We talked to Daniel Evans of Birmingham Enterprise Community on how to support entreprenuers, emerging startups, and the local business community for innovation to flourish in communities and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Daniel Evans: As good as can be in the current climate! We are just being patient and doing what we can to stay safe.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Birmingham Enterprise Community.
Daniel Evans: I am the Chief Executive Officer at Birmingham Enterprise Community (BEC) & have lived/studied/worked in Birmingham all my life. I always knew that I wanted to start my own company, and BEC came out of a journey to work out how I could set up a business. In my final year at university, I started to connect with more and more emerging entrepreneurs, and by the start of 2019, we had built a community who all needed support. I brought on two business partners (Omran & Alex) who I knew could help me do the business to offer the support these entrepreneurs needed. Two years later we now run four programmes and have provided over 3,000 hours of help!
How does Birmingham Enterprise Community innovate?
Daniel Evans: I think we’ve innovated by going back to the core of what quality support for entrepreneurs should look. Too many accelerators or incubators either focus on the wrong success metrics or misunderstand entrepreneurs’ actual needs today. For example, many programmes provide workspace but forget that the real benefit of that workspace shouldn’t be about delivering a desk to work from but is about the access to peers and potential collaborators facilitated through a physical space. We are providing support for entrepreneurs designed by entrepreneurs – community-led solutions to ensure everything we do is for the benefit of the entrepreneurs we serve. We are only successful when the startups that come through our programmes are successful. I certainly think even taking a model and stripping it back is innovation if it moves the game forward – which we have done.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Daniel Evans: When the pandemic started, we did what we teach our startups, take advantage of the agility we have as a small business. We quickly adapted to the new norms, shifting our operations to be online, which frankly it was an approach we were experimenting even before the pandemic. We also noticed that our productivity and efficiency noticeably improved. We got much closer to the community as we ran free series of workshops and support for the district to assure the founders and entrepreneurs that they are not alone. We are here to support them during these challenging times. Also, as we work with all the enterprise supporters in the region, we could share resources and have open communication channels. So we all survive and make sure we are providing the needed support for the community and that all goes by the ethos of “Collaboration Not Competition” that we love to work.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Daniel Evans: I wouldn’t say we’ve had to make any decisions. The most difficult decision has been choosing what to prioritize and where to focus our time. We did this by thinking strategically about what activities are critical to us, moving towards BEC to be a distraction. It is probably also the most important lesson for us in 2020. Every business has a certain amount of capacity in terms of time & money. Look at the places you can spend these two essential resources to see where will provide the highest return on what you’ve invested. It also brings purpose to activities which help you to shape a fit for purpose execution. Asking ‘why’ you are doing something also stops you from wasting resources – ‘why am I meeting this person?’, ‘why am I spending this money on Facebook ads?’. If there isn’t an answer that fits in with something that moves the business forward, it may not be the best use of resources.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Birmingham Enterprise Community in the future?
Daniel Evans: This is a great question, especially these days more than ever! Being a business owner is not all fun and games; it comes with its stress and primarily that you deal with many uncertainties. However, like most of us, I had the time to reflect on my behaviour and how I deal with stress and anxiety during the lockdown. We get stressed when there is an issue we are concerned about, and deep down we know that we didn’t take enough actions to tackle it, or we have illusion views around it. So the best thing you can do is to deconstruct anything concerning you and have a table of what is real and what is in your mind. Then have a list of what actions you can take towards it and what is out of your control. Most of the time you will find out its just something made up in our minds, the rest of the cases you take the actions you identified and able to do, then wait (I hate waiting but being patient is very important). We project BEC to be an international organization with bases worldwide to support entrepreneurs and businesses from around the globe through a range of programmes that support these entrepreneurs from startup launch through to high-growth scale-ups. As an immigrant who lived and travelled around, I see myself within that international expansion working with business across the world, especially in the Middle East region. It’s a greenfield full of youth energy ready to take action and build enterprising bridges between the east and west.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Daniel Evans: As Omran has mentioned, one of the phrases we live by as an organization is ‘collaboration, not competition’. With space we operate in, we are big believers that we can work with other organizations across the startup ecosystem to move things forward and win together, making the word ‘competition’ one that we don’t use a lot. However, we accept that the startups who are our customers have a big choice of different organizations they can go to for support. Our strategy for keeping the edge we currently have is to ensure that we are always the best at what we do. We know that this means more than just putting businesses through programmes – we are only successful when our entrepreneurs are successful, so we have to give them everything they need to thrive. We’ve picked up five awards in the past 12 months which we believe speaks for itself.
Your final thoughts?
Daniel Evans: Watch this space! BEC as an organization and the entrepreneurs we work with – those guys are doing some fantastic things. Our entrepreneurs are hard-working, talented people committed to solving the problems that the world is facing. I’d also like to say if you are reading this and are considering starting a business but haven’t taken any action, the first step is to get involved with an entrepreneurial community like ours! That is what I did, and it accelerated my learning whilst also making me feel confident about sharing my ideas and my ability to set up a business.