Interview: Francesca James, co-founder of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards

Tech Dragons recently caught up with Francesca James, who set up the Great British Entrepreneur Awards as a way to highlight the success of innovators and companies from across the UK.

TD: Who are you, and what do you do?

FJ: I’m Francesca James and like most entrepreneurs, I wear a few hats. I run Amplified Business Content, we’re a publishing and events business based in Cardiff and London. We put on conferences, own several b2b publications and create lots of content, but my main focus right now is the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards.

TD: What is your company?

FJ: Now in its sixth year, the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards acknowledges the hard work and inspiring stories of entrepreneurs and businesses in Great Britain. The Awards has celebrated some outstanding entrepreneurs who have gone on to become household names, including Julie Deane of the Cambridge Satchel Company and James Watt of BrewDog.

Yes, we’re an awards ceremony but above and beyond that, we’re developing an ecosystem of entrepreneurs and their mentors and working on a number of initiatives that seek to support, encourage and enable the next generation of entrepreneurs.

TD: Why did you set it up?

FJ: When we launched in 2012 we were aware that there were lots of awards ceremonies out there. We’d been in the b2b publishing game for years and as such involved in lots of other programmes, but we knew that most of the existing awards focussed on the business and not the entrepreneur and financials rather than the journey. Our key differentiator is that we celebrate and recognise that true entrepreneurs are as much about their story as they are about their balance sheet.

I’m passionate about what I do because I believe that it is vital that British entrepreneurs are championed. Entrepreneurs inject competition into markets, create jobs and spur innovation. In many cases their businesses change the ways in which we live and work.

TD: What makes your business unique?

FJ: We’ve been called ‘the benchmark for entrepreneurial success  in Great Britain and many of our winners regularly say that we’re ‘ the gift that keeps on giving’. Comments like that are testament to the hard work the team are doing behind the scenes to ensure that we build and retain an engaged and supportive alumni and don’t just simply put on a glitzy event at the end of the year.

Last year we really started to become what I’ve always wanted our organisation to be; an incredibly powerful eco-system of entrepreneurs and mentors who are passionate about supporting the entrepreneurship agenda. We’ve launched several initiatives that have allowed us to become far more than ‘just an awards ceremony’ including publishing a new magazine for ‘Great British Entrepreneurs’, partnerships that add value to alumni (mentoring, support, access to funding), events with purposeful networking and meaningful introductions as well as media outreach on behalf of winners and partners.

Outside of the awards and as a business, I think it’s our team that makes us unique. At 30 I’m one of the oldest and there’s 27 of us.  We’ve recruited and built an incredibly talented young team. We’re able to offer quite unique opportunities to those who want to work on projects that would usually be limited to a career in London. We give lots of responsibility to our team from the offset, it’s served us well and they rise to the challenge and thrive. I’ve been really impressed with the talent pool in Cardiff and it was absolutely the right decision for us.

TD: What has been its biggest success and biggest obstacle?

FJ: It sounds trivial but one of the biggest obstacles to our growth when moving the business from London to Cardiff was connectivity. We’d built a great talented team, had an amazing office space opposite the castle (with a roof garden!) but we were struggling to get a good internet connection, which perhaps naively being in the city centre I thought would be easy/a given. After exploring all of our options we went for a leased line, it was pricey, so much so that I’d imagine it would be out of reach for many start-ups.

Biggest success? I’d say it’s a culmination of a number of things coming together. Earlier this year we had the launch event for the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2018. I was blown away when I stepped back and took stock of what we had achieved. We had so many wonderful comments from judges and applicants saying how much they enjoyed the programme and how rewarding it is to be a part of, from a personal and business point of view. When someone tells you they secured investment as a direct result of being associated with something you’ve created and built, that’s quite special.

TD: Where do you see yourself and the firm in five years’ time?

FJ: We’re working on some pretty exciting projects right now including entrepreneur missions to China and India. We’ve also had interest in a Great British Entrepreneurs TV programme and even film. I’m also leading the launch of our first ever tech product which I’m incredibly excited about.

TD: What advice would you give to the next generation of business people?

FJ: Starting a business can be exhilarating, rewarding and fun, but can be exhausting, relentless and stressful in equal measure. Just like any endeavour, taking advice from those who have already made mistakes and achieved their own successes despite setbacks is a sure fire way to minimise the risks of lessons being learnt the hard way.