Government’s new Entrepreneur in Residence Rekha Mehr on her plans for the role

Startups talks to Pistachio Rose founder Rekha Mehr about her new role acting as a voice for the start-up community

After fighting off competition from 200 applicants, Rekha Mehr has been named as one of the entrepreneurs in residence at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Alongside experienced business owner Lawrence Tomlinson, Mehr will provide business secretary Vince Cable with advice on how the government can do more to help businesses.

A start-up herself, after founding Indian desert and sweets business Pistachio Rose in February 2012, Mehr’s new role will see her championing start-ups and small businesses and striving for positive change.

In this exclusive interview, Mehr reveals what being the BIS Entrepreneur in Residence will really mean on a day-to-day basis and how she plans to change.

Tell us about yourself and your business: 

I started Pistachio Rose last February because I’m passionate about changing the face of Indian sweets and desserts in the UK. I feel there is a huge focus on Indian food in this country, but very little awareness of dessert. Many people have never tried traditional dishes or have been put off by its overwhelming richness, so I wanted to show that with careful balance, sweet Indian flavours can be delicate and sophisticated.

Before starting Pistachio Rose my career was in buying, first as an assistant at Waitrose and then at Amazon where I worked my way up from junior buyer to buying manager.

How is Pistachio Rose doing?

It’s going well. I spent a lot of time last year feeling frustrated that I could have achieved more, but, upon reflection, launching a luxury brand into Fortnum and Mason, generating publicity with BBC Food and the Evening Standard (alongside other food publications), recording an episode of Cooks to Market for Sky Living and establishing a presence in a highly competitive market is not a bad start I guess!

What does it mean to be named the new entrepreneur in residence? What, in essence is your job description?

It’s a great privilege to step into this role where I will essentially act as a voice for start-ups based upon my own experiences as well as those in the start-up community around me. I have also added to my remit, raising awareness of the existing resources that the government provide that are getting fewer lines of communication than they deserve because of a lack of budget.

How involved is the role? In what way is it more than just a PR stunt for government to prove that they are working with private enterprises?

I am speaking directly to influencers of change to help them see things from the point of view of a small business owner. These people are incredibly passionate about their projects and I provide direct feedback on existing programmes as well as upcoming initiatives.

What value do you hope to add as the new entrepreneur in residence?

I would love to see some tangible changes as a result of something that I’ve contributed to, be it improved content on gov.uk or wider communication of existing tools through alternative media channels resulting in a greater uptake. I also hope that by sharing my own honest accounts (via my Huffington post blog and on Business in You) of my start-up experiences, others will feel less isolated and seek support to help them achieve success.

How much competition was there for the role?

I understand there were 100 applicants for the role.

What do you think made you more qualified than the other candidates? What made you stand out?

The criteria read that you had to be running your first business, which must be under 12 months’ old and you needed to be able to communicate with senior people. I knew I ticked the first two boxes and the crux of my previous roles was communication at very senior levels both within each organisation and with external partners. I was up against five others during the interview process and at no stage did I think I had it, as I knew that others could have very unique businesses offering a different level of insight to mine.

Can you describe the process you had to go through before being selected? What due diligence did the government carry out on you?

It was an online application followed by two interviews and security checks. Other checks may well have been carried out but I wasn’t notified of them.

Do you have any specific personal targets you’d like to achieve as the new entrepreneur in residence?

I would like to see changes to gov.uk to improve the clarity of information on there and have already participated in two meetings on this subject. I would also like to see a greater uptake of mentoring schemes through mentorsme.co.uk as I believe this is a hugely underutilised resource that can have a significant impact on building confidence and successes for start-ups.

Have you been given any specific targets from government?

To speak openly and honestly during all meetings and uphold my role as an entrepreneur and not a government employee.

What is the on-going process of the role? How often will you meet with government? Who will you have direct contact with?

Officially it’s a day a week in office and I meet with BIS employees at all levels including directors, ministers, departmental secretaries, senior advisors (I will be meeting Lord Young in May) and external bodies with a vested interest in growing businesses – Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Technology Strategy Board (TSB) amongst many others.

How will you combine the challenges of running your business with devoting a day a week to the role? Are you worried the business may suffer?

Well I’m already spending a little more time on my duties under the role including all of the media communications and writing, but I’m passionate about the cause so I don’t mind. As I progress my business this year I may need to be a little stricter with myself!

Have you already seen some benefits to your business?

I’ve certainly been able to raise awareness about my business through my interviews but I have to say that the majority of interest has been about sharing my personal start-up experience.

 

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