HUB Westminster is a year old, and has turned into a brilliant place to meet people and to plot. At the southern end of Haymarket, it operates as a combination between members club, event venue and co-working space. The residents tend to be of the more social persuasion in terms of their interest in solving social problems with their ventures. It seems to be full of people on a mission to make a difference.
I must confess that amidst all of the London noise about Tech City and the call of the East End, I have always been drawn back to the West. Of course, some of my best friends live and work near Old Street (and all that) however consider this: From Charing Cross (the centre of the cabbie’s universe) you are no more than a short walk from Whitehall, Soho, Mayfair, Covent Garden and the South Bank. This puts you in close touch with an intoxicating mix of visitors and residents, to say nothing of some of the best city views on the planet. All power to Silicon Roundabout. I may remain a grateful visitor for some time yet.
Also celebrating its first birthday is the Big Venture Challenge, created by Unltd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs. Twenty five individuals were supported with an initial £25k, with the potential to unlock further funding and support. This is a platform for ventures which are serious about scaling up. One of the supported companies is Arrival Education, a definite one to watch, under the leadership of the extraordinary Daniel Snell and Emily Shenton.
I’m probably not supposed to say this, given the theme of the paragraph to follow. I’ve had an idea for Unltd and foundations like them. They receive hundreds, perhaps thousands of approaches each year from people wanting to start something. I wonder if this makes sense. In many cases, the applicants should (or could) be challenged to do nothing of the sort. Instead, they could be encouraged to join something. If their driving motivation is to solve a certain problem, then why not seek out those who have done some of the groundwork? This search may lead to a charity, company or simply an early-stage scheme or group. In turn, it may identify co-founders. Perhaps too often people leap to begin, rather than to join. At least if applicants were given this challenge, from time to time we’d see a different path to success.
To Telford. Joining the StartUp Britain Bus Tour as it makes its way around the UK, stopping at no fewer than forty colleges and universities. Amongst the budding student entrepreneurs and advisers, expect to hear about StartUp Loans, the new Government-backed scheme inspired by the Prince’s Trust, which loans around £2,500 (plus a mentor) to young people, starting in England. I’m not sure if two and a half grand strikes you as a little or a lot. You would certainly need to think extremely hard about taking on such a loan, and have a clear view of how you were going to make the money to repay it. It reminds me of my first endeavours, as a university student, to produce a musical. Fairly quickly I realised that whereas I had I thought I needed money, I needed something else; stuff. So I made a list of ‘stuff’, from timber to flyers, paint to audio equipment. And I soon found that people were much more likely to give or lend me stuff, than cash. It worked a treat and we thanked our supporters in the programme.
The members of HUB Westminster have, between them, a treasure trove of ‘stuff’. From talents and skills to connections and audiences – so much that could be sold, borrowed or exchanged. So I’m going to suggest a ‘skills audit’. Nothing grand, just an experiment. A chance for people to list what they have to offer, and whether that is for sale, for sharing and perhaps if they would be prepared to give a short talk or write a list of top tips. Wouldn’t it be great if, as a result of this experiment, the next time one of the members was tempted to start something, they chose to join forces with another member’s organisation instead. Stuff, or nonsense? I’d love to know your thoughts.