ESpark fired up over ‘whirlwind’ year for start-ups

Jim Duffy, right, launches ESpark's latest report with Kevin Harvie, left, of snacks company Hectares. Picture: Jeff Holmes
Jim Duffy, right, launches ESpark's latest report with Kevin Harvie, left, of snacks company Hectares. Picture: Jeff Holmes
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Business accelerator programme Entrepreneurial Spark (ESpark) doubled the number of firms under its auspices in a “whirlwind” 12 months last year, while the combined turnover of its incumbents more than quadrupled.

Backed by some of Scotland’s top business figures, including Lord Haughey, Sir Tom Hunter and Ann Gloag, ESpark was founded in 2011 and became the first UK business accelerator to adapt the US-based MassChallenge project model for use in the British market.

New businesses are “hot housed” for five months in one of three “hatcheries” in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Ayrshire where they receive free office space, business mentoring and advice.

The group’s annual impact report, published today, shows a surge in turnover, funding and job creation for the businesses involved.

ESpark supported 280 start-ups last year, compared with 139 in 2012. Their combined turnover was £15.7 million, a 342 per cent rise on the previous year.

The fledgling businesses attracted more than £8m in funding and created 520 jobs between them in 2013. In 2012, ESpark companies accounted for 196 new jobs. The programme also saw 259 new patents, trademarks and franchises.

ESpark founder Jim Duffy said: “The last 12 months have been an absolute whirlwind and we couldn’t have dreamt 2013 would be so successful.

“There is a huge appetite for promoting entrepreneurship in Scotland and we are extremely appreciative for all the businesses and organisations that have supported us over the past year.

“There are some big numbers in this latest report and we look forward to working with our partners to try and achieve even bigger and better things in 2014.”

Duffy said it was important to acknowledge that behind the overall numbers were individual entrepreneurs who have pushed themselves and their businesses to new heights.

He said: “Their commitment, passion and drive is out of this world and each and every one of them has played a massive role in the collective success of ESpark.”

ESpark recently launched a new platform, known as the Nest, to help businesses make the next step in their development while still receiving support and executive education.

The 12-month incubator programme will help businesses to become more resilient and opportunity hungry while focusing on more complex issues such as finance, debt and recruitment.

2013 also saw ESpark establish a close working partnership with Royal Bank of Scotland. The bank continues to provide significant advisory and financial support for the accelerator and its businesses.

RBS’s head of business banking, Gordon Merrylees, said: “Our partnership with ESpark has been the catalyst to make us better understand the entrepreneur’s mindset and behaviours and think differently regarding the pivotal part we can play in enabling the Scottish ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’.

“It is extremely encouraging to see the impact that Espark has had in such a short space of time and we very much look forward to being part of the future success of the hatcheries and of course the new ‘nest’ high growth model too.”