When it comes to getting your career of the ground, having a professional mentor can really help. Not only can a mentor provide connections, but they can also offer insight and advice in times of trouble or in difficult situations.
The young entrepreneurs on The Environment Now team (also managed by the National Youth Agency), have all had the brilliant opportunity of accessing an O2 mentor to advise and guide them whilst developing their start-up.
We’ve spoken to David, a project leader and founder of The Bicycle Security Company (TSBC) and Ollie, a Bid Manager at O2, to find out the benefits of both having a mentor, and being one too.
Here’s what they said….
Hi David. Tell us about how TBSC first started out and what you wanted to achieve?
Having had my bike stolen in the first year of university, I wanted to come up with something that might have prevented that. My group and I came up with a business pitch and presented it at a trade fair at the end of the semester… and we won best idea which was encouraging.
Then during my third year of university, I had the opportunity to do a 12-month placement. I started off somewhere that wasn’t quite for me, as it didn’t have enough direction. I figured seeing as I had a business idea this was the perfect chance to take it forward. I got back in touch with the university, told them about the idea again and they introduced me to the RGU incubator. I pitched for some office space, which I was awarded. I then quit my 12-month placement and became a resident within the incubator.
My ambition for the year was to try it out and see what it could become!
What has The Environment Now meant for TBSC and your personal skills development?
It was the first funding I managed to secure. It was encouraging to know my idea was good and to have money in the business to get it going. I remember the weeks leading up to finding out whether I was successful or not, I was in a bit of a panic state, asking questions of ‘What will I do if I don’t get the funding?’ I was confident it was worth pursuing, I just didn’t know whether other people would think so as well.
When I got the funding, it cemented my ambition to make it something and the funding has really accelerated my business. Finally, having something physical to show for my ideas made it all worthwhile.
A couple of months ago I recruited two computer science students and an engineer, it was exciting to have a real team supporting my idea. As well as this I also had a potential client that was interested in what I’m doing and had the support of local authorities behind me. It was then I started to realise that my idea was becoming a reality and there was an opportunity to make it into something successful.
Hello Ollie, what’s your role at O2 and why did you want to be a mentor for The Environment Now?
I’m a bid manager at O2. We support sales pitches in acquiring new business and residing existing business. Our job is to work with all the subject manager experts internally, to pull together proposals and responses to customers, to showcase what O2’s proposition is or for what service they’re asking to review.
Typically, we engage with anything from 3-15 people to support sales pitches to the customer that showcase O2.
Moving from that, going through presentation stages with the customer, getting approved of concept together and then finally resulting in (hopefully) a contract we’ve signed business with.
For clarity, I work on smaller opportunities, but working with David I can see how the experience I’ve had over the last couple of years can help him to develop his idea and it’s been good for me as well.
I’m into fitness and the project was something around bicycles and businesses wanting to get involved in an eco-friendly industry as well.
I also think it’s a really reasonable business model, it’s something that there’s a definite need for, and looking at the way David had done his initial draft, his target audience and what he could put together with the budget The Environment Now is providing, this is a realistic opportunity.
I thought I could definitely add value, offering business mentorship to him.
Can you describe your experience of being a mentor to David?
The best way to interact is almost to offer your opinion and your advice, you’re not telling people to do anything, you’re just saying this is how I would approach it based on my experience and this would be a good route for you, but if David didn’t want to approach things that way than obviously that’s his prerogative. I think mainly, he’s taken all of my advice on board. I think it’s really good to see him and his business dynamically react to the advice that he’s been given.
It’s really interesting seeing him face legal issues. One of the examples would be getting NDAs in place; he didn’t have a clue how to do it and why would he? He’s at university, he’s never had to be wary of IP protection before. That’s my world so being able to offer him basic advice on what he should and shouldn’t be doing was gratifying.
I think for me, it’s really rewarding being able to offer him advice, getting him engaged in the wider O2 community and seeing him take the feedback on aboard and say actually I can make a really good go of this business based on advice from O2.
And David, how has Ollie helped you build TBSC?
I speak to Ollie every two weeks so it’s good updating him on things that are happening every so often.
What’s unique about Ollie is that first he wanted to speak every week and I was like ‘Woah, maybe that’s a bit too much’ so now it’s every two weeks. I guess it really forces me to get on with stuff so I have something to tell him every time we speak, whether it’s having engaged with whoever, or proved this idea or developed something… he’s been really good for direction.
Ollie recently invited you to visit the O2 Slough office to meet him and some of his colleagues. Please tell us how this came about, what you got up to and how they helped you with TBSC?
He invited me along to the Slough office to do a short presentation to some of his colleagues to let them know about The Environment Now and Go Think Big and the projects that O2 funds. There were some colleagues from the infrastructure side of O2, who were letting me know about what the installation of these might incur and also there was general business minded people that were helping me think through my business model and people I could target. Also just other cyclists that were in the building that he invited along who seemed interested in my idea.
It was a nice open discussion in the room for an hour after my presentation which was really valuable given everyone else was in groups and making more connections with O2. I’ve connected with a number of them on LinkedIn so it’s quite good having all these extra people that I can go back to and ask more questions to.
So Ollie, do you hope to keep in contact with David in the future after his 10 months on The Environment Now?
Yeah! Absolutely I will extend an offer to continue mentoring him for as long as he should need it. He’s definitely got a lot of challenges.
I would definitely like to stay in contact, as I can continue offering him advice!
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