Saturday, 19 January 2013

My Experience of The Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards and Why You Should Enter

It was nearly midnight one evening, in January 2012, when I sent off a last-minute application to The Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards. I tapped out my entry in between mouthfuls of coffee and as I hit the big green 'submit' button, I had no idea what I'd just started. 

When an e-mail landed in my inbox a few days later informing me I had been shortlisted, I was struck by the feeling that every start-up founder knows well - one of simultaneous excitement and pressure. As I scanned the list of my fellow finalists, I spotted BrewDog on the list and felt a bit nauseous. BrewDog. Surely Scotland only had room for one trashy blonde? 

On the first day of March I headed to Edinburgh University to pitch in the eighth and final regional heat. Where I had two minutes to pitch to a judging panel comprising of local business leaders, Lloyds TSB professionals and advisors from business support organisations. Two minutes is not a very long time, so being concise and articulate was key. I had to get across where my idea had come from, what I'd done so far, and what my plans were for the future. 

When everybody had pitched, we were joined by more local businesses and other influential professionals in the region for a champagne networking reception and a three course lunch. I wasn't sure what I was more excited about; drinking bubbly in the middle of the day or having my very own Little Riot table. I mean, how cool is that?

After lunch we heard a brief speech from Fiona Godsman from the Scottish Institute for Enterprise about what define an  "entrepreneur". When it was finally time for the announcement of winners, everyone around my table wished me good luck. 

Incredibly, Scotland did have room for two trashy blondes after all, and Little Riot scooped "Best Start Up" and BrewDog taking "Best Enterprise", the award for more established businesses. What followed next was flurry of congratulations, press interviews and photographs.

As the Scottish heat was the last one, I didn't have long to wait until the grand final. Taking place in Liverpool to coincide with the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, I now had to pitch against the 'Best Start Up' winners from the other seven regions. The panel of judges this time was verging on intimating, with individuals including Kamal Ahmed, the Business Editor of The Telegraph and Jamie Murray-Wells, founder of opticians giant Glasses Direct

Having thought the regional heat lunch was impressive, I was blown away by the set up for the black tie awards dinner that evening. Sporting my first ever full-length frock, Lloyds treated myself and the other finalists (and guests!) like VIP celebrities all evening. Although, it must be said, having to eat whilst facing an Andy-Warhol'd picture of my own face was a little disconcerting!

Best Start-Up went to KwickScreen and Best Enterprise went to Yasa Motors. I was also still a winner that night, as I was lucky enough to win tickets to the Olympics in a prize draw! I met a lot of great contacts, loved every minute of socialising with other young entrepreneurs, and had a whale of a time with my Andy Warhol face.

The Lloyds TSB Awards are open to anyone who has founded or co-founded their own business, who is a university student or a graduate from within the last five years. You can check out the website and submit an application here.  You've got just under two weeks!

So why should you enter? There are loads of business competitions out there, right? What's so different about this one? This one is different because it's not just a competition, it's a gateway into an amazing networking and ongoing support. Lloyds TSB don't just give you a trophy and some cash and leave you to it, they actually care what happens to you and want to support the people they've gone to the effort of crowning winners.

What did I get from it? Of course, I got £1,000 cash, a weighty trophy and the accolade of being a winner. That is what you get from most competitions, but it was all the other things that really helped my business move forward. I received two incredible mentions in the Sunday Telegraph and the words written about me by the Telegraph's Business Editor still both humble and motivate me every day.

A few months after the awards, Lloyds TSB took all the winners to London and laid on an incredible day of workshops and training for us. We learned about recruiting people, intellectual property and how to conduct ourselves in media interviews. We had the opportunity to catch up with our fellow winners, swap stories and advice, and the day culminated with a drinks reception in the Houses of Parliament. What other competition has ever given you that?

Other benefits have included mentorship from a Lloyds TSB manager and being chosen as a 'poster girl' for this year's awards. I  had an exciting photoshoot day, the results of which are now on the business banking website and on posters and leaflets at universities across the country.

There are lots of reasons why you should enter, and if you get even a small piece of what I have from the experience, then you are a winner by any means.

(NB. This post wasn't sponsored by Lloyds - they didn't even ask me to do it - it was written off my own back and I mean every word :)

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

2012 In Review

Due to ongoing problems I've been having with Google Apps for Business, I have been unable to log into Blogger for ages. Even though it is now mid-January, I'm going to reflect on 2012, as I like to look back over a year and work out what it meant to me and recognise the defining moments throughout it.

January actually changed a lot of things for me. I was in a minor car accident and although this didn't directly have an impact on my life (just my poor car!), the events that panned out in the following hours/days - and the circumstances that evolved from the whole situation - altered the way I look at a lot of things. 

One of the positive things to come from the turbulence was that I moved Little Riot into its first office - the collaborative Ignite100 loft in Newcastle. I couldn't have asked for a cooler place, or a better bunch of people to work with. And the good news is, if you fancy it, you can come too

I was also video-interviewed for a feature on ABC News New York :) 

Well into my burst of Business-related productivity by February, I was lucky enough to be asked to go along to Entrepreneur Week in Athens, Greece. I was part of a delegation along with five other young entrepreneurs, several of whom have become good friends. 

In March I won "Best Start Up" in the Scottish category of the Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards. I had a very exciting day in Edinburgh where I pitched to a panel of judges, followed by a swanky lunch at my very own Little Riot table.

A few weeks later, I attended the grand final in Liverpool, during the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. I pitched to a pretty cool bunch of people and wore a really epic dress to the black tie dinner, thanks to Coast :) 

In April I continued to work really hard and also visited John in Dubai. Working hard was a lot easier with a cracking view of Dubai Marina! I had brunch in the Burj Al Arab, which was incredible. 

May was a cracking month for press. It started with a double page spread in Scottish newspaper The Courier... and ended up with a mention in Marie Claire magazine, in between a dildo and a sex chair. Sorry, mum. 

Looking back now, all I did in June and July was work flat out. It was a critical time for the company and I gave 110% and then some to make sure everything worked out. The highlight of these months was one rare afternoon when I managed to get out in the sunshine and ride my horse :-)

At the start of August I went to the Olympics, after being lucky enough to win tickets at the Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards earlier in the year. It was really cool to be part of something so huge and Lloyds spoiled me as a guest.

I also closed  a pretty big business deal which has changed my life, business and personal, in both good ways and bad.

At the start of September I visited three cities in Germany as part of a creative business exchange. Myself and Olivia from Blue Iris Films were shown round various agencies, businesses and organisations. The highlight for me was visiting the Red Dot Design Museum

I also spent some time in Scotland and celebrated my birthday early, with my best buddies :)

I turned 25 on day three. Half way to fifty, gulp. Spent the day judging the Shell LiveWIRE Awards and then had a nice, albeit bizarre, night out with people from the office. 

Visited Liverpool again as a shortlister in The Pitch and met some cool people. 

Ran my first 10k adventure run!

Had a great day in London thanks to Lloyds TSB and their ongoing support of the winners from their Enterprise Awards. It culminated with drinks in the Houses of Parliament. Lovely wine, I can see where my tax is going ;-)

I was a finalist the the Woman of the Future Awards and got to met Dame Kelly Holmes and James Caan. Little Riot was also listed in the Real Business/Wonga 'Future 50'.

I also wrote my first blog for The Huffington Post which seemed to be well-received. 

This month was busybusy and then I was wiped out by the flu in the run up to Christmas which was fairly inconvenient! December was the month I finally got to know this year's cohort of Ignite100 teams, which I wish I'd done sooner.

All in all, 2012 was a fairly positive year. A few ups and downs - as with everything - but I'll definitely always look back on it as a good one, overall. Here's hoping 2013 will continue in a similar way!