Throughout the course of the evening, attendees heard from a panel of speakers who discussed their own experiences and had plenty of advice for the budding entrepreneurs in the audience.
The floor was first taken by Ben Brabyn, who was a Captain in the Royal Marines for nearly five years. Having initially worked in corporate finance upon leaving the services, he founded Bmycharity, an online fundraising service which over 60,000 fundraisers and 800,000 donors have used to deliver over £31 million to UK charities. Ben spoke about the change in moving from a large corporate organisation to a new business, and also about the difficulties he faced with competitors in the same market. He sold Bmycharity in 2010 and now has a number of other ventures. Recently, Ben has co-founded This Tribe, a specialist in high quality clothing and equipment for the military, police, security industry and outdoor enthusiasts.
Ben stressed the importance of networking, saying that LinkedIn was one of the most useful tools he has come across. He illustrated how connections aren’t always as far away as you think, telling of how he had researched the number of LinkedIn contacts it would take him to find actor Kevin Bacon, and discovered that they in fact have seven mutual connections!
Peter Fitchett told a very different story; upon leaving the Army in 2003, he found the transition to civilian life a difficult process. Peter told of how his determination to succeed, and the confidence he held in his business idea, were the driving forces behind his venture. He received support from Business Link, and started up Absolute Rubbish, a licensed waste carrier for both commercial and domestic waste. He said that he is now so busy that he has to turn away work, and also has plans to franchise the business.
Next, the audience heard from Sarah-Jane Hill, who set up her online jewellery business, Bish Bosh Becca, whilst her husband was serving in Iraq for 6 months. Sarah-Jane designs and makes all the jewellery herself and offers a bespoke service. She stressed that entrepreneurs should not feel they have to do everything in a new business themselves; her strengths are not in web design and so she employs somebody to deal with the website, enabling her to concentrate on the design and production of her products. Sarah-Jane also spoke about learning from her early mistakes, and accepting that in a business start up these mistakes will happen.
Due to illness, the fourth speaker, William Kendall, was unable to attend. William served as an Army officer in The Royal Anglian Regiment, and in 1990 he ran the New Covent Garden Soup Company which he led for 9 years before selling it to a public company. Subsequently, in 1997 he purchased Green & Black’s which he and his partners sold to Cadbury in 2005. William’s business partner, Mark Palmer took to the stage, joking that he would have to invent a military connection, and apologising that due to the short notice he had been unable to bring any Green & Black’s chocolate samples to the event! Like Ben, William spoke about the challenges of moving from a large corporate environment to a business start-up, and offered plenty of advice on how to succeed. The panel then answered questions from the audience, and it was clear that many of those in attendance were keen entrepreneurs, making the most of the expertise in the room.
Finally, each of the speakers was asked to give a closing remark to the audience; Ben Brabyn emphasised the wealth of skills and experience on offer from Service leavers, and encouraged them to have confidence in their abilities. He also said that Service leavers should make the most of their resettlement time and start thinking of themselves, remembering that he was once told by a superior, “The Royal Marines has survived since 1664, and it will continue to survive without you – this is now your time”. Sarah-Jane Hill told the audience that they must be passionate about their ventures in order to succeed, and Peter Fitchett emphasised the importance of making contacts as early on as possible.
It was clear throughout the evening that networking and knowing your audience are key; each of the speakers mentioned the importance of drinking coffee – both for its chemical effect and more importantly as a networking tool!
Various Service charities and support agencies – including the CTP - were on hand before and after the event to speak with Service leavers about the support available for entrepreneurs. Organisations such as Be the Boss and Heropreneurs can provide successful candidates with a package of funding and business support to help get a business idea off the ground. There was also time for networking after the event, and the room was buzzing with ideas and conversation.
The event was a resounding success, with many attendees expressing how useful they had found it, and providing feedback including, “Highly enthusing, informative and motivational” and “It has defiantly got me convinced that I will go into business.” If you’re interested in attending a future event, check out the British Library’s events page.
Click here to read an article about the event, published in a recent edition of Quest magazine.
Chekc out the Business and IP Centre’s YouTube channel for a recording of the event.
The British Library’s Business and IP Centre is a highly useful resource for all those considering starting their own business. The Centre provides free access to an unparalleled resource of business and intellectual property information (over £5 million worth), supplemented by one-to-one advice clinics, practical workshops and networking events, featuring ‘role model’ entrepreneurs.
The reading room contains invaluable databases and publications covering funding sources, market research, company data and business news. You can also find information on patents, trademarks, registered designs and copyright to help you protect your ideas.
The centre runs a number of workshops and events, such as How to Fund a Start Up, Beginners Guide to Business Information and Essential Business Finance, many of which are free of charge.
Click here to find out how to gain access to the centre and its resources.