Bristol has a thriving and ever-growing, supportive start-up scene through the prominent work conducted by the Engine Shed and the Robotics Lab to name but two. In August 2015 NatWest and Entrepreneurial Spark added to this, and in October 2016 I took over the lead role for the bank’s Entrepreneurship team for the South West of England. The Entrepreneurial Spark Powered by NatWest accelerator programme fits neatly into the support offered across the city as we focus on helping the entrepreneur behind the idea and business. Regardless of sector (we’ve worked with a huge variety of people already, from professional services and fintech businesses through to social enterprises and creatives) or stage of business (from idea validation through to multi-million pound turnover).
I couldn’t think of many places better than Bristol to start-up a business
If I was starting up a business today today in the UK. In fact, the only place beating it in startups.co.uk list of top places to start a business was Edinburgh. I firmly believe that as an early stage business there is nothing more you could wish for – for industry specific support you could get involved with either SetSquared, OSCA (Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator) or the Pervasive Media Studio.
For access to communities and desk space there is Desklodge, Raw Space and Bristol Spaceworks, and both the University of Bristol and University West of England are heavily engaged in supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. We fit nicely into this by helping to build leaders of businesses and provide access to the networks and customers that we have as a bank. We don’t advise or solve problems for the entrepreneur, but our Entrepreneurial Spark Enablers get them to think about things in a different way by ‘holding the mirror up’ and focusing on developing the entrepreneur into a great leader of their business.
We focus on helping the entrepreneur behind the idea and business
Pitching plays a major role in our hub, and as part of Bootcamp, which takes place on the first day of the programme,we get everybody up and delivering their 60-second pitch. Pitching is a crucial skill for an entrepreneur. We have just launched the ‘NatWest Pitch’ app to help entrepreneurs get better at this. In our hub we regularly run workshops – which are open to the public – covering everything from entrepreneurial wellbeing through to getting yourself exit ready, all using NatWest’s reach into the local ecosystem. Together, NatWest and Entrepreneurial Spark look to make entrepreneurs credible, backable and investible.
Not everybody wants that third party challenging them
The support we provide is not for everybody! We push the entrepreneurial leader hard (we are an accelerator not an incubator) by looking to make their vision a reality quicker than they otherwise would have imagined. For example, if a business joins us and talks us through their three-year goal, Entrepreneurial Spark will get the entrepreneur to think about what it would take to get three years down to 18 months. Not everybody wants that third party challenging them. For some people this is one of the reasons they may have left employment. One of the key components of the Entrepreneurial Spark ‘secret sauce’ is pushing people outside of their comfort zone; this is how we believe people learn new skills or discover hidden talents. As you can imagine this can be an uncomfortable place for a lot of people but we try to support you on this journey through access to mentors and bank staff. In short, the Entrepreneurial Spark programme is all about supporting entrepreneurs to scale and grow their business through improving their personal effectiveness. Not everybody is willing to take time out of their business to drive their own development.
The support on offer to start-ups across the city has the added benefit of boosting the local economy
So Bristol has a lot of support available to early stage business owners and we are here to play our part on this journey. However, entrepreneurs need to want to make the most of this support. The support on offer to start ups across the city has the added benefit of boosting the local economy, as it improves the chances of a new business succeeding. For anybody looking to take their business to that next level, and considering joining a programme like Entrepreneurial Spark, I’d say this: you need to be open minded, you need to have a vision against which you can hold yourselves accountable and you need to be in a mind-set of ‘I want to learn something new’ or ‘I want to improve myself’, rather than being comfortable and being settled in the way you operate. Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle choice centred on building a legacy or changing the way that things have operated in the past, rather than a job or a hobby, and we are here to help you make that ‘lifestyle change’ and help you to define that legacy.
Matt West, Entrepreneur Development Manager, NatWest
To hear more from Matt West and Marina Traversari about boosting your business and some of the opportunities available in Bristol come along to the Santander Offices in Merchant Street Bristol, 16th November at 6.30pm.
Ticketes are free, but spaces are limited so please book here