Colchester: Eastern Enterprise Hub branches out with launch of second site

Simon Mead of the Eastern Enterprise Hub at its new office at the Weston Homes Stadium in Colchester

Simon Mead of the Eastern Enterprise Hub at its new office at the Weston Homes Stadium in Colchester. - Credit: Archant

The Eastern Enterprise Hub, set up in Ipswich in January 2011 to help nuture entrepreneurialism, is about to launch in Colchester. Chief executive Simon Mead tells Sheline Clarke about this milestone.

Since its launch in 2011, The Eastern Enterprise Hub has helped more than 70 entrepreneurs start and grow their own businesses which between them can claim a turnover of £22million and a workforce of 740.

From its base on the fifth floor of the James Hehir Building overlooking Ipswich Waterfront, the Hub runs an Enterprise Academy for 17-19 year olds, a School for Social Entrepreneurs and the Fifth Floor Club which brings experienced business people together socially and to help mentor its cohorts. The plan is to replicate the model in Essex at Colchester United’s Weston Homes Community Stadium and support is already growing.

“To start with we will have a mixed cohort of young entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs and we aim to have the Enterprise Academy up and running by Christmas and an FE college onboard in the next academic year,” said chief executive Simon Mead.

“The really encouraging thing is that we have already recruited 30 mentors, business people from Colchester and the surrounding area who have said they want to get involved and help, and that is tremendous when you think how busy people are and I think that is one of the most heartening things about this job. We ask people to give up their time and they do it to reconnect with young people and it is wonderful that we can take our learning programmes and recreate the Hub in Colchester.”

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The Colchester Hub is a partnership between Colchester Borough Council and the Hub who are both delighted that the Hub’s new home will be the community stadium.

“It was important that we found the right location for the Colchester Enterprise Hub,” said Simon. “We were looking for a highly flexible and creative space to really inspire people starting a business and it needed to be a place where they can test their ideas, take advantage of all the support on offer and meet new people who will help their business flourish.”

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Having been chief executive of the Hub for six months, Simon says he can’t claim the idea as his own, but is delighted to lead and ultimately deliver the project across the border in Essex.

“The attitude there is very refreshing,” he said, “Colchester Borough has looked at what we do and the outcomes we have achieved and it makes sense that they would talk to us to try and repeat what we have done rather than starting from scratch.

“Colchester Borough Council and Colchester United have made this happen and the space we have will make a great Hub. The stadium is already at the heart of a thriving business network and that will also help our entrepreneurs connect with the business community.”

An experienced finance leader and entrepreneur himself with a background in sales and marketing, and hands-on knowledge of hi-tech, on-line, public sector and charities, Simon says since joining the Hub he has been “totally bitten” by social entrepreneurship.

“Before joining the Hub social entrepreneurialism is something I knew about but had no understanding of the impact of social entrepreneurs in society and what they can do, and that has struck a chord with me.

“I have spent years telling people that you have to do something you care about. With social enterprise the driver is about giving a service and that’s wonderful and that appealed to me straight away, working with people who really want to do this thing because they care about it. Teaching someone who doesn’t care is hard, teaching someone who really wants to do something is a pleasure, and I also see that with the Enterprise Academy and the young people who engage with us.

“The learning programmes developed here – and I think this is part of what makes the Hub unique – centres on the individual and not the business.

“There are lots of mentoring services out there and they all do really good work. What we do that is different is to work with the individual to increase their resilience, their adaptability, their agility and their mindset and to make sure they can get back up one more time than they get knocked down.

“It also helps lose the loneliness of setting up a business. The design of the programmes is absolutely key and I haven’t seen that anywhere else.

“The other fundamental thing to its success has been the mentors that support it. There are more than 100 people who engage with us as mentors and a big testament is that ex-fellows will come and become mentors, so on one level you have an amazing depth of knowledge from the corporates and also you get the entrepreneurs and the self-made people who have been through the same experiences. So you end up with this fantastic little black book of contacts – what better way to start your business?”

A recent U-Gov poll suggested that 42% of young people want to start their own businesses.

During their time at the Enterprise Academy, the students set up their own micro-businesses, which has to trade and make money.

Of the graduates so far, 40% have continued with their businesses while 30% go on to do a degree and 20% go on to work for their mentor.

“All of those outcomes are valid,” said Simon. “We thought we would turn out 30 entrepreneurs a year but that is not quite true. What the academy does is turn out 30 people who understand how business works and who are not afraid to enter that world.

“The young people who come to the Hub want to get on. On the first day some of them might shuffle in with their hands in their pockets but when they leave they look you in the eye and shake your hand and tell you their business ideas. That is wonderful and those are the sorts of things we want to recreate in Colchester.”

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