London sometimes feels like a living, breathing business hub. From Silicon Roundabout to the myriad pop-up markets, and from the glisten of Canary Wharf to the hip boutiques of Hackney, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better world city in which to make your mark.
Combine London’s strong cultural offering with one of the largest concentrations of higher education institutions in Europe and you’ve got the perfect cocktail for budding entrepreneurs. Additionally, a fifth of Europe’s 500 largest firms are headquartered in the city, and 75% of Fortune 500 companies have offices there.
Perhaps that’s why Olesia Chi (born Olesia Klevnaia), founder and CEO of Digital Sekta London, a digital marketing consultancy, considers the city perfect for business and living.
Chi has a master’s in digital marketing and analytics from Regent’s University London, and has lived in the UK capital for about five years. Some 30% of the university’s graduates start businesses within six months of finishing their course, according to Dr Zubin Sethna, associate professor in entrepreneurial marketing at Regent’s University London, so Chi is in good company.
Her Digital Sekta map helps high-end customers find out what to do and where to go in London – from restaurants and bars to hotels and galleries – and Chi also offers digital marketing consultations, such as branding and social media strategies.
London’s thriving tourist industry is the perfect backdrop for a business like hers. What’s more, there’s a multitude of networking events, internships and mentorship programmes at budding entrepreneurs’ fingertips.
Take Enterprise for London, which offers access to finance as well as a healthy calendar of business courses and workshops, or Expert Impact’s human lending library, where you “borrow” an expert for an hour to help with specific business challenges.
London is also home to the first female-only members club in the UK – the AllBright Club – where women in business can convene, network and attend events.
According to the NatWest Entrepreneurship Monitor, a significant number of respondents now pin London as the best place in the country to start a business. One such reason, the research found, is the greater access to business accelerator hubs.
“Over the past three to five years, there’s been a rapid rise in incubator and accelerator programmes,” explains Sethna. “[London’s] much faster than any other European city in terms of growth in those areas.”
And similar hubs are now popping up within universities, combining co-working spaces, networking opportunities and mentoring. Regent’s entrepreneurial Hive, for example, supports businesses run by former students covering everything from luxury swimwear to bitcoin cash machines and health food.
While the Hive doesn’t have a formal accelerator programme as such, Sethna says they are “doing all the things that a normal accelerator would do in-house for our students and alumni”.
“We have amazing facilities,” says Chi – a regular at the Hive – who uses the university library for research and the school’s Adobe software for media editing. “And I don’t need to pay for this. That’s amazing. I just cut my costs.”
The Hive’s events programme also includes a mix of operational workshops – such as how to write a business plan – and visits from notable speakers.
Such events always offer a very good networking opportunity for Chi, who has found both interns and business partners there. “I just advertise myself,” she says.
Each enterprise using the Hive also has an allocated mentor. “Some need occasional mentoring; a few are happy with an upfront injection of it, while others bask in the knowledge that their mentor is right there walking alongside them for a significant period of time,” says Sethna.
Indeed, Chi says she’s benefited from the availability of advice. “If I need personal advice, I can go every day, for instance.” The Careers and Business Relations (CBR) team helped her with creating internship contracts, as well as how to deal with a breach of copyright.
“Mentoring a fledgling business or indeed an advanced startup has been the cornerstone of the early activity in every enterprise I have worked with,” says Sethna. “Being able to share ‘best practice’ and ‘worst disasters’ first hand is always a good learning experience for the participants.”
Coincidentally, Sethna will be mentoring Chi, and the two are shortly to meet to discuss and plan the next phase of her entrepreneurial journey.
“We know that if we can provide fledgling or startup enterprises with that safe supportive environment, when they actually go out to investors or pitch in front of a dragon, they’re significantly more likely to secure that investment and gain that competitive advantage,” says Sethna. “They know what to expect in the big bad world out there.”
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