Entrepreneurship programmes in the UK

Oli Barrett MBE looks at the entrepreneur programmes at the heart of the entrepreneurial ecosystem - and the people behind them

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Sometimes we meet at EAT. Sometimes it’s Starbucks. Once, we were allowed into the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse.

Each time I help to host a mission overseas, I look forward to that early-morning start, and our meeting at Heathrow. Up to 20 company representatives, often founders, joined by assorted sponsors, partners and journalists. Over that first hot cup of coffee we shake hands, share a joke, glance at the departure boards. A feeling of nervous anticipation. The quiet hunch… It’s going to be a good week.

There is something powerful about bringing a cohort of people together. At school, we experience this in classes. Less exciting though, because we have to be there. When we’ve applied to something, been selected and started the journey – that’s when it gets exciting.

Over the last few months I’ve been meeting a number of people behind a range of interesting entrepreneur programmes. All seem to deliver valuable experiences of training and mentoring, and yet one of the greatest benefits seems to be the bringing together of great, highly motivated people. When you see them together, sometimes on-stage, sometimes in a bar, you know they have bonded. And you know that the organisers have done a special thing.

Here are the top entrepreneurship programmes in the UK:

  1. Entrepreneur First

    In their words: “The graduate programme for aspiring tech entrepreneurs.”

    Whereas lots of accelerator programmes expect you to have an idea,Entrepreneur First is looking for talent, which it then helps to find an idea and team. Their 2012-13 programme saw 32 participants team-up to build 11 start-ups, which have collectively achieved a valuation of over £22m.

    People to know: Matt Clifford and Alice Bentinck also star alumnus Emily Brooke.

  2. Wayra

    In their words: “One of the main accelerators of the global ICT sector, if you form part of an entrepreneurial team and have an innovation, business idea, solution, design or project that meets a need any other digital field associated with the web environment or mobile software, even if we do not yet know about it, whether or not you have created a company, Wayra can help you make it come true.”

    Owned by telco giant Telefonica, Wayra (who I have hugely enjoyed working with over the past year or so) provides cash, office space (in one of 13 academies) and mentoring support to early stage tech start-ups, in return for equity.

    People to know: Simon Devonshire (Wayra Europe) and Charmaine Eggberry (Wayra London)


  3. The Marketing Academy

    In their words: “Turning the marketing talent of today into the leaders of tomorrow.”

    I struggle to recall meeting a brighter bunch of sparks than when I attended a Marketing Academy boot-camp last year. The intake is a blend of talented (typically young) execs from brand-land, entrepreneurs and charity sector high fliers. The mentor list is incredibly impressive, with CEOs and Marketing Directors of blue chip firms lining up to pass on their expertise.

    People to know: Sherilyn Shackell and Camilla Woodhouse.

  4. School of Communication Arts 2.0

    In their words: “The UK’s top ad school.”

    Marc Lewis is looking for talent and he doesn’t care about your grades. Students from the School of Communication Arts 2.0 get a stunning number of job offers from top agencies and benefit from a mentor pool which contains some of ad-land’s A-listers.

    People to know: Marc Lewis

  5. On Purpose

    In their words: “We develop the best professionals into the next generation of social enterprise leaders. We run a one-year, full time, leadership programme that combines paid work placements with weekly training and regular one-to-one coaching and mentoring.”

    Companies which have offered places to On Purpose cohorts include Comic Relief, O2, Ben and Jerry’s and Just Giving. Each cohort attends regular gatherings for coaching, training and mentoring.

    People to know: Tom Rippin

  6. New Entrepreneurs Foundation

    In their words: “Our vision is to create a new generation of outstanding entrepreneurs who will build market leading businesses and play a key role in driving Britain’s future growth and prosperity. Our mission is to provide the UK’s leading entrepreneurial training programme to fast-track young, talented, aspiring entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.”

    The 12-month New Entrepreneurs Foundation course combines a paid work placement in a high growth company, a 10-month fast-track programme with workshops from corporate sponsors (including Deloitte, McKinsey and Tesco), monthly speaker & networking events, coaching and mentoring.

    People to know: Zara Pearson and Neeta Patel

  7. Year Here

    In their words: “Year Here creates transformative experiences igniting social purpose and the drive needed to see it through. We host smart, curious, creative young’uns looking for something more. Whether you’re a soon-to-be school leaver or a recent graduate, we have a programme designed specifically for you.”

    Designed to woo the savvy young person away from their overseas Gap-Year adventure, Year Here is a relatively new kid on the block and certainly on to watch.

    People to know: Jack Graham

Which programmes have I missed? I’d love to know!

I’ve travelled overseas with over 150 company founders on trade missions to San Francisco, Boston, Bangalore and Delhi. At the end of each week, we sit down and ask the companies to name the highlight of their week. Was it a particular visit? A VC pitch or a journalist interview? Each time they say the same thing. The highlight was meeting each other. They don’t say it in a misty-eyed “just because you’re here” way. They mean it.


I find it hard to travel through an international airport without bumping into one of them. Whether at a party or in the street, I absolutely love seeing them again. And each time it reminds me.  Bringing good people together matters. It’s challenging, great fun, and hugely rewarding. At the end of this month, I’m off to Brazil with another 20 companies. Secretly, I can’t wait for that first cup of coffee at Heathrow.

Oli Barrett MBE, is a founder of Cospa , the co-sponsorship agency that helps to create and deliver social action projects, such as Tenner, Missions, Build-It, and Speed Mentoring. He is also a founder of StartUp Britain and hosts our Startups Awards

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