Leeds has a thriving scene for early-stage companies looking to scale and, thanks to a new programme from Leeds Beckett University, there’s now another scaleup programme for entrepreneurs.
Designed by academics and business experts on the scene, Accelerate is a new six-month acceleration programme. It draws on some of the learnings from the Ad:Venture programme, which has helped businesses and entrepreneurs across Yorkshire with everything from grants and loans to workshops, coaching and incubation workspace.
As Innovation Manager for Leeds Beckett University, Debs Hetherington has a mentoring role that sees her help Accelerate’s cohort companies eke maximum value out of the programme. In her various roles – which has included working on new University Business Centre hubs in Leeds, Wakefield and Halifax – Debs has connected the worlds of business and academia across Yorkshire.
A new adventure
Designed with Yorkshire founders in mind, it’s aimed at any B2B (business-to-business) company with an MVP (or minimum viable product) that is ready to scale. Cohorts are made up of 10 businesses and there will be three cohorts every year.
“The business school has come up with a diagnostic, and I personally sit down with the cohort individually to see where they are, where they want to go next and what the barriers are for getting them there,” says Debs. “This allows us to build bespoke business support for the companies that are involved to make sure that we can really offer the specific help that they need.”
Accelerate involves workshops on aspects of business such benchmarking, marketing, sales, operations and leadership and hiring. It was designed by four academics (and part-time lecturers) at the university who are also business consultants, which Debs says lends them added credibility. “They are working in their fields, so the advice and support that they are recommending isn’t just theory – it’s actually gained from working in the real world.”
Collaborating in Leeds
A recognised face in the Leeds tech ecosystem, Debs collaborates with a range of stakeholders across the city to discover potential cohort members.
“It’s not hard to find the startups in Leeds as they’re so prolific – there are events every night and a there’s a great network,” she says. “Whether through people like Stuart Clarke from Leeds Digital Festival or organisations like Fintech North, it’s easy to get introductions. Unlike when I was working in law, nobody turns me down for a meeting because there’s such an appetite for working with the universities.”
Debs adds: “There’s less competitiveness between the universities here as well. We know that there’s enough pie for all of us and that it is in the best interest of Leeds to collaborate.”
“We know that there’s enough pie for all of us and that it is in the best interest of Leeds to collaborate.”
As well as working for Leeds Beckett, Debs is also one of the founders of the Women in Leeds Digital (or WiLD) Festival. After a successful launch at last year’s Leeds Digital Festival, WiLD has set its sights on cross-city collaboration.
A WiLD event
“We’ve built up an exciting board for WiLD and we’ve got some ambitious plans,” says Debs. “Our new tagline is to ‘grow, engage, develop and retain the female digital skills and community in Leeds’ and the work that we’re doing will achieve that.
“We’re educating people in the early stages of their digital careers as well as going into colleges and universities in the area to talk about what the opportunities are. There are so many jobs in tech in areas such as data analytics and so many ways in, but if educators don’t know what they are, then how can people be expected to want those jobs?”
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