A couple of years ago I had a break from my usual line of work. Normally I manage digital projects, which is a terrible line of work for someone whose mind doesn’t rest as there’s always some detail or extra consideration which occurs to you just as you’re trying to get to sleep, or worse still- wakes you up at 4am! I didn’t stop working, but I did do something completely different, and as they say- a change is as good as a break.
I went to work with a small team at a media agency in Bristol. This team were unlike any I’d worked with before; some of the nicest, most genuine and easy-going people I’ve met (not that I don’t normally work with nice people, but these were special).
The focus of our attention was an event called The Pitch. The climax of The Pitch was a Dragon’s Den style competition (without the sometimes brutal interrogations that can take place), aimed at small businesses who wanted a leg-up. But to liken it to Dragon’s Den wouldn’t be doing it justice, because that was only the destination, and the essence of The Pitch is as much about the journey.
Over the course of eight months we went all over the country to all sorts of small business hubs and incubators, meeting some of the most inspirational people I’ve met. After years of working with large corporate organisations I got used to working with people who do what they do as a job, turning up at 9am, ticking some items off the to-do list and then clocking off to go home and forget all about it until the next day. This was different: I was meeting people who’d forsaken a steady income and job security (two really important things to the vast majority of people) and taken a huge leap of faith in themselves and their business idea to set up on their own. Whatever their idea was- and they were massively diverse- the people behind them were completely passionate about them and had made the brave decision to try and make a livelihood out of it. They were at all stages, from some which just had a seed of an idea and were taking the first steps towards getting started, to those who had been slogging away for years and poured their heart and soul into it. It was a breath of fresh air to meet and work with such passionate, and in some cases, very different and unusual characters.
To show you the broad range, here are three which still stick vividly in my mind, even two years later:
Eve was a young student when we met; juggling her school studies with her passion for making bespoke bunting for events and parties. She’d already been going for a couple of years beforehand, and having just had a look at her website, it looks like she’s gone from strength to strength since. At less than 20 years old I’d bet than Eve has more business experience than many people twice her age. What a talent, and what potential! You can find out more about Eve and her bunting here: http://getbarmy.com/all-about-eve-and-a-barmy-journey/
Deepak is a wonderfully ambitious family orientated man who spotted a gap in the market for people who like getting stuff for free (who doesn’t right?!) and all those companies out there who want people to try out their new products. He set up http://www.latestfreestuff.co.uk/ which is a hugely popular site for both target audiences.
And then there was Dave, a massively charismatic Scotsman who had a vision of setting up a bio-fueled brewery and gin distillery at a beautiful site overlooking the Forth Bridge. I don’t believe that came to fruition, but that’s not really the point: Some entrepreneurs will succeed and some won’t, but all will learn a lot, and they’ve had the bottle to have a go, which is a fantastic thing!
This is just a very small sample from the hundreds of brilliant, bold, brave, and sometimes barking people we met, going around the country on a roadtrip with professionals who gave advice and mentoring to these entrepreneurs to help them better present their businesses and ideas, in readiness for the competition at the end of the process. We also had a team of sponsors on board; established businesses who wanted to help start-ups give it the best shot they could.
I was bowled over by the enthusiasm, dedication, support and camaraderie of the team I was working with, our business partners and most of all- the entrepreneurs: It will stay with me for a long time.
The Pitch 2018 is getting started now. If you have a small business, or know someone who does, you’d do well to have a look at http://www.thepitch.uk/
The best thing about The Pitch is that everyone who gets involved benefits from the experience, not just the eventual winner.