Tag Archives: business start-up

Wise words from StartUp 2019 

Last Saturday I was in London for StartUp 2019 – a wonderful diverse gathering of entrepreneurs at all stages in their business start-up journeys (it seems we all have to be on a ‘journey’ these days). I’d been so impressed by StartUp 2018 I just had to return; I wasn’t disappointed…  

On getting started

“You have to ask a lot of favours at the start. Talk to as many people as possible and you may get lucky.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

“Don’t start promoting your new business too early; people get bored. 6 – 8 weeks before you launch is enough time to build interest and excitement.”  Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

 “At the start I was vomiting every day through stress. Stress is a function of uncertainty and when you start a business everything is uncertain. I didn’t understand all the elements [of starting a business] – all start-ups go through this at some stage.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“ Startup is the hardest you’ll ever work; forget work-life balance. For success it will be all-consuming – it takes a lot, it’s not for the faint-hearted.“ Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Don’t jump too soon [from your paid employment] … when you go fulltime so much more will happen. I took a sabbatical when our business started.”  Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

 “There’s no point in turning up unless you’re going to do quality. It costs the same to do a bad job badly as a good job well.”  Mike Soutar @mikesoutar

“Hold off getting your first employee as long as possible. You’ll know when the time is right – for me it was starting to do a bad job, I was reducing my face-to-face contact [with clients and other stakeholders]” Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

On funding your start-up

“Don’t raise money until you have to (and don’t listen to people that tell you otherwise)” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

 “I told my first investors (43 friends) – ‘whatever you invest, expect to lose it’.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“It was eight months before we got our first investment – through cold-calling but via connections… You need to be clear about your ambitions and risk tolerances. With money you can make mistakes but blowing your life-savings is best avoided!” Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

On choosing an investor… “There’s a real difference between a ‘cash provider’ and a ‘passionate partner’… If you have the right partner it doesn’t feel like you’re giving away part of your business; more like you’re gaining.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

The importance of other people

“Employing the right people is almost the hardest part of any business – if you get it right everything else falls into place, bit it takes time and mistakes.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

“You can be a lone wolf, but if you want to scale your business you need to establish relationships you can trust early on. Draw on your past experience and contacts – you can’t be an expert at everything!” Ross Jones @brandfarmfilms Brand Farm Films

“Have a strong business partner or someone else you can share your bad days with.”

“Your support network is incredibly important. You need people around you to remind you it’s not good for your health to immerse yourself in your business.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

“Have someone to whom you’re ‘accountable’ – it could be someone in a different business.”

“When you’re feeling down, go back to your clients and users [why you’re in business] it will give you a lot of energy.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

Marketing – what works?

“It’s important you’ve got a point of difference. Imagine you’re opening a magazine of your choice – could it feature your product/ brand; is it newsworthy?   Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Building credibility, trust, face-to-face relationships, and referrals” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

 “Find influencers who believe in what you’re doing – not necessarily the people with the biggest following, it’s important they are the right sort of person’”  Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Three mistakes with PR [press/public relations]: a fear of self-promotion; having no press hook [for your approach to media outlets]; going in cold [so do your research before approaching a journalist]” Amanda Ruiz @amandaruizuk

On PR on a budget… “Don’t ‘say and spray’ – personalise your message to journalists, get to know them, understand their work and interests. Get on their radar in a good way (don’t stalk them!) help them to help you. Pitch to the right editor in the right publication. Get into the head of the magazine’s readers (and the editor).” Amanda Ruiz @amandaruizuk

How to succeed

“I like the uncomfortable times, big challenges, building stuff, constructing a business.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“Protecting my intellectual property was really important for me. I recommend you protect it and then stand up for yourself. I was supported by my online customers – whom I regard as friends more than followers – sharing [the infringements] and getting angry.” Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“If you go into a business with a plan to sell it, it’ll never work.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“Ask yourself – will you still love what you’re doing in 5- 10 years? Your heart and soul should be in it when you start your business.”   Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Base your price on the market, not your costs.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“Not everyone is going to invent Facebook. Ideas are overrated – it’s the execution that matters.” Ross Jones @brandfarmfilms Brand Farm Films

“If you’re a good leader, it’s because you can make decisions, quickly, with limited data. Some will be good decisions, some bad…. Decision-making to a businessman is like clay to a sculptor.” Mike Soutar @mikesoutar

“We look at four areas of risk: financial (mainly cashflow); people (having good staff); operational (coping with growth, including space); change (limiting your ‘operational debt’).”  Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

On embracing change…

“Be brave, your business plan will change, go with it – be open to change, consider the implications of each new step.” Carly Menken, Head of SME Trading, Direct Line for Business

“Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know – find out, learn, it will get sorted.” Hayley McClelland, The Fairy Dogmothers

“Back yourself – talk to others in a similar position” Ross Jones @brandfarmfilms Brand Farm Films

“Be willing to accept change and reflect on making the most of it. Make time to step back from the day-to-day – let the thinking part of your brain take over from the execution part – to be strategic.” Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

“Learn how to ‘chunk down’. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so break down [your challenges] into parts, small milestones. Change your perspective – if you have a ‘freeze moment’ go away, re-think, take a chance, learn from failure.” Carly Menken, Head of SME Trading, Direct Line for Business

And finally…

A new word: Brexhaustion. Two new abbreviations: EIS – Enterprise Investment Scheme (‘like Giftaid for investors’) and UGC – User Generated Content. A career-change website with an emphasis on business start-up https://www.escapethecity.org A book recommendation: https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jamie-Waller/Unsexy-Business–How-12-entrepreneurs-in-ordinary-busines/22722516

What I learned at StartUp 2018  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/enterprise-essentials-21-tips-from-startup-2018 

The customer is usually right

Quite often on Dragon’s Den, you hear them say ‘you’ve designed a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. In the wider world, if that disqualified any business that offers something we don’t need or want, we wouldn’t be surrounded by gadgets we never use, and services we thought would be useful when we first signed up for them.

The best business ideas are both needed and wanted and, unless you’ve got money to burn, this needs to be confirmed through market research. Or ‘customer validation’ as Davina Pancholi-Ifould describes it in relation to her start-up journey (we’re all on a journey these days) as founder and CEO of Rightgig Ltd.

To be fair, customer validation is not just any old market research, it’s about testing real products with real customers in real environments. For Davina, customer validation is also… “developing something because you know someone is going to pay you for it because they want and/ or need it. It’s about getting out there with a clipboard and talking to people you don’t know – so not your mum!”  That ‘something’ is Rightgig – an online marketplace to, in Davina’s words “Help companies decide who they should hire.” The online platform helps people looking for work or hiring, to match skills, motivation and personality to fit with different business cultures. As Davina observes “Some things, like skills, can be taught, but motivation and personality is also key to finding the right people.”

We’ve all probably seen the problems that can arise when people don’t fit in with the rest of the team. For Davina, the spark that ignited the flame that has become Rightgig was harnessing her love of technology to solve a problem that she and others had experienced when trying to hire. The ‘data matching’ idea was born and four weeks later, Davina was working fulltime on the business.

Lesson one – don’t hand in your notice too soon! Davina advises you do as much customer validation as you can before you leave the security of your paid job.

Lesson two – get outside support from people with a shared vision as early as possible. A lot of business success is about networking – about who you know. Gather your advisors and tribe!

I was intrigued to know what was behind the name – Rightgig – and the company’s logo. It was obvious I wasn’t the first person to ask Davina about this.

“Business names are emotive, often the embodiment of the business values, so it’s important you’re attached to the name. That said, our process for developing the name and logo was pretty random. I’m very visual so it was a matter of putting things up on the wall at home. We wanted a name that was one word and was easy to say and spell. We put ‘right’ and ‘gig’ (thinking of the gig economy, and gig as in ‘job’) on the wall and Rightgig had a resonance with the property website.”

I’m sure the process wasn’t that painless, but… I was also interested to learn that the logo started out as a doodle with a coffee mug stain on top of it!

“We aspire to become the Google of job search” jokes Davina (or maybe she isn’t joking?)

That ambition is reflected in the care with which the customer verification goes on. The technological base will only be built once a focus group has approved it – unusual in the world of technology. A broader focus group of users are testing early versions of the platform and saying which features they’d like to see first. Those features will then be tested further “Each release is an opportunity to build awareness and do further testing on the basis of real data” explains Davina.

I wonder what other lessons can be passed on to would-be entrepreneurs, and not just those of the techy variety? The fluency of Davina’s answer implies she’s also been asked that before.

“Don’t give up your day job too early. [Try to] keep your home and work life separate – turn off your phone and laptop, shut the door. Most creative solutions come when you’re not working on them – my 60 second pitch came to me in the shower! Know your strengths and weaknesses. To me finance is dull, but I know it’s important – I’ve learned to love it. Social media is my biggest challenge and my time is probably best spent on other things – I’ll outsource it as soon as I can.”

Returning to the subject of customer validation, Davina has a last bit of advice to share. “You can’t talk to enough people – you can always do more. We know our recruitment solution isn’t for everyone but we had to learn this. I have no regrets.”

More information: https://rightgig.co.uk

What makes a great business idea?

As readers of this blog will know, I work with young people to help them launch their own businesses. Business start-up success is, of course, as much to do with the capabilities of the would-be entrepreneur as the quality of their business idea, but invariably I judge the latter before I know the former.

 

When I first hear a business idea, I subconsciously and unfairly assess it by whether the idea personally appeals to me. My passion for social enterprise, for example, tends to make me more positive about business ambitions that are more than just ‘making money’.

Over the past 20 months I’ve been told about over 100 possible businesses. Beyond my personal interests, what can I conclude about the elements of a potentially good business idea?

Is it a novel idea? If you take the ‘five f’s’ – fashion, food, facial treatments, photography and fitness – out of the frame, there are probably less than 50 other ideas. Of these, few have been particularly different, but two stand out.

The first is a shoe-selling service for people with different sized feet and amputees with only one leg. A young entrepreneur with mild cerebral palsy has feet that are two sizes different meaning she needs to buy two pairs of shoes to get ones that fit properly. She knows how costly this is and wants to solve the problem for herself and others by selling odd size pairs and single shoes.

The second business involves selling pearls in oysters that are then set in jewelry pieces of the customer’s choice. Each oyster (scanned at source to ensure it actually contains a pearl) is opened live on social media, with the owner looking on, creating an excitement which builds as the jewelry piece is created in the following weeks (for supply in the oyster shell?)

What are the start-up costs? Cost is as much about the time as the money it will need upfront. Even techy start-ups – with the right in-house expertise – can launch a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to test the market without a major financial investment. I’ve written elsewhere about the value of not investing too much time and money in a new venture, making it relatively easier to ‘recover’ if/when the enterprise doesn’t take off. Some argue that a high personal investment makes the entrepreneur work harder to make the business succeed (but it can also make them blind to the dead horse they’re flogging).

What’s the competition? Novelty adds interest and ‘instant appeal’, but the most unusual business ideas may be novel for a very good reason; that others have tried unsuccessfully to make them work. This may be down to timing or location, but the rate with which some restaurants continue to change hands on the same site after successive failures makes me think that many restaurant owners believe they alone can buck the trend.

That said, there is something to be said in favour of starting a business in a crowded marketplace – a coffee shop for example. The number of people already selling coffee confirms there’s widespread demand for the product and/or service. And, to some degree, publicity for just one coffee shop benefits all coffee outlets in the locality. When competition is fierce it’s then ‘just’ a matter of doing better than the others. Like the barbershop in my home town which opened on Sundays when the other four barbers didn’t (now three of them do).

One way to tackle the competition is to go for a niche within the particular business sector – something that, with the advent of cost-effective communication through social media, is now more possible than ever. One young photographer is specialising in photoshoots with new born babies aged 5 to 10 days. The beauty of catching ’em so young is the scope for repeat business with milestone photos.

Is the idea simple to grasp? Business start-up ideas tend to be over-complicated. This is partly a reflection on the muddled thinking of the would-be entrepreneur – buzzing with too many ideas and thinking they have to be firing on all cylinders from day one. But if the product and/or service is not clearly communicated, the business tends to suffer because it expects too much of potential customers to understand the offer – they lose interest and look elsewhere.

It’s almost as if young people think a simple idea makes them sound, er, simple. But in a room full of business ideas of varying complexity, the best idea (on a particular day I’m recalling) was described quite simply in three words – cleaning people’s houses. A great business idea – easily explained, low start-up costs, repeat business practically guaranteed for an affordable quality service, and potential customers almost literally on the doorstep. The same goes for the would-be gardener, dog-walker and ‘man with van’ who knows what s/he is doing.

Does it meet a real need? The clichéd definition of marketing ‘selling things that people don’t need at prices they can’t afford’ is, happily, less common now than when the phrase was first coined. If there’s a genuine need for a product or service – rather than one which is somewhat contrived (for examples, look in one of those problem-solving household gadget catalogues that drop through the letterbox) – so much the better. I also like business ideas that try to meet more than one need (without getting over-complicated). One young entrepreneur came up with an interesting idea to provide pamper sessions for young mums at playgroup locations – so both generations could benefit from some play at the same time.

Sad to report that business hasn’t taken off… yet. Business success is never guaranteed and even the best ideas in competent hands can fail for very good reasons. ‘Back to the drawing board’ is not just for would-be architects.

Further reading:

Business ideas to launch in weeks https://startups.co.uk/10-great-start-up-business-ideas-to-launch-in-weeks/

How to turn an idea into your dream job  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/14/how-to-turn-an-idea-into-a-dream-job-by-people-who-have-done-it   

Business ideas for 2018 https://startups.co.uk/business-ideas-2018

Business support – what matters?

On the same day this week that I learnt, with surprise and delight, that I’d been listed as a Top 50 Adviser 2018 by Enterprise Nation, I was reminded by my employer how badly I’d missed my target for business starts. Working with a charity supporting young people with complicated lives I appreciate that, for the funders, entrepreneurial success is best measured in tangibles – loans made (and repaid!) businesses started, jobs created etc.

This is understandable – ‘soft outcomes’ like increased self-confidence and improved mental health, better relations with money and family, are harder to quantify. But it risks giving the impression, to which I’ve referred in past blogs, that only what can be easily counted counts.

A work colleague recently asked me how I would define success in my job. I explained the hard versus soft outcomes debate and then described the progress of a young woman I’ve worked with who will probably never set up her own business but has made massive strides in her personal development. I’ve only played a small part in that young woman’s achievements, but I know she’s not the only one who has benefited from my start-up guidance.

When I was first encouraged to throw my hat in the ring with the Enterprise Nation Top 50 Adviser competition, I decided I’d only do so if I got ten endorsements from the young people with whom I’ve worked over the past 20 months. With only 24 hours to the entry deadline, I had three independent nominations and ten endorsements with some truly heart-warming comments from the young entrepreneurs. See above.

Which is how I come to be in the national Top 50 listing with the possibility of being voted top in the ‘Branding and Design’ category https://enterprisenation.com/top50 If you’re considering voting and you want to get an insight into my work with young people, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/learning-about-earning

As you can imagine, I value that expression of support from those thirteen young people far more than any pay packet at the end of the month, but I do understand that I’m employed to keep other customers happy as well.

So, I must dash – there are businesses to be launched.

Enterprise essentials #1 – 21 tips from StartUp 2018

It’s January 13th 2018 and hundreds of entrepreneurs both young and old (but mainly young) are gathered in East London to consider anything and everything to do with starting a business. A great day with loads on on offer – so ‘pick and mix’ was the way to go.

The event was also refreshingly free from business bullshit and the hero-worshipping of edgy, sweary entrepreneurs spouting ‘awesome’, ‘cool’ and ‘disruptive’ all day. In no particular order (as they say on Strictly) I picked up the following tips by keeping my ears pinned back during the day.

  1. The recommended maximum number of questions and completion time for market research surveys is 22 questions and seven minutes (after that there’s a severe drop in response rates)
  2. Success in starting  business is largely down to a combination of ideas, skills and persistence, and lot of them – 90% of business start-ups fail within a year, 47% of retail businesses survive for 10 years
  3. Making products is not business, selling products is the business
  4. Focus on your passions, understand the core mission of your new business, be clear why you are different from other similar businesses (the competition)
  5. The difference between masculine and feminine marketing is the difference between ‘hard sell’ and ‘heart sell’
  6. Talk to as many people as possible- share your ideas freely. Unless your product is technical, forget patents (they’re expensive) and concentrate on protecting your trade mark
  7. Get your products out there as soon as possible – stop talking, start selling – just do it!
  8. Write down 50 people you think should know about your new business, decide how you’re going to reach them, and tell them
  9. “Success is selling something that doesn’t come back to people who do” A cliche, but true.
  10. Work hard, be nice to people, do your research, know your customers, be prepared to sacrifice sleep
  11. Start small, never stop learning and the business will grow with you
  12. When you start out in business think about your definition of success – is it making money, making a difference, or what?
  13. Ideas are worthless, execution is everything
  14. In your business pitch start with the pain for your customers
  15. When you start business planning, list all your assumptions and test each one [before someone else asks you awkward questions]
  16. Mentors are great for keeping you on track and keeping you going, particularly at start-up stage
  17. The highs and lows are more extreme when starting your own business [rather than working in someone else’s]
  18. Know your strengths and [particularly] your weaknesses when starting a business
  19. Tough times at start-up stage can be a springboard for great business development
  20. Understand your brand, focus on the core of your mission, follow your passion, talk to lots of people
  21. Starting a business takes three times as long as you think it will

Further support from www.enterprisenation.com and http://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

 

Get real

Reviewing Create Special – a new book on entrepreneurship

Writing a book for would-be entrepreneurs is not easy if you care about the people with the business ideas more than your reputation as a writer.

It’s easy to write a book along the lines of ‘if you care enough and want it enough you’ll get there’ and bookshop shelves show that many do – no doubt reflecting the famous-for-15-minutes-talent-show-con that pervades our TVs (ably assisted by series like The Apprentice)

It’s harder to write a book about the reality of starting a business – with all the pain that can inflict – because you risk putting off the very readers you hope will be inspired by your writing to rise above the barriers, reach for the stars, and be the best they can be (see, I’m getting carried away with that sort of bullshit myself).

Yes – passion and self-belief are important ingredients in any business start-up (why else would you put in the necessary slog to give your enterprise the best chance of success?) but it’s certainly not enough.

I come to be writing this review of Create Special by Jim Duffy though my day-job helping young people explore the world of enterprise and to start their own businesses if that’s the route they chose to take. I should declare an interest here – author Jim Duffy founded Entrepreneurial Spark – a network of business start-up incubators powered by [as they say] NatWest Bank around the UK, and I’m pleased and grateful to have access to one of those incubators, in Milton Keynes, for working with some of the young people who may become business owners of the future.

Ultimately, I feel it’s a disservice to anyone with a business idea to pretend that everyone can be successful if they try hard enough. There are able and less able people out there, and there are certainly good and bad business ideas. Even the best people with the best ideas can fail for very good reasons. For young people who lead complicated lives and have more obstacles than most to achieving business success, it’s dangerous to set them up to fail. Equally it’s also unhelpful to dismiss their abilities, as many authority figures have probably done already in their short lives.

So, in reviewing Create Special, I have a particular interest in assessing how well Jim Duffy has walked that tightrope – to balance inspiration and information – and whether this is a book for young people whom the system has failed and sent to the back of the queue.

I’ve already mentioned business bullshit and I think Jim Duffy scores pretty well on that (by which I mean low). As a lifelong bull-fighter against lazy language, I have my ‘red rag words’ – like ‘engage’ and ‘deliver’ which are meaningless without more detail (that then makes them redundant). Another, newer ‘d’ word I dislike is ‘disruptive’ – I think it’s often used to make something (or someone) sound more interesting than it/he/she is – like ‘new’ and ‘exciting’.

Jim Duffy gets as far as page 9 before using ‘disrupt’. I know lots of disruptive young people but you wouldn’t want them behaving like that in your business incubator! Yes – I’m the first to admit I’m a grumpy old pedant when it comes to language and communication.

Another bugbear of mine is the image surrounding entrepreneurs (particularly social entrepreneurs – about whom I’ve written in earlier blogs).  Awards, and not a few TV programmes with self-promoting, young (and often male) presenters are designed to give entrepreneurship (not quite the oldest profession… but one of them) an edgy and, dare I say it, ‘disruptive’ feel. While this is great for attracting young and young-at-heart entrepreneurs to give it a go, we need to guard against raising those false expectations.

While I think Jim Duffy comes close to presenting entrepreneurs as somehow super-human, he redeems himself by suggesting that creativity can be nurtured as well as being bestowed by nature and Channel 4. Also, that once developed, creative skills can be a real asset for navigating life in general as well as the world of business start-ups. I always say that a failed business start-up and the problem-solving skills it develops, can be a great springboard for later life.

In the world of entrepreneurship, case studies abound with the true tales of people who have overcome all sorts of physical and mental disadvantages to achieve business success (often defined as being wealthy beyond belief). And I’m not knocking them; such stories of success in the face of adversity make good copy and give hope to us all.

But whether you measure achievement in £-s-d or in some other way, I suspect that most successful businesses start from positions of relative privilege –  in university settings, in families where business is in the blood, in households where friends and family support – with contacts if not cash – in the early years.

A generalisation perhaps, but when working with young people who have an overlay of disadvantages such that turning up to a business advice session at an agreed time is itself an achievement, that starting point is important. In a section on focus, Jim Duffy suggests readers  could ‘lock yourself away in a remote cottage’ as one way to avoid distractions. Since even having a quiet space at home in which to write a business plan is on a wish-list for some of the young people I know, I’m delighted that Duffy also suggests you can shut the door to your study [or bedroom, or kitchen?] He also makes the case for having a notebook (and not necessarily one of the Mac variety…)  in which to write the right kind of #GoDo to-do lists; high-tech is not always best.

They say that parents should give their children ‘roots to grow and wings to fly’ and I think that in Create Special Jim Duffy just about gets the right balance between information for growing and inspiration for flying.  I regret that I came to entrepreneurship, and the creativity and problem-solving skills that places like Jim Duffy and NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark can unlock, relatively late in life. But it’s never too late to start – go create!

If you order a copy of Create Special online from Hive, you also support high street bookshops… http://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jim-Duffy/Create-Special–Think-and-Act-Like-an-Entrepreneur-to-Change-Your-Life/20820428

On social entrepreneurs  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/slowing-the-spin-about-social-entrepreneurs

Half way between home and work

EggsThis is a shameless plug for business incubators (an alternative family home for lonesome entrepreneurs) in general, and one in particular.

Ten months ago I wrote about my competition success – winning free desk space and business support in the Wenta Group’s My Incubator in Stevenage. For a recent presentation at Stevenage Borough Council I was reflecting on my two days a week at the Incubator; these are my thoughts.

I’m probably not a typical incubator client – ours’ is an aspiring social enterprise and we’re decidedly low-tech. In Stevenage, I seem to be surrounded by people talking software development, apps and gadgets, while our tea-break chat at The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead is more likely to be around the merits of different power saws and multi-meters than anything beginning with i- (phone, pod, player etc)

The Repair Shed is one of 130 Men’s Sheds across the UK but is the first, and currently only, Men’s Shed in Hertfordshire. In Australia, where there are nearly 1,000 Men’s Sheds, they describe them as ‘half way between work and home’; easing the transition to life beyond paid employment.

For me, Wenta’s incubator in Stevenage is literally and metaphorically half way between home and work; The Repair Shed being in the opposite corner of the county from my home. My arrival there coincided with a personal decision ‘to be more businesslike’ about my social enterprise development effort. The friendly but professional working environment helps my self-discipline and focus and, of course, there’s the benefit of being surrounded by other business start-ups.

Interest in my expressed passion for making products from reclaimed materials has resulted in welcome tip-offs about local sources of wooden pallets from fellow incubatees (or whatever the word is… maybe I should just call them good eggs). The value of unplanned exchanges while making coffee is much talked-up in start-up circles, but it’s true, as is the sociability of staff and clients alike. As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a great advocate of peer support.

As someone with twelve years experience in supporting social enterprise development (I’ve even got a qualification to do it) I probably make less use of Wenta’s business face-to-face and online business support than most.

But that said, I think I really should make more of what’s on offer in the building. Online sales is one area I need to beef-up my knowledge for our burgeoning range of upcycled Repair Shed products for home and garden – see https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/repair-shed-shop-2. Thank you Wenta – all help is appreciated. Plugs over.

If you missed the original blog on my ‘big win’ go to  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/winning-workspace

See the new Repair Shed film clip at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2rePQDBjWg&feature=youtu.be and find out more about Wenta at http://wenta.co.uk/file/annual-review-2013-14-final-pdf (Repair Shed profile page 8!)