INTERVIEW: Lucy-Rose Walker, Entrepreneurial Spark
‘My passion is helping others achieve their goals’
No wonder the organisation which bills itself as ‘the world’s largest free business accelerator for start-up and growing ventures’ includes the word ‘spark’ in its name.
So it is no surprise to find that Entrepreneurial Spark’s new chief executive is brimming with enthusiasm to help others fulfil their ambitions.
“I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but it is my great passion,” says Lucy-Rose Walker.
She has a determination of her own to succeed, so much so she spent her early months at ESpark working for nothing in order to learn the ropes and later booked herself into Babson College to learn some more.
She had already launched a business of her own – a board game – and worked for Connect, which introduced early stage companies to investors, much the same as ESpark and EIE do today.
She says her new role is a big test of herself and of the organisation’s need to prove it can lead by example. Jim Duffy’s decision to hand over the reins is, she says, a part of that process.
“Jim decided it was time for a change and this is something we try to instil in the companies that go through our programme,” she says.
“Since we made the announcement we have had people say they appreciate us practising what we preach.
“I guess we are a role model and there is pressure on us – we are being watched by the entrepreneurs who look to us show we apply the same principles to ourselves as we expect from them.”
I get him. I know how to pitch an idea to him and we have a mutual respect for what we do.
Walker joined Entrepreneurial Spark as a volunteer mentor soon after Duffy began pulling the idea together at the end of 2011. They work differently and have different skills, but they struck up a working partnership that has so far proved successful.
“I get him,” she says. ” I know how to pitch an idea to him and we have a mutual respect for what we do.
“Jim had a vision and is full of ideas. I am the ‘No’ person in his life. I know when to call a halt to something with a smile on my face. If you say ‘Yes’ to too many things you end up doing them badly.”
ESpark’s first ‘hatchery’ was in Ayr, the next in Glasgow, and then Edinburgh. There is now a network of 13, including Birmingham, Brighton and Bristol, and one in India, its first step overseas.
Duffy (pictured right) tied up three big entrepreneurial names – Lord ‘Willie’ Haughey, Sir Tom Hunter and Ann Gloag – to spearhead each of the Scottish projects. Walker says that bringing Royal Bank of Scotland, KPMG and technology firm EMC on board to help provide professional guidance was a ‘transformational’ move. The Edinburgh hatchery is based in a wing of RBS’s Gogarburn HQ.
She says Duffy’s move into a more hands-on role with the participating companies, or ‘chiclets’, suits his skills. He will become ‘head of GoDo’, travelling around the hatcheries and providing one-to-one sessions with the most promising businesses.
Walker, currently chief solutions officer, will take over at the end of June and will be developing ideas to build on what has been achieved so far: more than £45m of investment raised by 660 companies which have a combined turnover of £85m and have created 1,816 jobs. An impressive 88% of those businesses that have gone through the programme are still trading.
Expansion, however, may mean finding alternatives to hatcheries based in premises.
“We are looking at how we reach more people and how we do that without more physical space. We are toying with virtual, online operations.”
Asked if there will be more hatcheries overseas, she says: “Probably, yes.” She will be encouraging more females to become entrepreneurs, and more people working within corporates, to develop as ‘intrapreneurs’.
Her early career included a few setbacks, regarded as part of the process of being an entrepreneur. She spent a year attempting to sell a credit card in the US which paid a commission to Scottish causes. The company was called Ustica, after an island.
“I did it with the Archangels people, but it died a death,” she admits.
She went on to launch the board game Scottish Quest with Lynne Cadenhead, and in 2009 was involved with the Clan Gathering which struggled to hit its target. “It was actually a great event and it’s a shame the numbers fell short,” she says.
Joining Jim Duffy’s embryonic Entrepreneurial Spark incubator has been something of a turning point. Is she surprised at how quickly it has grown?
“Massively. We never expected to be where we are, but you get out what you put in.
“I am a self-confessed workaholic, but I have never worked harder on anything in my life.”
Birthplace: Wormit, Fife
Education: Glasgow university (psychology); Babson College (course on entrepreneurialism)
Career highlights: Admin assistant, Boondoggle; sales and marketing, Ustica; project manager, Connect Scotland; operations manager, The Gathering; director, Panalba (a social networking site); project manager, Tall Poppies; coach, Awaken Awareness; co-founder and chief solutions officer, Entrepreneurial Spark
Tell us more about the US experience
The company was selling a “tartan” credit card named Ustica, which was an island [off Italy] where the Archangels were when they came up with idea. Subscribers would pay a commission which would be ploughed back into Scottish history or events. I got fed up with people asking: “Ustica? What’s that?”
What do you find frustrating?
Laziness. I am big on personal responsibility.
Have you any claims to fame?
At Scottish Quest we released a single, Scotland Scotland, Jason Scotland. I was a backing singer. It went to number one in the Scottish charts.
What can’t you live without?
My phone. And Netflix.