Six months ago, on March 28th 2011, StartUp Britain was born.
Let’s be honest, there was nothing shy and retiring about our launch. Featured on BBC Breakfast. Front page of the Daily Telegraph. The Prime Minister, Chancellor and Business Secretary were all guests at our first event.
To recap, StartUp Britain is all about business people helping other business people to start up and grow. It’s a private sector campaign, started by eight private individuals (Emma Jones, Lara Morgan, Michael Hayman, Duncan Cheatle, Jamie Murray Wells, Rajeeb Dey, Richard O’Connor and me). It is independent, non-party-political and is funded by sponsors from the private sector, rather than by public money.
So what’s the link with Government? I think it’s fair to say that StartUp Britain was inspired by a series of meetings with Number 10, at the beginning of this year. A group of us had met with Lord Young (at our request), following his resignation last year. We wanted to chat with him, to pick his brains about enterprise. We’d hoped that we’d be seeing more of him in his role as adviser to the PM. His resignation made that less likely. So we wrote to him, and arranged a coffee.
As we introduced ourselves, he saw a potential link and wanted to put us in touch with Downing Street, which happened the next week. With hindsight, it’s hardly surprising that Lord Young saw the connection. He is a serial entrepreneur who now invests in technology firms. On top of that, he has chaired major companies (including Cable and Wireless) and, unusually, been a Cabinet minister for both trade and industry and employment. In our group’s first meeting with Number 10, we discussed the work of StartUp America (which had just launched and we had all seen). We were offered the chance to launch something, on a platform with the Prime Minister, in less than a month’s time. Some would have turned that opportunity down. We didn’t.
Our decision was pretty straightforward. We wanted StartUp Britain to be (and it is) independent of Government, driven by business, for business. Something useful, which could help anyone wanting to start a business, whilst also inspiring current business owners to grow their business.
So what has happened in those six months?
Here are a few numbers:
Immediately following the launch, Experian reported a 25% rise (or, more correctly, spike) in people searching for the term ‘start up’ online. It certainly got people talking!
From the initial buzz, things soon got practical. We were approached by the brilliant Marketing Agencies Assocation with a great plan to run a week of events for start-ups around the theme of marketing and advertising. Marketing 4 StartUp Britain was the result, reaching an estimated 3,000 people who attended events and watched live.
Through organisations like the Supper Club, we’ve matched mentors with mentees. To date, over 1,500 hours of mentoring have been received and there is a clue here about how StartUp Britain might have a bigger role to play as matchmaker in future.
One of the things available on the website at launch was a StartUp Guide, sponsored by Blackberry. Over 4,000 were downloaded.
We have been approached by over 190 Local Champions, keen to work with us on a local level around the UK. Four of these already trialling something we’re going to be calling StartUp Local.
Our Twitter account has been a great way to engage with people, and has over 8,000 followers and counting.
Over 6,500 people now receive our regular newsletter.
We created a StartUp Britain Bus Tour which travelled 1236 miles, visiting 15 cities (including Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol) and attracting 72 experts onboard to meet local startups. The youngest visitor was 4 and the oldest was 81! The tour saw traffic to the website doubling when it was on the road.
Since launch, the StartUp Britain website has had over 129,000 unique visitors.
Try as I may, I cannot claim credit for any of this. We have a brilliant CEO in the form of Emma Jones, and a terrific team in Jamie Williams, Lorna Bladen and Becky Jones. Our sponsors make our activity possible – they are Axa, Microsoft, Barclays, Dell, Mitie, Intuit, Paypal and Intel. Without the hundreds of business owners who have volunteered their time face-to-face, words would not have turned into actions.
We’re six months in, and StartUp Britain is a laurel-free zone (no resting, sadly, for the team!). We know that we have only just started and we’re still in start-up mode ourselves. We’re starting out, both in terms of our journey, and in terms of fulfilling our potential. Have we got everything right? No way. Was it confusing to have the PM’s face adorning our site on day one, making people think that were were a political campaign? You bet. Was it insensitive to extol the virtues of an overseas crowd-sourcing site as one of our top tips? Yes. Do we appreciate the people who gave us a second chance and continue to offer their ideas and help? More than ever.
So what next?
1) A second version of the website, which is already being built. Without giving away too much, it will allow people to upload things which they have found helpful, and have far more local resources.
2) Inspired by the feedback from Marketing 4 StartUp Britain, we’ll be running a Tech 4 StartUp Britain week in October.
3) StartUp Britain will be hitting the road again, with a particular focus on university start-ups.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that the best things happen when someone with real energy approaches us, asking if we could do something together. Something which involves them playing a key role in delivery. I predict that our biggest future successes will come from significant players joining us to create projects together, bearing in mind that our own resources are limited. If you think that might be you, or if you know someone that might be keen, we would hugely appreciate that approach.
We’re looking forward to the next six months – we’ve only just got started!