Being 25 years’ self-employed I feel I’ve developed a ‘nose’ for judging whether a business or project might work.
The personal journey over the last quarter century has had its mix of success and failure; critical experience informing the senses as to whether something new can progress sufficiently so it bears fruit in the longer-term…
Sustainability is critical
For me, the issue of sustainability is a key ingredient. Moving from recession to real economic recovery is going to take time and short-term thinking doesn’t really help.
People and organisations that over-spice their work with ill-thought through ideas and quick gains play a dangerous game; just look at banks and the bad taste they’ve left.
That said, enterprising people who create new projects or businesses must draw on huge levels of energy and resilience from the outset. They must also possess the ability to adapt quickly because economic uncertainty mixed with market fragility/volatility means even the best made plans and forecasts quickly become round-file fodder.
So turning the ‘new’ into something ‘sustainable’ is a fine balancing act fraught with challenge and risk.
Now, this is the juncture where I typically tender a hitchhiking analogy; but my mind’s blank. But what springs to mind is a rocket using vast fuel reserves to counter earth’s gravitational pull, and then accessing a separate energy source and sophisticated engineering to fulfil its space journey. A galaxy hitchhiking guide. Now that’s a thought…
Umph! Entrepreneurship Competition
One new and innovative project that made it ‘off the ground’ in 2010 (and went onto attract increasing amounts of regional and national attention) was Umph!; an innovative entrepreneurship competition held annually at Huddersfield Town Football Club.
Brainchild of Grant Thornton’s ‘Educate to Innovate‘ programme, Umph! gave students aged 16-19 an opportunity to develop enterprise, employability and entrepreneurial skills as well as participate in a SimVenture business simulation competition.
And in 2013 a record number of schools & colleges from throughout Yorkshire gathered again to participate in the third event of its kind. In addition, 10 speakers including renowned polar explorer, Mark Wood, X Factor’s Executive Producer Siobhan Greene and football club Chairman and entrepreneur Dean Hoyle each gave of their time to share their wisdom and experience with participants.
But how and why did Umph! become such a success and what can be learnt from the process?
Secrets of success
From the very outset the organising team focused tightly on providing for schools, colleges and their students. Everyone involved gave of their time and/or resources which meant many traditional event costs were waived. The collective unselfish attitude and reduced financial risk created a powerful trust-based partnership.
One of the biggest early hurdles was securing participant interest in the first entrepreneurship competition event. Academic institutions receive numerous off-site invitations, so competition for time was always going to be tough. And in 2010/11 cuts to education budgets were widespread and increased government legislation made it more difficult for students to travel off-site.
The 16 month lead-in time for the first event in 2011 proved crucial and ultimately attracted 14 schools and colleges (in 2013, 29+ signed up). Even though event entry was free and each of the 4 members within the winning team were promised the latest iPad (thank you sponsors), huge effort was needed to attract the early ‘pioneers’.
Common purpose unites
Two years on and everyone who attends Umph! talks about how much they have enjoyed and benefited from the event. Lead teachers are keen to sign up immediately for the following year and organisers, speakers and sponsors are visibly moved by the impact the day has had on 100+ young people.
Umph! is sustainable because the organisers never sought short-term rewards and prioritised giving over what could be gained. This philosophy united stakeholders who have then collectively offered time, energy and absolute commitment to a clear and common purpose.
The richness and diversity of all the people involved with Umph! means every participant that takes part benefits in their own unique way. Creating such a dynamic is crucial because the individual as well as collective sense of involvement, achievement and success generates the necessary momentum for future years.
And since people want to be involved again, positive word of mouth promotion spreads quickly; meaning far less energy is required to persuade others to participate.
Grant Thornton deserve huge praise for making Umph! a reality. Sandra O’Neill and her highly professional team based in Leeds are already looking to organise an even bigger and better day in Huddersfield in 2014.
Key Learning Points: Developing the momentum to make a new project or business work over the long-term needs to involve people who buy into a common purpose. Hard work, patience, giving first and ongoing collaboration are other key ingredients. Creating and sustaining the entrepreneurship competition ‘Umph!’ is a great example of all these principles being applied.