The TechSW Start Up Studio is kicking off again and it is great to see more businesses joining the programme and taking those early steps on a business journey which could lead anywhere.
What is most encouraging for me is that by applying to join the Start Up Studio they are reaching out for business support at this early stage - Because not everyone does.
I’m always surprised when I speak to a founder of a small business and ask if they have accessed any business support, and they say no. To me, the idea of starting a business without getting as much support as possible, particularly for first time founders, seems brave almost to the point of foolishness. Depending where you get your stats, currently around 20% of start ups fail in their first year with 60% failing within 3 years. According to the ONS the South West has the highest business survival rate in the UK, but even here less than half of businesses make it to 5 years. (Figures released Nov 2020)
Perhaps it should be no surprise that I am an advocate for business support. For the past nearly 20 years I have been helping SMEs to engage with support programmes in one form or another. I now lead SETsquared Exeter’s support programmes which include the Business Accelerator for high growth businesses, run out of the Exeter Science Park, as well as a range of activities designed to encourage entrepreneurialism among the students, researchers and staff at the University of Exeter.
While I am always keen to promote business support programmes, it can sometimes feel that a founder will join purely as a means to an end, that you join an accelerator solely to deliver the pitch at the end in order to find an investor, and that the need for support ends there.
Actually, the need for support just changes. If you find a potential investor, how to secure a good deal? If you get investment, how do you make best use of it? If you don’t, what needs to be adjusted. And so it goes through the entire business lifecycle - the things you need to do for your business to be successful keep changing, and so the need to find good support is ever present.
Even for experienced business people or serial entrepreneurs, the need for a support network which can provide a critical eye, offer active listening, or provide an expert perspective does not go away. If anything, founders who are staring their 2nd or 3rd ventures tend to already have a trusted group of individuals who they will turn to for different kinds of support, and always have their eyes open for new people to join that group who can add something new.
I feel that every business support intervention you engage in as a founder should be there to help you grow your support network – helping you find the people who you listen to, who’s opinion you trust, who you are prepared to be accountable to. These people - whether they are fellow founders, professionals such as lawyers or accountants, the course leaders, or the mentors you meet – can have a huge impact on the success of your business.
However, whether or not they can help depends on the extent to which you let them. The kinds of trusted relationships which deliver value take time to grow and develop but the first step is for the Founder to fully engage with the support on offer. One of the main characteristics we look for in a new member when considering whether to invite them onto the SETsquared Exeter Business Accelerator is their “coachability” – do we think they will listen to advice? For those we invite to join, a key metric for staying on the programme is their level of participation and engagement – are founders joining the workshops, attending the drop-in sessions with our advisory partners and meeting with their Entrepreneur in Residence? – because if not then there is little point in them being part of the programme.
The opportunity for SETsquared Exeter to work with TechSW on the Start Up Studio feels like a great fit. We are all passionate about helping Founders and supporting regional business growth. The Start Up Studio provides great support for its members as they take the first step on a journey that can go from plucky start up to global tech giant, or wherever you want to end up. But it is just one small step with many more to come and the more good support you have, the smoother that journey will be. For some, perhaps SETsquared Exeter can help but if not, we’re well placed to help you find those who can.