Applications for our first cohort ‘F1’ are now open and will run until 9th August with FORWARD F1 starting in September. You can see more about the programme details here.
Soon after forming Birmingham Enterprise Community we knew that we needed a central pillar that would act as the core of everything we wanted to achieve in developing a stronger ecosystem to support student and graduate entrepreneurs in the West Midlands. We knew that it needed to be something that brought people together both in a physical sense as well as virtually and spiritually. It also had to enable us to allow student and graduate startups to work alongside other startups, local SMEs, corporates, networks in Birmingham and others – this was especially critical if we were to successfully integrate these startups with the wider Birmingham business community and build their social capital.
We were also aware of gaps within the support currently on offer to the community we serve. Gaps are a natural consequence of a multi-player ecosystem where support is offered out from various parties with a lack of strong central coordination. Now the consequence of these voids are that an entrepreneur or startup is left without appropriate support for the stage they are at. At an ideation stage it may in fact be helpful for an entrepreneur to have time away from support to work in their own way and experiment with ideas – especially if they have been equipped with the right skills from early stage interventions. Therefore, it was right that we turn our attention to the most critical gap. We identified this as one which exists after a business has been started up. A high proportion of the university-led support focuses on the build up to this point and does a great job of enabling the creation of startups. We then have various support mechanisms within the region offering assistance to businesses which are of a higher level of development. Yet, in between these startups who have just left the comfort of the proverbial nest that is university-led support find themselves within a canyon of chaos. They may hear the calls offered from the other side of the canyon but face mighty obstacles to reach across. There may even be a few that are able to make it across on their own. However, even those that do make it across could have made the journey quicker and with less difficulty if the right support was available to them.
It was clear to us that we could give BEC it’s core whilst building the support that would remove the canyon through the establishment of an accelerator. We use the term accelerator, yet what we really mean is a programme of support and resources. Often the term accelerator is misused or misdefined but we didn’t want to get bogged down in definitions. In technical terms you could actually place FORWARD as late stage incubation combined with early stage acceleration – which is was a purposely made placement as the void we are filling sits in between current incubation and acceleration efforts. We are not only providing the bridge of which startups can cross but an added kick to help them get there faster. Our intentions here become to prepare these businesses to switch from startup mode to scale up mode.
Our own programme also means our own way of doing things. Countless conversations with members and businesses within our community have begun to construct a common social reality around what a modern business should look like. From day one BEC has embraced collaboration as its founding philosophy having brought together all five Birmingham universities in a way that has never been accomplished before. We then took this further by having students and graduates from seven universities attend our launch. In order to create a community that works for all, collaboration must be central. Shared values and shared goals enable us to work as one to create the rhetoric which forges prosperity for the region as a whole, which then does not just stay as words on a page or an idea in our minds but a reality that we can experience. This reality is a plant of slow growth. It is not something that can be achieved tomorrow but instead requires nurturing and patients to see blossom in the future. FORWARD can be the sowers of this generation of startups where we develop the leaders that we need for the future who treat people with value and not as a resource and businesses that see their social impact not as CSR or a PR piece but as an authentic part of their core operations.
“I am delighted to see the launch of FORWARD, an exceptional grass roots initiative to further enhance the development of entrepreneurs in the Midlands region. FORWARD will provide an innovative platform to foster innovation, collaboration and increased opportunities for early-stage ventures that wish to take their business to the next level” Holly Knower, CEO NACUE
For now we aim for FORWARD F1 to take a cohort of businesses and speed up their entrepreneurial journey through the range of resources we have provided for them, from masterclasses and workshops to mentoring, coaching and access to an exciting community of like-minded people sharing the same vision. This marks a significant moment in moving towards our mission of turning the West Midlands into one of the greatest places to study and become an entrepreneur. The region is not without its faults but it is a place of abundant opportunity if we unlock the doors that we need to unlock. BEC, alongside its partners, is happy to play its part in opening up doors as champions of the regions emerging entrepreneurs. We look forward to welcoming our first cohort in September!