In five short years, entrepreneurship academic Jim Duffy has built an expansive ‘people accelerator’, Entrepreneurial Spark, which supports fledgling businesses at every stage of its entrepreneurial journey
Name: Jim Duffy
Location: While I’m based in Glasgow, more often than not I’m travelling across the UK, and India, meeting entrepreneurs and carrying out one-to-one enablement sessions.
Date launched: 2011
Number of employees: 42
What does your business do?
Entrepreneurial Spark is the world’s largest free business accelerator for start-up and growing ventures. Unlike many business accelerators we are a people accelerator, focusing on the people behind the businesses and equipping them with the right skills and mindset they need in order to succeed. Essentially, we work with entrepreneurs across the country helping them to develop and grow their businesses. We’ve created a unique enablement programme to ensure our startups have the best possible advice and support to help them on their business journey. As a result, 88% of the businesses we have worked with are still trading today, a figure well above the industry norm.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
As an entrepreneur myself I am all too aware of the highs and lows startups face along the rollercoaster journey of setting up your own business. After going through the process myself I knew there had to be a better way of doing it, and of getting the much needed support and guidance more easily. From here the seed of Entrepreneurial Spark was formed. I then built on this idea using tips I learned in the US while at Babson College, and continue to refine it as the years move on to ensure we’re providing the best possible business accelerator programme.
How did you know there was a market for it?
I knew from first-hand experience just how much entrepreneurs could benefit from this type of business accelerator. Once I had an outline vision for the business I began speaking to key influencers and business leaders who work with entrepreneurs on a daily basis, in order to fully understand their needs and wants and ensure these were addressed through the programme.
How did you raise funding, and why?
In the initial stages I spent a lot of time having coffees with people and being introduced to new faces to pitch them my idea – my 60 second pitch was word perfect in no time! Lord Willie Haughey, an inspirational businessman and founder of City Refrigeration, gave us our breakthrough by providing us with our first office space in Glasgow. Since then we have signed a significant partnership with Royal Bank of Scotland which has allowed us to expand across the UK, as well as partnering with Viridian in India to provide Entrepreneurial Spark Powered by Viridian to entrepreneurs across the country.
Describe your business model in brief.
Entrepreneurial Spark is a social enterprise, with the aim of creating a nation of entrepreneurs who give back to their community. We work in partnership with key partners including Royal Bank of Scotland, KPMG and EMC to provide our entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed in business.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
There have been lots of milestones along the Entrepreneurial Spark journey, but securing a strategic partnership with Royal Bank of Scotland is probably our biggest to date. This allowed us to grow from having three Hatcheries in Scotland to nine across the UK, with another three opening in August and a further Hatchery opening in London next year. Our first global expansion into India is a close runner up though!
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Prepare yourself for the road ahead. Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, if it was everyone would be one. But it is one of the most rewarding career paths you could choose. If you’ve got an idea, a passion for your business, and the mindset and behaviours a successful entrepreneur needs, then you’ve got all of the starting blocks for creating an award-winning business. Next, it’s time to believe in yourself and #GoDo!
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
Sitting on a beach with a glass of cold beer, having created the most successful business accelerator programme for startups and growing ventures in the universe! But I do love the day to day rough and tumble with our entrepreneurs, so I’ll be firmly in place as Head of #GoDo and hopefully by then travelling even further afield than India to meet with Entrepreneurial Spark startups.
What is your philosophy towards business and life, in a nutshell?
#GoDo. Get up, get out there, and prove to the world why you have what it takes to be a leader in your field.
Hear more from Jim Duffy at Battle of the Backers on 22 June at The Savoy. Register for free now.