The ex Dragon has always maintained that big corporate companies must do far more to support entrepreneurs, the wealth creators of the economy, instead of just smothering them with useless marketing campaigns and now he has been able to bring one such business to invest in the businesses of tomorrow.
Richard’s hopes his recent sponsorship deal with O2 marks a step change in how big corporates deal with SMEs.
“School for Startups is social enterprise,” says Richard. “Many of the people I teach don’t have money and, quite frankly, you can’t take milk from a stone. So last year I started to think about ways to subsidise the programme.
“We draw up a list of all the brands trying to reach SMEs in the UK. We then delved deeper and looked at which companies were advertising across those brands. That gave me a list of 30 or so corporations. I then asked myself, ‘Which of these companies could be tied to School for Startups in a positive way?’ and whittled the list down to five.”
Richard admits that he didn’t know anyone in the five corporations so he scoured the web for the relevant contacts and pinged them an email. All of them wrote back.
“I was very clear about what I was after,” says Richard. “Last year we taught just under 7,000 entrepreneurs. By the end of this year, I hope 5,000-10,000 entrepreneurs will be attending my courses each month. I wasn’t just looking for a sponsor who could write me a six-figure cheque but a company which would use its size to really promote our activities and get the word out there.”
Richard says he was impressed by O2’s level of commitment. “Simon Devonshire, O2’s head of small business marketing, sat through an entire boot camp,” he says. “I appplaud that.” As part of the sponsorship deal, O2 will promote School for Startups to its millions of business customers, creating special websites with related content and details of upcoming events.
Richard will also use the extra cash to expand into new regions. “I’m rolling out the programme across the whole of the UK,” he says. “We’re only two full months into the year and we’ve already launched in Birmingham, Newcastle and Hull.