Mentors helping start-ups turn business ideas to gold

SOME of the region’s brightest entrepreneurs have received a boost in turnover and investment opportunities after taking part in Liverpool’s business accelerator programme, Spark Up. A total of 37 businesses were awarded a place on Spark Up’s most recent 20 week programme and between them they have increased their collective turnover by around 163% and created employment opportunities for an additional 15 local people. Since launching in 2013, Spark Up has generated a total of £453,160 worth of investment opportunities for Liverpool start-ups. Founder Jenny Stewart announced that the success of the current programme has led to the development of a second programme this year, which will start in October. This latest programme, will be shorter at 12 weeks long, with a more intensive format and a key focus on developing a working and scalable business model. Jenny is hoping to recruit up to fifty entrepreneurs for the next programme and will look to offer up to three programmes a year in 2016, giving more Merseyside entrepreneurs the chance to take part. The programme will continue to be supported by Liverpool and Sefton Chambers of Commerce, Natwest, the University of Liverpool, Glow New Media and the BIG Partnership. Applications for Spark Up are now open via the Spark Up website and will close on Sunday August 23. Jenny Stewart said: “This year our cohort of entrepreneurs has proven that this type of accelerator programme really does work – the figures from the impact report speak highlight the level of investment it has attracted, as well as the positive contribution to business skills. “I have watched our entrepreneurs grow as individuals and, with that, grow their businesses. Their commercial acumen has increased tenfold, and with it their tenacity, drive and confidence in creating a sustainable, successful business. “Their success proves that there is an appetite in Liverpool for supporting and inspiring new businesses, which is why we have been motivated to launch a second programme starting in October which will be bigger, brighter and bolder than before. “This time the programme will be more intensive, with more defined criteria for scalability. We want to see more jobs secured more investment and more regional growth. The shorter programme will enable more start-ups to take part and benefit from what Spark Up has to offer. “Spark Up has demonstrated there is entrepreneurial talent in Liverpool and we have the means to generate growth from within.” Feedback reports from this year’s programme show that it provided a positive contribution to the improvement of business skills, with an overall satisfaction rating of 97.9% for the support offered. On top of this 94% of entrepreneurs believed their involvement with Spark Up helped enhance their pitching skills, with 95% believing the programme has helped their business planning abilities. As well as attracting aspiring Liverpool businesses, the programme also secured a cohort of more than 30 mentors, which included business leaders and advisors from all across the region, who gave up their time to work one to one with the entrepreneurs during the pilot period. Mentor work was also supplemented by special expertise during two hour one to many coaching sessions. One entrepreneur success story is Franklin Energy, a Liverpool-based firm which installs electrical vehicle charging systems. It was set up in November 2013 by graduates Rob Byrne and Dan Leaper. The entrepreneurial duo enrolled on the Spark Up programme, with hopes of accelerating their business growth taking advice from leading business mentors on how to turn their business ideas into a business reality. With the help of Spark Up, Franklin Energy has been able to grow its turnover fourfold since November 2014 and secure employment for two new members of staff. It has also secured a five figure investment from the Merseyside Special Investment Fund (MSIF). Rob said: “Spark Up has given us significant assistance from contacts for investment through to advice on our business model. It has also helped to raise our profile and promote the services we offer across Merseyside. “We now have an investable business plan, proven business model and are now at the stage to where we can apply for substantial funding. We are currently working with several location partners across the UK to deploy our privately funded network of electric vehicle charging stations, which we will own and operate – all of which will be managed from our very own back office here in Liverpool. “We would highly recommend Spark Up to anyone that has a business proposition that needs the assistance and advice of how to execute an idea. The programme is very detailed and you also benefit from free office space and the facility to book meeting rooms.” Applications for October’s programme can be found on the Spark Up website: www.sparkup.org.uk