In a previous blog post, I delved into the term ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ to try and demystify this commonly-used phrase and provide some clarity. In that piece I wrote:
For any entrepreneurial ecosystem to be successful, it must be rooted firmly in its locality, drawing its strengths and identity from the characteristics of the place.
To expand that sentence, I would add: ‘The entrepreneurial ecosystem must also have committed individuals fulfilling certain roles.’ In the following paragraphs, I’ll explore what those roles are, using TEAM SY as an example.
Accelerator Programme Manager
The Accelerator Programme Manager typically is the person who will design the intervention to support its startups. If this is for a sector specific accelerator, he or she will have industry knowledge and experience. Take for example Joe Handsaker, who was the Accelerator Director for Propel’s JUMP Sports Technology Accelerator. With an academic background in Sports Science, and having started and scales his own tech startup, he was the perfect person to design and manage the programme. He was able to draw on his own networks, and the extended Propel network, to bring together expert mentors from across the Sports industry.
Another good example would be Pippa Hedley-Takhar who was the P4SY Programme Manager and MedTech Connector. Pippa came to P4SY with a vast network in MedTech and many years experience working in Healthcare Technologies, whilst living in Sheffield and working across the North. This meant she was ideally place to connect entrepreneurs coming through P4SY to relevant support and to potentially buyers, and also advise companies on how to approach the NHS. Additionally, Pippa has experience in inward investment, so was able to ‘sell’ the region to companies wanting to relocate to South Yorkshire.
When entrepreneurs take part in accelerator programmes, they do so for a few reasons: support and training, mentorship, and access to a community. The role of the Community Manager is to be that friendly and welcoming person for founders, to bring a sense of community to a cohort and provide pastoral support. Tamara Moon was that person for P4SY. She not only provided invaluable support for Pippa in the administration and logistics of running the P4SY Programme, but she also went above and beyond in supporting the founders, by organising networking events, bringing together the cohort and being their go-to person within the programme.
Another example would be Denis Ivanov who was the Community Manager for Transform SY (Entrepreneurial Spark). Denis has entrepreneurial community engagement running through and through: before working for Transform SY, he voluntarily produced a regular podcast featuring entrepreneurs and individuals from the business support ecosystem in Sheffield (search for Sheaf Valley podcast on Spotify or Audible). He also hosted regular startup meetups and organised several fantastic Startup Weekend Sheffield hackathons. A Community Manager role is a great entry role for someone who wants to progress in a career focussed on supporting entrepreneurs. (Sidenote: one of my first roles in the entrepreneurial ecosystem space was as Community Engagement Manager for Tech North!).
For any startup on an investment-raising track, two things are essential: top quality impartial advice, and connections to investors. The Investment Facilitator role fulfills these functions, providing valuable connections to interested investors, and having an in-depth knowledge of the startups who are looking to raise. Giles Moore was this person for TEAM SY. As Investment Programme Manager for NorthInvest, he brought together the South Yorkshire Angel Hub and also provided impartial investment-readiness advice for founders. Giles is a founder in his own right and has been on that investment-raising journey, and he knows what investors are looking for. This insight into understanding the process from both sides of the coin is essential for both founders and investors. A recent PreSeed Now article delved into Dealmakers (a different name for a similar role) with some great examples from individuals doing this work in different parts of the UK.
The Super Connector job title never fails to bring a smile to people’s faces. As I describe in a reflective blog post about my time as Super Connector for TEAM SY, it’s a multi-faceted role that is very much informed by the personalities and experiences of the people who hold it. With Ken Nettleship taking over the TEAM SY Super Connector role for the next six weeks, I’m excited to see how he will shape it based on his substantial experience in inward investment and more recently as Head of Unrest North. In essence, a Super Connector is a very well networked individual who loves making connections and introductions, and who constantly is looking for opportunities for new projects to arise or for new partnerships to form. I wrote a standalone blog post dedicated to describing the role of Super Connector when I started at TEAM SY. An additional nuance of the TEAM SY Super Connector role was that we also acted as key account managers for our partners, especially those who were new to the region.
Taken together, these four roles underpin delivering support for startups in an entrepreneurial ecosystem. By providing mentoring and resources, building community, and connecting founding teams with investment, they provide the bedrock support that makes it possible for startups to thrive and grow.