The two Founders of Virtalent, Sam Wilson and Ellie Bekalo, were interviewed by The Sunday Times. Below you can read the original article by the Small Business Editor, Kiki Loizou, published on 28th June 2015.
Here’s the official release:
“It was a hot July afternoon in Birmingham. Graduation day loomed, and friends Ellie Bekalo and Sam Wilson mulled over their employment options. The traditional career paths followed by their peers — often in international business — did little to inspire them. “When you study business, you’re pushed towards thinking about working for a big corporation,” says Bekalo.
What really made the pair tick was the thought of starting their own company, so they brainstormed ideas. What they came up with was Virtalent, a venture that connects small business owners with Virtual Assistants who can help them with jobs such as social media campaigning or design.
“We had a really good start when you consider we had an idea but no clue how to put it into practice,” says Bekalo, who worked hard to raise funds for the start-up.
Bekalo is one of a growing number of women who turn to entrepreneurship rather than a typical nine-five job — and she relishes being her own boss. “Once you’ve had a taste of having your own business I’m not sure you can ever turn back,” she says.
Here are a few more organisations that can help to get a business idea off the ground:
FIND A HOME
Entrepreneurial Spark offers free offices with resources and advice for six months (which can be extended). It has three Scottish sites (Glasgow, Ayrshire and Edinburgh) and one in Birmingham. In August, locations in Leeds, Brighton and Bristol will open, each housing 80 start-ups.
Big companies, banks, universities and other organisations have offices to help spawn flourishing firms. Fledgling companies sign up for set periods and can benefit from investment, free resources, contacts and valuable lessons from peers who are sharing the space.
Most accelerator programmes act as venture-capital firms, taking shares in return for funds and support. Get acquainted with some of the better-rated ones in Britain and Europe by visiting seedcamp.com, techstars.com and wayra.co.
New Entrepreneurs Foundation, an education charity, offers a free one-year course with mentoring and a paid work placement, as well as workshops on how to gain funding for an idea. “We give them access to networks and the whole point is that they make connections,” says Neeta Patel, chief executive at the not-for-profit organisation. The programme signs up 30-40 of more than 500 applicants each year, 40% of whom are fresh out of university. “There are misconceptions that business is cool and that talent alone will carry you; you need hard work and must be prepared to put in the hours,” says Patel.
Start Up Loans, the government’s £300m programme, hands out loans at a competitive rate to business hopefuls over 18 and provides a mentor with each sum. You can borrow up to £25,000 and there is no early-repayment fee.
EXPAND YOUR NETWORK
Enterprise Nation, the national network for start-ups and small companies, holds regular workshops and networking events for business newcomers. A website provides advice on starting and growing your business. Its recent research found more than 60% of young people want to start a business.
ENERGY GIANT HELPS OUT
The Shell LiveWIRE programme, run by the global energy company, offers free online business advice and funding to young entrepreneurs across the UK. Its Smarter Future initiative awards £5,000 in start-up funds each month to one 16-30-year-old entrepreneur with an innovative idea that addresses the challenges of sustainable living.
For those who have their light-bulb moment while studying, Young Enterprise has designed a start-up programme to help undergrads create and run their own firm, with business advisors on hand to guide them. Many finish university with a business to launch a career on. “It’s important to expect mistakes. We try to embed resilience,” says Michael Mercieca, the organisation’s chief executive.