IoD 99 is the latest innovation in the IoD’s commitment to entrepreneurial endeavour. As Alex Mitchell, chair of the IoD 99, explains, this peer-to-peer network is bringing talented new blood into the fold and helping new businesses thrive
In the last 10 years, the UK has undergone a massive cultural shift. When it comes to business start-ups, we’ve gone from a ‘not-sure’ to ‘can-do’ attitude. We’ve seen more and more people graduating and starting their own micro-enterprises. Their educational establishments have helped them through ‘accelerator’ and ‘incubator’ schemes. And we’re starting to see the parents of young people saying: “Yes, entrepreneurialism is a viable career choice.”
No wonder a record-breaking 581,173 businesses were registered with Companies House last year – up by almost 97,000 in just two years. Add this new spirit of derring-do to the inbuilt advantages of being a youthful entrepreneur – at that age, you’re less likely to have a mortgage or dependants – and, if you’re a young person in the UK wanting to start up a new business, there’s clearly been no time like the present.
Since its establishment more than a century ago, the IoD has been a leading champion of start-ups and entrepreneurial growth, so it’s brilliant to see so many young individuals take charge of their own destinies. Inevitably, though, there’s a failure rate, and a lot of great businesses in Britain are struggling to get through the crucial first 18 months – the toughest period for a start-up – to the stage where they can start scaling up.
Introducing the IoD 99
It was with all the above in mind that, at the end of 2014, the IoD launched a pilot scheme: the IoD 99. Our aim was to attract and nurture 99 young entrepreneurs who had never been engaged with the IoD before – people trying to get their idea off the ground and create a viable, sustainable, commercial entity, then, hopefully, grow to become wealth, job and skill creators – and establish a network of young start-up founders. Over the course of a year, the vision we had was for these young entrepreneurs to support each other, grow together, act as a peer-to-peer mentoring network, and at the same time benefit from the IoD’s support and advice.
We did absolutely no marketing for the scheme, except for social media and word of mouth. Yet the places filled up in just six weeks – and the IoD 99 was born. Participants were surprised by the accessibility of the IoD – many assumed it exists just for established businesses, not newer, smaller entities.
The overwhelmingly positive response to the scheme confirmed that there is a demand for this type of support, so we decided to look at rolling out the scheme on a regular basis – 99 places every quarter – and the results have been remarkable. The places filled up well before the closing date for entries.
Diversity has been a strength, not just the male/female mix, but also the nature of businesses: we’ve got augmented reality companies, modelling agencies, hot tub providers, social enterprises working in Africa, skip manufacturers… the lot. Feedback and engagement have been strong, and the Facebook and LinkedIn groups are very active. It’s grown naturally.
The saga’s almost written itself. The ‘99-ers’, as they’re now called, are spreading the word: we’ve got spouses, siblings and friends of existing members joining the IoD 99. We’ve had people hear of us on Twitter and send in a completed application form within 15 minutes. And they’re all really proactive in supporting each other, answering each other’s questions, actively taking part on a regional basis. Now they’re keen to meet established IoD members with whom they could potentially do business. We’ve also had amazing support from organisations such as Tech City, the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Entrepreneurship, Campus London… all the established enterprise bodies which help start-ups grow. In short, it has real organic momentum.
We’ve now got 500 in the IoD 99 network, and would love to hear from others keen to get involved, not to mention existing IoD members who want to interact, trade with or support 99-ers. Ultimately, business success is about everyone, young or old, realising their potential.
How to get involved with the IoD 99…
Successful applicants to the IoD 99 scheme get to join the IoD for £99. Applicants should be aged between 18 and 40, be the founder (or co-founder) of their own business/ organisation and should not have been an IoD member in the past two years. If you would like to find out more or recommend someone for the scheme, please email the membership team.