Collaboration key to Spark Up success as entrepreneurs pitch it perfect

Founder of Spark Up – Liverpool’s first free business accelerator programme – Jenny Stewart has hailed collaboration between leading city businesses, as the key to its success at an event to mark the programme’s half-way point.

Ms Stewart spoke in front of a specially selected audience of 70 of the city’s leading business names, including Gordon Merrylees, Head of Entrepreneurship at Natwest and RBS one of Spark Up’s founding partners. Mr Merrylees was visiting the city to explore further partnerships with and support for the Spark Up programme.

Over the past ten weeks, Spark Up has engaged with 37 entrepreneurs, secured the support of more than 40 mentors and generated a series of significant investment and partnership opportunities, which have helped each entrepreneur to develop its business.

Ms Stewart said:

“We are only half way through this year’s Spark Up programme and we have been able to achieve so much, not just in terms of the development of our entrepreneurs, but also in the development of the programme.

“Spark Up was set up to promote collaboration between new businesses to allow them to drive each other forward to success and it is this collaborative process which has helped Spark Up itself become the success it is.

“Thanks to the support of partners such as Natwest, University of Liverpool, Glow New Media and the BIG Partnership we have been able to develop the programme further.

“This year, The University of Liverpool have given us so much in terms of time and helping to create entrepreneurial mind sets and we have now employed two of their graduates who will take a more permanent role in supporting our entrepreneurs.

“Glow New Media have kindly given up their time and expertise with our website and The BIG Partnership, as well as other individuals such as Charles Oddy, Jobey Marlowe, Chris Fry and Michelle Helsby who have worked hard with us since the beginning to really develop and challenge my vision and help Spark Up become a reality.

“My vision is that in three years we will have a programme that is able to achieve the same successes of other programmes such as Mass Challenge in Boston and Entrepreneurial Spark in Scotland – and have a meaningful and lasting effect on the city region.

“Through this joined-up approach we have adapted so far, there is no reason why Spark Up can’t be the city’s number one accelerator for businesses growth, creating new jobs in the city and helping retain the talent and drive that is so abundant in Liverpool.”

The Liverpool Chamber Chief Executive also introduced 12 of the programme’s entrepreneurs, who each presented a two minute long pitch, showcasing their business in the hopes of securing a of a £1,000 cash prize, donated by Natwest.

On top of this entrepreneurs were also pitching to secure additional prizes of a year-long Constant Contact email licence package, one year’s worth of marketing support from Liverpool-based digital marketing expert Felix Clarke and £200 worth of BING vouchers from Microsoft.

An expert panel of judges – which included Gordon Merrylees, Karina Knudsen from Microsoft, Steve Smith of West Coast Investments and Dougal Paver from Curtins – made the final decision to award the prize to Just Juices, who manufacture and supply a range of 100% natural fruit juices.

The judges commended duo Tom Muir and Louise Disley for their passionate approach to business, which has seen them increase sales by 600 units a week, secure a new premises and create new jobs within the region.

Spain in a Box, who offer a route to market for artisan producers and Franklin Energy, who install electric vehicle charging points were also highly commended by the judges for their insightful pitches.

Louise from Just Juices, said:

“When we started Just Juices in 2013, neither Tom or I had any experience creating or even running our own business, but after recognising a gap in the market for 100% healthy juices, we decided to take a risk and go for it.

“Spark Up has really helped us develop our skills in running a business, build our confidence in our ideas and helped us refocus our brand  in order to identify and connect with our customers as well as compete in the market place. Through the support and from working with other like-minded entrepreneurs, we have been able to secure investment, create new jobs and increase sales.

“Winning the pitch today will provide us a cash injection for our business and will help us identify and create a clearer marketing strategy which will help us reach our goal of making Just Juices, the number one natural juice in the UK.”

Speaking to the guests, Gordon Merrylees said:

“Entrepreneurs are the life blood of the UK economy, which is why as an organisation Natwest is keen to support projects which support entrepreneurship and the creation of new businesses all over the UK.

“Spark Up has seen incredible success in just its first few years, helping a range of entrepreneurs embark on their successful business journeys.

“I am genuinely excited to have had the opportunity to see what Spark Up is doing here in Liverpool and discuss with Jenny how Natwest can harness its powers of creativity and innovation, for the benefit of entrepreneurs in Liverpool and the UK.”

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