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As soon as I graduated from the University of Warwick, I applied to the Enterprise Fellowship Scheme (EFS): a network for students & graduates of West Midlands universities, providing start-up support to anyone who wanted to be their own boss.
EFS provided me with free office space and access to meeting rooms in the University of Warwick Science Park, mentoring from experienced business people, training in areas such as accounting & intellectual property, as well as access to funding to assist with essentials such as a company website, business cards and legal expenses.
Within three months I had set-up Smarter Housing Limited and began trading as a student letting agent. By the end of the year I had taken on my first set of tenants and generated revenue. EFS was the perfect incubator and I know there was no way I could have done so much in so little time had I been standing on my own two feet.
Perhaps my biggest mistake was failing to take Doug Richard seriously when he offered some advice for Smarter Housing at the 2005 New Venture Fest. As everything had gone so well thus far I was feeling pretty invincible and dismissed his suggestion that I should be focussing on a smaller ‘rip’, moving away from property management and solely offering a means for landlords and letting agents to promote their properties.
As I’ve mentioned before (see: RIP Smarter Housing) I took my eye off the ball during a messy divorce and the company continued to pay rent without actually collecting it. I can assure you that is an arrangement that can’t continue for long and the business came crashing down in 2010.
Had I listened to Doug’s advice I wouldn’t have been involved with the rent collection and there is a possibility that Smarter Housing would still be trading. Hindsight, as they say, is a wonderful thing!
“Out of darkness cometh light” – The City Of Wolverhampton
Soon after Smarter Housing’s failure I found myself back in my home town, just outside Wolverhampton. After a couple of months getting my life back in order, I knew the time was right to get back into the business world.
I reached out to an old EFS contact, Dee Frankish, who informed me that the scheme was now known as SPEED WM and was still running at Birmingham City University, Coventry University, Keele University, Staffordshire University and The University of Wolverhampton.
Dee was kind enough to put in a good word with the SPEED team in Wolverhampton and it was clearly quite favourable as Sarah Taylor and Phil Law agreed to take me in on spite of everything that was going on around me. Words can’t really express how grateful I am for their support.
With the support of the SPEED network I soon found myself trading as Smarter SEO Limited. Twelve months on I now provide SEO training to a range of private clients, in addition to mentoring for SPEED participants. I am also proud to announce my role as “Entrepreneur in Residence” at the University of Wolverhampton.
SPEED WM is now SPEED Plus
If you are thinking of starting your own business and happen to be a current student or recent graduate of any of the Universities listed above, I would not hesitate to recommend SPEED.
Much like EFS, the SPEED programme provides office space, mentoring, training, networking opportunities and access to funding – all of which play a huge part in supporting young businesses.
You can apply directly on their new website at speed-plus.org.