4 min read
Taking startups FORWARD: meet the student-led accelerator tackling entrepreneurial challenges
In 2018, Birmingham Enterprise Community (BEC) was set up as a social enterprise designed to support student and graduate entrepreneurs from all five of the city’s universities. Its goal? To help them collaborate, communicate and create positive change through enterprise and entrepreneurial activities.
Now, BEC is running a six-month accelerator programme called FORWARD that starts in September. It was launched to help plug a gap in support for early-stage startups looking to become established.
We spoke to CEO and Programme Director Daniel Evans to find out more.
Why did you launch the accelerator?
Daniel Evans: When mapping out what was going on in Birmingham, we noticed a gap in support for emerging entrepreneurs after they have started up. In the city, we do a really good job of helping people to start things up and we have support for established businesses; however, there is this gap in the middle.
We soon realised that space existed for an accelerator programme that fits the stage where you have started up, are working on an MVP and want to find traction, which is probably the most critical period for new ventures.
What kinds of challenges will it help solve?
We nurture potential participants through our relationship with university societies and programmes like BSEEN; this could begin a year or two before they join FORWARD. We are hoping the relationship with our alumni becomes one for life.
We aim to help our cohort tackle some big challenges during the programme. First, we ask them to ask themselves some big questions on what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Do they have resilience? Do they have heart? It’s so important we explore well-being at this stage to help them build strong stress–management strategies – some of these people are running a startup and studying full-time.
Three major challenges we look at are: how to begin building a community of users through understanding value and narrative; finding the talent you need; and how you are going to fund your venture going forward. Getting these things right is essential.
How will the accelerator support its cohort?
We have put together a comprehensive package of support for participants. We’ve lined up a phenomenal coworking space, Birmingham’s iconic Alpha Tower, for our cohort to work from right in the heart of the city. Our participants will receive six months of membership to Alpha works, which we think is the city’s most dynamic and exciting collaborative workspace.
Additionally, a curriculum has been designed to offer bespoke support to those who sit within the gap I mentioned earlier under supervision of experts from a variety of backgrounds, which will be delivered through a mixture of digital resources and physical workshops and masterclasses.
What coaching sessions will you run?
Weekly coaching sessions centred around a tailored six-month roadmap will help to keep participants on target and hold them accountable for their progress. We’ve also assembled a pool of mentors which participants can pick and choose from depending on what they need support with.
Furthermore, through our network and that of our partners, we can provide connections to the wider community to participants. We have incorporated ways of accessing talent & finance into the programme including a demo day.
Will you take any equity?
At the moment we will not be taking equity, but we foresee that this will change in the future. For us, we believe we must demonstrate to the community that this is a programme that works. We believe that this is a valuable package of support that will really help participants to accelerate the rate of their growth. We will now begin to build up hard evidence that this is the case.
What are your future plans for the accelerator?
Future plans involve raising a fund to sit alongside the programme, allowing us to invest funds into participants. This will add a further level of support to the package on offer. FORWARD is under the Birmingham Enterprise Community CIC so it’s a social enterprise. We’ve done this to keep us accountable to the community we serve. The way that we do well is by helping others to do well.