The incubator ecosystem in action

Taking the risk

I started Blueberry Marketing Solutions 13 years ago as an uncertain 29-year-old looking to take on a challenge and progress in the business world. Although I was aware of the financial risks involved in running a start-up, I didn’t at the time consider how lonely it could be.

Luckily, setting up at the Leeds Beckett Business Incubator provided me with a ready-made peer-to-peer support network of businesses facing the same teething problems and challenges as me. The incubator had their own networks I could tap into – the Chambers of Commerce, solicitors, accountants and mentors. One event they ran even led to £20k worth of business – certainly more than you’d expect from renting an office space!

Initially, I had no defined path of where the business would grow to, however, access to the network surrounding me gave me the confidence I needed to act on opportunities, which helped me win more work and build my own team. The incubator also facilitated this growth in more practical ways; providing me with a flexible, scaleable and cost-effective base to grow from and allowing me to transition smoothly from a virtual office, to hot-desking, and then on to an office space.

Coming full circle

Blueberry Marketing now has 30 employees and offices in Leeds and Manchester city centres. While we may have flown the nest, the environment at the incubator in our formative years helped mould us as a company and left us with the culture we needed to grow and thrive. Our roots now run deeper throughout the ecosystem, with links to the business school and the university more generally.

This includes working within the university on recruitment, utilising career fairs and partnerships within specific departments; on student placements, of which we currently have four placement students who are helping us to diversify our service portfolio; and on staff training. Following an accredited course at Leeds Beckett, for example, one of our team even went on to win a Chartered Institute of Marketing award for top student in Yorkshire. We’ve also extended our links to other universities; for example, taking part in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme through the University of Leeds – another initiative which aims to foster the same ethos of peer-to-peer learning. In the near future, we aim to take advantage of the business focused research services the university offers.

This year things have come full circle and I’m fortunate enough to have taken on a role at the business school as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR). As a company we’ve dealt with over 500 clients in both public and private sectors, often looking at ways to help them grow. So, as an EIR, I’m able to give back some of what we’ve learnt along the way, working in a mutually beneficial two-way partnership. It’s the perfect illustration of how incubators and business schools have a role to play in nurturing a whole ecosystem of small businesses - the unsung heroes of the local economy.

How the incubator could work for you

For me, the incubator played a crucial role in those critical first few years. Just under 50% of new businesses fail in the first two years – but of the five businesses that started up at the incubator alongside mine, we’re all still going strong. Between us we are now 13 businesses, turnover £22million and employ over 300 people – and that’s not to mention the 11 businesses created from former Blueberry colleagues I am glad we made it through those first years!

It’s a real shame that more businesses aren’t aware of what is available to them – this is a gap which desperately needs bridging. As an individual that has benefitted personally from Leeds Beckett’s incubator, and as a company which works for several universities nationally, I’m passionate about promoting the clear synergy that universities, businesses and the wider community can all gain by working together. It’s what motivated me to understand more about the Small Business Charter and I’m always keen to shout about what the incubator did for me and what universities can do for businesses and individuals based on my own journey. So, if you would like to discuss how you can maximise this relationship for both academics and businesses, then get in touch!

Faresh Maisuria is Founder of Blueberry Marketing Solutions and an Entrepreneur in Residence at Leeds Beckett University. Blueberry Marketing is a business development & telemarketing agency which delivers projects across the public, private and third sectors.