Tech City launches mentorship programme for UK entrepreneurs

London 2012 Olympic Park, home to Tech City
The London 2012 Olympic Park, home to Tech City

The Tech City Investment Organisation (TCIO) has launched a mentorship programme that it hopes will unite entrepreneurs heading up London’s new wave of digital start-ups with experienced industry figures.

The programme will include monthly "speed mentoring" sessions and an online matchmaking-style service. This aims to unite entrepreneurs with the right mentor to help their business grow.

Kevin Eyres, who is listed as Talent Champion for TCIO, said: "There’s a huge value in having someone available who can say ‘I have been here before’ to help others learn from their successes and failures."

"The basic assets for success are already in place in Tech City and momentum around the area is growing. With the mentorship programme, we want to ensure the area reaches its full potential by linking new, creative minds with established talent so they can benefit from their experience," he added.

TCIO hopes to have 100 mentors signed up to the service by the end of the year. The first "speed mentoring" session will kick-off with 13 mentors and entrepreneurs.

Brent Hoberman, co-founder of Lastminute.com, said: "As an entrepreneur and as an investor, I’ve seen what a dramatic impact a good mentor can have on a start-up business. It’s great to see a programme like this, in what is already a flourishing technology community. The programme will really help facilitate access to mentors, which will not only help amplify the growth of the area but help make start-ups in London and the UK more competitive."

TCIO was set up by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) shortly after David Cameron outlined his plans for Tech City, which aims to extend the existing hub of digital start-ups around the Old Street area of east London right out to the Olympic Park in Stratford.

The area has been a hotbed of digital talent for a while now and has become known as Silicon Roundabout, after Silicon Valley in the US. The aim is to drawn big technology firms such as Google and Intel to the area to help start-ups develop.

But the scheme has not met with universal praise. Speaking to CBR, Chris Downs, founder of Levelbusiness.com, said: "We’re already losing people to the big guys such as Google. Is it wise to invite them in? It’s tough to attract developers as it is. Do we need them there? It sounds great politically but may not help us much."

However the mentorship idea is one that has worked in Silicon Valley, so why not here? Speaking to CBR earlier this year, Victoria Ransom, co-founder and CEO of social media marketing firm Wildfire Interactive, said: "The thing about Silicon Valley is that everyone is thinking about entrepreneurship. If you go into a coffee shop in Palo Alto everyone in there is either an investor or an entrepreneur. You get so sucked in that you think, ‘Why wouldn’t I be an entrepreneur?’"

Success stories from Silicon Roundabout include Songkick, which lets users organise and track their favourite bands and receive alerts about concert dates, business card maker Moo.com, and online music site Last.fm, which was sold to media firm CBS for around £140m.

Other companies based around the famous Old Street roundabout (where the Silicon Roundabout moniker comes from) include travel site Dopplr, sold to Nokia for between €10m-€15m, and TweetDeck, the social media app that was recently sold to Twitter itself for a reported $40m-$50m.

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