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Bootcamp hones business skills for brightest entrepreneurs

 January 5, 2018 | Simon Jenkins

With ideas ranging from a lingerie brand to a student cookery website, an Islamic record label to drama therapy workshops, 17 aspiring entrepreneurs were drilled in all things business at the University of Leeds’ Entrepreneurs Bootcamp in December.

The annual event is hosted at Weetwood Hall in Headingley and run by Spark, the dedicated business start-up service at the University’s Careers Centre.  Bootcamp is a tough and intensive experience, with masterclasses in business planning, intellectual property, finance, law, market research, networking, pitching,  sales and marketing.

Each of the 2017 delegates had already won an Enterprise Scholarship worth £3,000 to help develop their businesses. All have access to Spark’s advisors, mentors and business experts, as well as the opportunity to use top-class incubator space from which to develop their businesses.

This year, three of the bootcamp sessions were delivered by experts whose own businesses were founded through Spark’s early support. The event culminated in a pitching competition sponsored by Leeds graduate Natasha Whiddon, joint founder of property business David Bradley Homes, and herself a former winner of the prestigious Sir Peter Thompson Award for Enterprise.

Digital consultant Sarah Allison –  a University of Leeds graduate whose own business aspirations were supported by Spark in 2010 – delivered a masterclass in social media at the Bootcamp. She says: “Bootcamp delegates usually have a good technical knowledge of social media platforms, but I can help them apply this to produce a social media strategy that will work best to market their businesses. They’re great to work with because they are engaged, dynamic and ambitious and I’m excited for them because I know what Spark can deliver for their own ventures.”

“I was nervous about attending as I knew how much I had to learn to be able to run my own  business,” says Ellen Wildman, a second year undergraduate student in Film, photography and Communications who is  launching a niche creative content agency for clients right across the creative arts. “Spark has given us a ready-made peer support network to lean on and learn from whilst we build up our own contacts. Being able to draw on so much knowledge and experience across so many business aspects is an incredible resource.”

Safiyyah Hafiji, a second year Management with Marketing student agrees. Her business idea, to launch a record label for Islamic musicians. Her idea had been brewing for years, born out of a frustration at the lack of more contemporary music choices which reflect the traditional messages of her faith. “There’s a big gap here and I know what I want to do and have so many ideas as to how to make this happen. Bootcamp has been fantastic because it’s helped me structure these ideas and given me time to really focus on what my next steps need to be.”

The University’s success around enterprise is underpinned by a strong institutional commitment to provide support at every level, says Kairen Skelley, who heads up Spark.  She says: “The University has been embedding enterprise into the curriculum for ten years, so the numbers and quality of the aspiring entrepreneurs and their business propositions grows year on year.

“Thanks to the generosity of so many University alumni, we can offer opportunities to develop enterprise skills at every turn, including a raft of prizes and scholarships and invaluable mentorship and contacts.”

Bootcamp hones business skills for brightest entrepreneurs