luke’s and was later accepted into Lloyds school for social entrepreneurs.
“People kept saying, ‘you should do it’, rather than me thinking I wanted to run a business.
“But I’m glad I did. I’m doing two days a week and fitting it around other work but hopefully I can go full time.”
BRIGHT BOX MAKERSPACE
Kisha Bradley set up Bright Box Makerspace three years ago to create playful spaces for exploring tech, engineering and arts.
It is based at 18 Exchange St in the up-and-coming Castlegate area of Sheffield city centre. It also runs off-site events at museums, markets, community centres, libraries and schools.
Kisha’s background is in engineering and she started out trying to produce a toy that would help girls get into science.
“I did a lot of research, worked with people and developed a prototype. I realised I liked working with people and rather than make one toy I wanted to take that side of things further.
That slowly turned into a makerspace that focuses on creative problem solving.”
Bright Box encourages children and adults to explore science through playful, hands-on activities, using everything from laptops and Raspberry Pis to cardboard, scissors and glue.