ESpark co-founder to leave as changes afoot at accelerator

A key figure in the Scottish and UK entrepreneurial sectors and co-founder of what is billed as the world's largest free business accelerator has today revealed that he is stepping down from the organisation after five years as it alters its business model.

Jim Duffy is leaving Entrepreneurial Spark after picking up an MBE. Picture: Contributed

Jim Duffy is leaving Entrepreneurial Spark, widely known as ESpark, joking that he has “in a way” fired himself from the venture, where his roles over the years included “chief executive optimist” and “head of #GoDo”.

He said he is “proud to be the arch-disruptor of entrepreneurship in Scotland”, stating: “When we started ESpark in 2011 we knew there was a great opportunity ahead.”

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The initiative, whose key partners include Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and is aimed at fledgling businesses, has to date launched 12 “hatcheries” across the UK, with a 13th debuting soon, and has also supported more than 660 businesses to turn over in excess of £85 million, he noted.

But he added that “in a global and digital marketplace, cutting through the noise takes more than a good idea and commitment, it needs the right support across a range of areas to help entrepreneurs thrive and grow. It’s been an incredible journey and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and been changed by.”

Before developing the model for ESpark while in the US on a Saltire Fellowship, Duffy’s previous roles included British Airways cabin steward for four years and 11 years with Strathclyde Police.

He also said he has made sure ESpark, which stressed he will always be “part of the family”, is backed by RBS for another five years and has key partnerships with KPMG, Dell EMC and Harper Macleod.

Duffy is set to stay with the venture until the summer, and beyond that has no concrete plans but is set to continue writing and is considering other business opportunities.

He said ESpark is about to reveal key changes to its model “which will enable the company to help more entrepreneurs, more often and at the right place in their journey… I’ve no doubt that under [ESpark co-founder] Lucy-Rose Walker’s stewardship it will take ESpark stratospheric. So I can leave with a big smile on my face.”

Walker will continue as “chief entrepreneuring officer” to lead the firm’s growth plans, and said Duffy’s contribution to the business community in Scotland and across the UK is “second to none” with his legacy “rooted in everything we do now”.

Duffy’s role championing entrepreneurship has also seen him awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List for his outstanding contribution to business.

Also recognised with an MBE, for services to social enterprise and entrepreneurship in Scotland, is Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of sandwich chain Social Bite.

He dedicated the honour to “the hundreds of homeless people Social Bite works with in Scotland who are marginalised from society”.