Nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs

Business accelerator Entrepreneurial Spark's Impact Report, published today, contains some impressive statistics and a blueprint for the future, finds Scott Reid.

Lucy-Rose Walker, CEO of ESpark, which is 'powered' by Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest. Picture: Contributed
Lucy-Rose Walker, CEO of ESpark, which is 'powered' by Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest. Picture: Contributed

Entrepreneurial Spark’s “2017 Impact Report” seems aptly named. The annual assessment of the self-styled “world’s largest free business accelerator” certainly contains some impressive numbers.

In its efforts to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurial talent, Royal Bank of Scotland-backed ESpark has seen the number of jobs created by those businesses it supports surge 76 per cent to 3,152.

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Collectively, the various ventures across ESpark’s hubs in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland turned over £176m last year and secured a bumper £151m in investment, a 235 per cent jump on the previous 12 months.

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In Scotland, turnover reached a peak of more than £64m in 2016. To date, ESpark has supported 625 Scottish businesses, with entrepreneurs also securing in excess of £48m in investment while creating 1,047 jobs.

The annual impact study, published today, highlights the accelerator’s focus on creating “growth mindsets and hands-on enablement” and acknowledges the support provided by each of its key partners – Royal Bank of Scotland, KPMG Enterprise, Dell Technologies and legal firm Harper Macleod. Since 2013, ESpark has enabled more than 1,700 fledgling businesses to develop, grow and scale-up across the UK.

It’s a pretty impressive track record for an initiative that has only been up and running for a few years but now operates its various boot camps, workshops and hatcheries out of 12 locations across the UK, with a further hub due to open, in London, this August.

Lucy-Rose Walker, chief executive of Entrepreneurial Spark, says: “We’ve given this Impact Report the title ‘Blow Your Mind’ and it’s not hard to see why. The stats are truly mind-blowing and we’ve enabled our entrepreneurs to create real jobs, huge turnover and significant investment via our focus on developing their entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviours.

“Our vision is to create positive social change by giving people the chance to grow and create jobs, and value in the economy. It’s really gratifying to see that those entrepreneurs have now created 3,152 jobs across the UK, all of them creating social change by contributing to their communities and local economies.”

The accelerator programme has evolved over its short life and is rolling out a new model in an effort to provide more specialised, bespoke enablement for a wider range of ventures, from the smallest of start-ups leaving the kitchen table behind to mid-weight financial technology (fintech) entrepreneurs needing a boost and on up to well established businesses aiming to scale-up and push into overseas markets.

Walker adds: “Our partnership with Royal Bank of Scotland is such a powerful one and enables us to give hands-on practical help to start-ups of every kind, from that first spark of an idea, right up to bigger businesses needing to scale and grow.

“We have another exciting year ahead as we bring our entrepreneuring revolution to London with our 13th hub and launch the first free, dedicated fintech accelerator in Scotland.”

Dianne Teo, chief executive of fitness training outfit Fatburn Extreme, is just one of the many entrepreneurs to have benefited from ESpark. Since joining the business accelerator programme, the venture has started trading internationally in nine countries.

Teo says: “I’ve grown a strong team, increased my turnover dramatically, with two licensed contracts and more in the pipeline. Being part of an environment where there are many other fascinating businesses has also helped us focus and move the business forward to the next stage.”

Turnover has also significantly increased for Pillow, a property management specialist and holiday home sourcing company, run by chief executive Scott Weir.

“Pillow was just side project at first, but with the encouragement of Entrepreneurial Spark I changed my plan from targeting local properties under management to expanding nationwide,” says Weir. “Already, that is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in business we wouldn’t otherwise have made.”

As ESpark gears up for another hectic 12 months which will no doubt culminate in yet more impressive statistics, its key partners remain optimistic, depsite a backdrop of global economic uncertainty.

Ben McDonald, head of KPMG Enterprise, says: “The UK has a phenomenal reputation as a great place to start a business, in part due to the support provided by accelerators such as Entrepreneurial Spark.

“The fact that together we can support as many start-ups as possible to grow and scale can only be great news for innovation, entrepreneurial culture and the economy at large in the UK.”