Entrepreneurs get social in Sheffield

Kathleen Brooks
NEXT week, the stars of BBC’s Dragons’ Den will be descending on Sheffield to help launch Made: The Entrepreneur Festival. Taking place in the city from 8-11 September, the festival boasts classes on how to pitch a business idea to a school for start-ups hosted by former Dragons’ Den star Doug Richard.

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely pursuit, and Made seems to speak to a need for a greater sense of community among innovators. But if so, is Sheffield the best place to have it, especially when there are many online social networks, such as LinkedIn, not tied to any one location?

organisers say that Sheffield is the perfect choice: not only is it the centre of the country, but it can be a centre that is dedicated exclusively for entrepreneurs.

At City A.M. we conducted a small poll to see what entrepreneurs thought about a festival dedicated to them. Overall, they were positive. Mark Lilley, founder of lunchtime chain Abokado, says that a forum like Made to share ideas is useful and he also thinks that Sheffield is a good location: “I studied at the University of Sheffield and it isn’t at all the steel forges and mines that you would imagine but a very progressive city. I could imagine this type of event would sit well there.”

Hugo Burge, the founder of cheapflights.com, has not found entrepreneurs’ organisations particularly helpful: “I did dabble with one but felt it was a waste of time as it was too generic. What I have found useful is internet networking events and travel conferences – at these events you tend to meet inspiring characters and get stuff done at a practical level.”

Others think that Made is only the tip of the iceberg. William Chase, the founder of Tyrrells crisps and Chase Distilleries, supports the idea behind Made and thinks that it should grow into an association for entrepreneurs: “A lot of entrepreneurs aren’t strong enough to talk up for themselves. What you need is an organisation with a strong spokesperson to give them a voice.” Chase is passionate about ensuring that entrepreneurs have access to finance and he believes that if a start-up or small business was a member of a bona fide organisation it could give them more credibility and potentially make it easier to access credit.

Made is a fascinating experiment. Associations of entrepreneurs, online or at festivals, are clearly one way to ensure that common problems and best practice are shared between small, start-up businesses. In the future, it may also offer the prospect of a public voice that can speak in the entrepreneur’s defence.