Nick Sturge on StartUp Britain’s visit to Bristol

Every day is different for me, that’s what I love about my job. Or is it a hobby? Anyway, Friday last saw the fantastic Startup Britain Bus visit Bristol. We found a plot right outside Engine Shed and just at the bottom of the main entrance to Temple Meads station – which sees 13m passengers go through it per year. Big thanks to Skanska, the developer, who own the plot of land we parked the bus on, for helping us out so readily. We all know that one of the strong features of an entrepreneur is the default response of “yes” then working out how to do it afterwards. That was what we got from Skanksa, so its great to see that corporates, especially in what is generally considered a very traditional industry, can be entrepreneurial. Great partners for anyone.

Arguably we could have located the bus on Bristol’s busy centre, or my favourite spot in Bristol, Queen’s Square, but we did get a steady flow of existing entrepreneurs and people thinking about it.
My favourite conversation was with a young woman who set up her bespoke cake-baking business as a social enterprise, with an ambition to engage women in those communities in Bristol that don’t generally get access to the opportunities that others do, to do some of the baking under her franchise – so generating work. We explored what was special about her business, how she was operating now and where she wanted to be. We identified some challenges for her in how she best used her time and how she could increase her revenue –  and profit which would then make it easier for her to fulfil her personal and social ambitions. I really think it’s a privilege and joy to be able to share in the personal journey of an entrepreneur. You finish the conversation hoping you have made a difference, but knowing full well it is up to them what they do with the advice.

Something we have learned at SETsquared, is that you have to leave entrepreneurs with “enough rope to hang themselves” because if you don’t you won’t end up with a robust and sustainable business. It’s good to force facing up to the challenges early on, so that if a business – or entrepreneur, fails, they do so early. Not that “failure” in that context, is a problem. If someone isn’t cut out for running their own business it’s good they learn that quickly. A good thing about Bristol is that the networks are very good so if someone finds they have the idea, and technical knowledge, but perhaps not the energy/passion/resilience/spirit that you need to drive a business then there are potential partners out there, and not too far away.

Not that my baking friend hasn’t got what it takes – she demonstrated that really valuable ingredient of entrepreneurship, the openness to listen, take on ideas and translate to her own business.

We held a round table in the bus, in the afternoon, where a number of entrepreneurs, support providers and a colleague from the Council’s economic development team had a full and frank discussion about the strengths, challenges and opportunities of the local ecosystem. It was really useful – both for those who were very local and those from further afield. One of the biggest opportunities that arose, slightly from left-field, was that we really aren’t creating enough opportunities to expose students in the city-region (there are only 70,000 of them!) to the start-up scene not to mention the exciting small and large businesses (especially tech) that are in the area, so that those undergraduate can see the local job, or entrepreneurship, opportunities for when they graduate. That was a good kick up the arse for me, as an employee of the University of Bristol, to make that happen. It’s now higher up on the list!

Kosta and the team have done an excellent job at driving  this project and managing to get some great organisations and people involved. It was great fun, it felt like we were adding value – and would still have been good if the sun hadn’t been blazing down on us. But then it does in Bristol!

Next year, we’ll get the best possible spot in Bristol and double the impact!

Pic by Guy Newman/KOR. Nick Sturge, the new Chairman of the IOD Bristol Branch.

Nick is Director of Engine Shed and the trading subsidiary of the University of Bristol that operates Engine Shed and the Bristol SETsquared Centre. Nick is also IoD Chairman for the South West region, represents the Bristol & Bath area on the TechCityUK Cluster Alliance and is on the advisory Board for Common Purpose South West.