A business start-up accelerator scheme which aims to cultivate the entrepreneurs of tomorrow is extending its reach to Birmingham.
Entrepreneurial Spark, founded two-and-a-half years ago in Scotland, is set to launch in eight UK cities in partnership with NatWest.
Birmingham will be the location for the first of eight new bank-based business accelerator hubs offering free workspace, hands-on mentoring, a start up ‘bootcamp’ and a free programme of up to 18-months of advice, support and funding clinics.
The hubs will unite budding entrepreneurs with like-minded people, as well as specially trained bank staff and business mentors.
They will also have the opportunity to go on to pitch to potential investors and ‘growth awards’ of up to £50,000 are set to be launched offering cash injections to businesses.
The hubs are being rolled out following the success of Entrepreneurial Spark in Scotland.
The scheme’s founder Jim Duffy said its it expansion so far had taken him by surprise.
“We didn’t have any ambition to spread the net,” he said. “We started in Glasgow, then opened one in Ayrshire and started to get some good success. Then we were approached and asked if we would like to do one in Edinburgh.”
Further expansion followed in the wake of tie-ups with RBS and NatWest.
Mr Duffy said: “We had worked with RBS in Scotland. I had already had approaches from other interested parties asking whether I would be interested in franchising it or opening in other countries.
“NatWest asked if we would be interested in expanding and being a banking partner - when you get that sort of opportunity you don’t say no.
“It was a fantastic opportunity and testament to the work we were doing that someone had recognised it.”
Mr Duffy said there were a number of reasons Birmingham was the first location chosen outside Scotland, but it was in part because the city reminded him of Boston and Entrepreneurial Spark’s US roots.
“I had done some research and visited the US and saw models working out there that hadn’t been brought to the UK,” he said.
“I thought how do I do something similar but give it a UK culture and feel.
“I visited Birmingham and it actually reminded me of Boston - with a distinct business district, its library and the restaurants.
“There’s also a real collaborative atmosphere. People were sharing and saying I can introduce you to this person.
“I don’t know if that is a Birmingham trait but it also reminded me of Boston.”
In terms of how the Entrepreneurial Spark scheme works, Mr Duffy said it was distinguished by doing a number of things differently.
It does not take any equity from budding entrepreneurs, is completely free and concentrates on the individual rather than a business idea.
“We spend 60-70 per cent of our time working with the entrepreneur and not the proposition,” said Mr Duffy.
“We are more concerned with the mindset and growing an entrepreneurial leader than we are about the business.”
Applications are being invited now with the aim of getting the scheme up and running by February next year.
In terms of the candidates being sought, Mr Duffy said: “We are looking for people who are going to be determined, are committed and work hard.
“They don’t need to have the best or most innovative ideas in the world but are going to show behaviours that are going to lead them to be successful.
“The way we recruit people to the programme is they have to have the look in their eye, the spark that says I am going to do something.”
He added: “Another thing that is really going to make this unique, in terms of Europe or even further afield, is each hatchery has serious money - they can win business awards of up to £50,000.”
Applicants are being welcomed from all sectors and the hubs will offer physical work spaces for up to 80 entrepreneurs selected through a competitive process, with each hub hosting two intakes every year.
At the end of the programme each hub will host a ‘graduation’ event bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and business advisors for mentoring and networking sessions.
These events will also see rewards for outstanding businesses and the opportunity to pitch to win cash.
Entrepreneurs from Birmingham recently got a chance to pitch their business ideas at the launch of Entrepreneurial Spark in Victoria Square.
The #PitchOff competition encouraged local entrepreneurs to board a special bus to deliver a 60 second pitch in a bid to win a place on the programme.