Continuing on the theme of networking, the highlight for me this week was without a doubt attending the very first OxfordshireSOUP in Witney. SOUP?
Originally from Chicago and firmly taking root in cash-strapped Detroit in 2010, the SOUP concept boils down to locals growing local businesses collectively through innovative crowdfunding.
A brilliantly simple concept which was picked up by local business owner and entrepreneur Tina Marshall of Creating Sense:
Does Oxfordshire need SOUP?!
Now, Oxfordshire is an affluent part of the world and certainly compared to cities like Detroit, where SOUP has had an incredible impact. Oxfordshire has a comparatively huge range of free business support for start-ups and small companies to tap into, and for those who know to go about it, great opportunities to find private funding.
That’s just as well, because the UK now has 5 million micro businesses compared to 3,5 million in 2000. In a 2015 report the RSA puts this growth down to factors such as rising skill levels, technological developments and government-driven deregulation. Oxfordshire, with its easy connections to the capital and the M4 corridor and of course world class education and research has become a hotbed of innovation and spin-offs. You’d think there’s plenty of start-up money to go round.
For those of us who start up on our own, funding is in surprisingly short supply in Oxfordshire with the disappearance of publicly funded resources such as the Growth Accelerator programme and local start-up grants. Unless you bring your own capital or are lucky enough to have funding in place already, getting funding for your start-up has become much harder in the last few years.
Bringing businesses together
The winning pitch was delivered by Catherine Warrilow or Seriously PR, who presented the brilliantly obvious idea of a Tinder-type app for work experience opportunities. The audience which had gathered consisted of small and larger businesses, councillors, the media and representatives of Wood Green School where the event took place, and the room rippled with ‘ingenious – why didn’t I think of that?’ sentiment.
Runners up Ken Norman of Flock Comedy and Clare Turnham of Only With Love may not have walked away with the £1,000 pot, but they spent the morning being congratulated on being the first to stand up and pitch and making new contacts. As there were some exceedingly well-connected people in the room, the event will undoubtedly pay dividends to them too.
Meanwhile a lot of business networking was going on over breakfast, aided by lively discussions of the pitches that had just been delivered. Where many networking events can feel rather contrived, at this one the room moved about as people grabbed breakfast, sought out opinions, chatted to the ‘contestants’ and made a trip to the ballot box.
The whole thing was done and dusted by 9.30am and I daresay everyone left with a grin to start their working day with renewed energy. I’ll be looking forward to the next one later this year!