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Calling budding entrepreneurs

Igniting ambitions: pictured at yesterday's launch of Ignite are, from left, Neil Patterson, Jason Sukdeo, Nicole Golden, Don Mackenzie, Gayle Mann, Piers Carr and Selange Gitschner (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermudian entrepreneurs have received a welcome boost with the launch of Ignite Bermuda, the island’s first privately-funded entrepreneurial accelerator.

Ignite, organisers say, will enhance the island’s ecosystem for start-ups and small businesses by providing a physical facility for start-ups to work and network in, developing a boot-camp and customised-for-Bermuda curriculum to enhance an entrepreneur’s business skills, creating access to a formalised network of mentors and advisers, developing an investor network to match up with start-ups, and partnering with existing programmes and institutions.

Co-founded by KPMG and New Venture Holdings, Ignite has entered a three-year consultancy agreement with Entrepreneurial Spark, a United Kingdom-based team of “mindset enablers” that have created a proprietary approach that combines bespoke start-up and growth coaching with a development programme that concentrates on taking action as an entrepreneur rather than simply learning about it.

Nearly 4,000 entrepreneurs have completed an Entrepreneurial Spark training programme, says the organisation’s Gayle Mann, who was present at yesterday’s launch.

Ignite will accept up to 15 entrepreneurs for a free, six-month programme starting in May that will teach them about cultivating the right mindset and the most effective behaviours to unlock their entrepreneurial potential. The organisation will accept applications from entrepreneurs at any stage of their journey, from idea stage to profitable enterprise.

Application for the first cohort may be made online at www.ignitebermuda.com. The application deadline is April 24.

In October, a second cohort of 40 to 50 people will enter the programme. When fully operational, organisers say, some 80 to 100 people annually will complete the curriculum.

The initiative will be housed in the 4,000-square-foot Ignite Bermuda Hub Space in the Argus Building on Wesley Street, Hamilton, which has been donated by Argus.

The impact of the programme, Ignite organisers say, will be job creation and a growing cadre of successful Bermudian entrepreneurs.

Neil Patterson and Don Mackenzie have been the primary driving forces behind Ignite Bermuda. Mr Patterson is the chairman of KPMG in Bermuda, while entrepreneur Mr Mackenzie is the chairman and owner of New Venture Holdings. The two organisations are the co-founders of Ignite Bermuda. Both men are directors of Bermuda Accelerator Ltd, the company limited by guarantee that operates Ignite Bermuda.

“Ignite Bermuda is a social enterprise — it’s a collaborative work environment where entrepreneurs in the programme can obtain the tools they need to be successful,” Mr Patterson said.

“It’s a trusted environment where they can make connections and learn from the experiences of other entrepreneurs, and get confidential, personalised coaching from mentors and business leaders to develop their skills and pursue their dreams.”

Mr Mackenzie said: “Ignite Bermuda provides an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to leverage a community dedicated to helping their businesses start and succeed. “When you combine the accelerator team’s expertise with the talented network of local entrepreneurs, it’s sure to speed up their ideas and businesses in a way that positively impacts our economy.

“Ignite empowers these entrepreneurs by, among other things, bringing them together to share ideas and experiences.”

Individuals are being approached to serve as investors, mentors, board members, and advisory board members for Ignite Bermuda.

“So many people live in Bermuda who have run a successful business, or who are wealthy, and who want to give to the country in terms of time, mentorship and investing,” Mr Patterson said.

“We are trying to create that ecosystem to bring those people together with young entrepreneurs who have been validated with a good business plan. With Ignite Bermuda, we will put the structure around that and make it happen.”

Mr Mackenzie added: “There is nothing like this in Bermuda. The network here tends to be ad hoc, random.

“The Ignite Bermuda Hub will provide physical space as a nexus to bring people together, enabling investors, entrepreneurs, and ambassadors to know where to converge.”

Ignite’s curriculum, mentorship programme — and an entrepreneur’s access to capital — are linked, Mr Mackenzie says.

“The people with access to capital are not meeting with people who have a desire to build and grow a business,” he said. “A young person going to the bank with perhaps not a great business plan, and no revenue, would have a relatively small chance of getting financial support.

“Banks prefer someone whose business is up and running, and which has revenue, and who has collateral, which young people don’t necessarily have.

“We’re trying to bridge that funding gap. We want to give entrepreneurs the benefit of speaking with mentors and advisers before they go to the bank. That access to advice will help participants to refine their business plan and increase their chances of getting the capital they need.”

According to the 2018 Business Confidence Index Report, published by Total Research Associates, small- and medium-sized businesses continue to dominate the Bermuda economy, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of the private sector, Ignite said.

“Ignite Bermuda will give people opportunity, and will help maintain Bermuda’s roots as a country built on entrepreneurial ideas and small business,” Mr Mackenzie said.

Organisers say anyone is welcome to apply for the programme.

“The average age of participants in the UK is 38,” Mr Patterson says. “Participants here could have a day job and do this on top, or they could be preparing for a second career, or they could be a mother who wants her own business.

“Participants will not necessarily be school leavers, or graduates. They just need to have a passion to grow a business, and a good idea.”

The registered charity aims to raise $2 million to fund three years of operating costs.

“People have been very supportive, from individuals to local business to international business,” Mr Patterson said. “Our requests for funding are in process.”

Mr Mackenzie added: “The response of the donor community is that people want to help.”

Entrepreneurs, Mr Mackenzie said, support the new initiative and have been invited to become “ambassadors” for the programme. Bermudian entrepreneurs Selange Gitschner (dasfete), Nicole Golden (Urban Cottage), Piers Carr (Current Vehicles) and Jason Sukdeo (BHW Ltd) attended yesterday’s launch.

“They are excited, and that is a good validation that we are on the right track. We have listened to young entrepreneurs about the challenges they faced, and we think we will be in a position to fill a lot of those gaps.”

Ignite Bermuda is primarily an entrepreneurial “accelerator” rather than an “incubator”. Incubators are generally regarded as safe spaces for burgeoning ideas while accelerators present a more challenging environment because the entrepreneurs themselves wish to progress faster and become more resilient through continuous learning and development.

Participants will attend a ‘boot camp’ on May 6 and 7. Other mandatory events include ‘Acceler8’ on August 7, the “Celebrating Success” event on November 6 that marks the end of the programme, and scheduled, fortnightly “enablement sessions”. Participants will be required to engage in the curriculum and meet mutually agreed-upon milestones, organisers say.

They will enjoy swipe-card access to the hub space, which will have permanent and “hot desk” space, meeting rooms, informal meeting spaces, an event space with audiovisual equipment, high-speed wi-fi, equipment for printing, scanning and copying — plus kitchen space and lockers.

Subject to work permit approval, the first executive director will be seasoned entrepreneur Sean Reel. Ignite hopes to have him in place by April 15. Entrepreneurial Spark assisted with the recruitment process, with Ignite Bermuda interviewing shortlisted candidates.

“The first phase of the programme is critical, and we wanted to make sure we got someone in who could work with Entrepreneurial Spark and get the programme launched,” Mr Mackenzie said.

Mr Patterson added: “At the end of the work permit term, the position will be Bermudianised.”

A full-time second-in-command will be hired this summer, organisers say.