How do you turn a spark of an idea into a viable business with the potential to employ others and contribute the growth of the island’s economy?
That’s the question we put to Katie Nicholson who has a proven track record of helping entrepreneurs to get their vision off the ground.
Katie’s credentials include managing the island’s Bridge Angel Network which specialised in nurturing start ups. She is currently managing the Angel Network in Liverpool. Not surprisingly she has built up a formidable network of contacts which has, more recently, gone global.
In 2019 she and Alex Wilson, who created the island’s first entrepreneurial festival, Isle Expo, for the Isle of Man Government, founded a chapter of Start Up Grind, a global network for budding entrepreneurs and investors, which has its HQ in Silicon Valley.
Katie says: ‘Start Up Grind and its Fireside Chats format [which don’t involve firesides] started in 2010, and now it’s become a global network of entrepreneurs and the premise of it is “to educate, inspire and grow”. It’s all about giving back so people who are successful entrepreneurs share their stories in this “Fireside Chat” format which is basically a relaxed interview with, me asking questions and them telling their experience, then giving the audience the chance to ask questions at the end.
‘Start up Grind now has 600 chapters like ours, across the world, in 125 countries. Alex and myself we set this one up in the Isle of Man because we wanted entrepreneurs and investors here to have that opportunity to connect more globally.’
Previously events have featured Alex Fray from Grow Labs Organics; Janna Horsthuis from Robinson’s Marco Leonetti from Utopia, and Myles Pettit from Noa Bakehouse.
Katie says: ‘We try to not just focus on tech, we try to promote a cross section of the Isle of Man.’
Its latest event, held last week, featured Andrew Jervis, chief executive officer and co-founder of ClickMechanic. Raised and educated on the Isle of Man, Andrew comes from a family of mechanics and with the automotive industry in his blood. He took the tech route and founded the company in 2012 to bring car repairs to customers’ doors.
Today, ClickMechanic works with hundreds of thousands of drivers and thousands of mechanics to facilitate a far easier and more trusted car repair experience for both drivers and mechanics through its industry-first platform. It has been recognized and awarded for its innovation and disruptive technology by Amazon Growing Business Awards and the Workshop Power Awards. In 2021, Andrew became a Great British Entrepreneur Award Winner as Small Business Entrepreneur Of The Year.
Katie says: ‘For this one we teamed up with Barclays Eagle Lab. Across the UK other Start Up Grind chapters have started partnering with Barclays Eagle Labs. It actually is a good fit because that’s the place where people are starting out on their entrepreneurial journey so it makes sense to host from there.’
They also co-host online events with other chapters from across the world, Start Up Grind providing the technology.
Katie says: ‘In 2020 Alex and I went to the Start Up Grind global conference in San Francisco where we both won a joint award for best new directors. There was 90 other people in our cohort so that was quite a good thing to showcase the Isle of Man.
‘We’ve done quite a few events during Covid with Gibraltar because their audience is quite similar to ours in terms of being quite corporate by nature. It’s just really good to have that global network.’
So what is the biggest block, or difficulty, for someone wanting to start a new business? What is it that these people need most to help them on their way?
Katie says: ‘It’s the right support and investment and the support doesn’t have to be investment. It could be somewhere to just go and learn or a mentor.’
So it’s not a lack of confidence or a bad idea that’s holding them back?
Katie says: ‘Obviously there are loads of bad ideas as well but I don’t believe in telling other people their idea is bad. I think they have to go on that journey and find out for themselves. But then we might just pivot and find a better idea.’
l You can find a full list of Fireside Chats and other events coming up at www.startupgrind.com/isle-of-man