I’ve scaled and sold two businesses for £158M; you can do it too with a startup hub

Serial entrepreneur and investor, David Newns explains what a startup hub is and how it can supercharge your business ambitions.

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Written and reviewed by:
David Newns

The path to starting a business can be many things. Exciting, hugely rewarding, addictive, and almost always difficult.

With my investor hat on, I love being able to support the next generation of startup talent. For me it’s not just about capital, but also the knowledge and network I’ve gained from building, scaling and selling two businesses for £158M so far.

I know firsthand that having access to smart knowledge, a rich talent pool, and funding can not only help you overcome the many challenges, but also succeed at speed.

Startup hubs are good places to find entrepreneurs like you and investors like me, and can be ideal places to help you grow your business. So how do they work? And how do you join one?

What is a startup hub?

First, it’s helpful to define what a startup hub is. For many, it’s simply a geographical area, such as Silicon Valley or Silicon Roundabout, or a city like Sheffield or Manchester.

For some, it’s an incubator or an accelerator, also known as a Catapult. For me, it can even be a venture capitalist (VC); though almost all are hands-off.

The startup hub I helped co-found, Fearless Adventures, not only invests in startups, it provides office space, strategic advice, and growth support in everything from marketing and recruitment.

Regardless of how you define them, successful hubs shouldn’t be performative. They should genuinely support our country’s most promising entrepreneurs and help make their early-stage startup as successful as possible.

What can they give you?

Fantastic funding, great growth, big valuations and huge exits. To achieve this, whether the startups are from first-time entrepreneurs, or more experienced founders, there are two things that are absolutely mission-critical: money and talent.

On the former, the most important thing founders need is capital. Whether that’s from the hub itself or the hub offers support to make that happen, capital is absolutely vital to every startup, which can remain pre-revenue for three to four years.

The second most important thing is a strategic advisor. For me, it is absolutely preferable to be mentored by someone who has been there and done it (i.e. successfully built and exited at least one startup of note) rather than someone who hasn’t.

The strategic advisor role shouldn’t be underestimated. It should be someone who shares the founder’s/team’s excitement about the business. She or he is someone to build the founder’s confidence, to answer all the stupid questions, and make introductions to industry leaders.

A founder shouldn’t just encounter these people at board meetings, or formal progress meetings, which I’ve found can descend into investors or mentors trying to sound more important than each other rather than add value to the founder.

A good advisor should be able to genuinely help over a casual lunch or coffee. Many funds have bright young graduates doing these roles in VCs, or perhaps more seasoned advisors from management consultancies, or experts who have completed coaching courses.

The growing importance of diversity

When it comes to advisors, there’s no match for former founders who succeeded. They have empathy, can judge when to step in and step back, and truly embrace rather than avoid pivots – they know your idea will change multiple times to find the perfect product-market fit.

To make sure everyone has a bite at the apple, there needs to be a fairer and more diverse startup ecosystem; including a greater focus on the regions and more diversity among founders and investors.

I’m seeing progress being made thanks to personal passions of people running hubs, particularly around big university hubs like Edinburgh, Manchester, and Cambridge.

That said, you might want to seek out hubs that are particularly supportive of founders who are women, from an ethnic minority background or those in the LGBTQ+ community, as there are increasing numbers of those hubs looking to invest in more diverse entrepreneurs.

There’s no ‘I’ in startup hub

Other support roles that can make a vital difference between success and failure include marketers, recruiters, financial managers, and mentorship.

In early-stage startups, founders are typically doing all these roles themselves, then outsourcing in a fractional way, and perhaps hiring people into key positions. But for top talent, it’s a gamble between good salaries right away versus the promise of a big payout down the line.

That’s why anywhere you can access brilliant marketers, financial managers, and mentors, even if shared among a few fellow founders, can drive you forward far faster than you could on your own. And it will boost your chance not just of surviving, but thriving.

Written by:
Reviewed by:
David Newns

David Newns is an investor and serial entrepreneur. The creator and co-founder of Fearless Adventures, a venture capital company, he is a prolific innovator, with his companies having filed more than 1,000 patents.

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