Meet the MD: Jamie McGowan, Welsh Innovation for Enterprise (ICE)

Meet the MD: Jamie McGowan, Welsh Innovation Centre for Enterprise (ICE)

Jamie McGowan is the Campus Director of Wales’ Innovation Centre for Enterprise. He tells BQ about how he got to where he is and what it’s like running the country’s first campus for enterprise…

What is it the company does?

We are the first campus for enterprise in Wales. We are currently home to 200 businesses across three buildings. If someone is looking to get something started or explore a new idea we offer a desk or office space, mentorship, training, access to experts and as much tea and coffee as they can drink. Our objective is to help businesses start, grow and prosper.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

I manage the overall Campus, all 30,000 sq ft of it! This includes recruiting new members and mentors to join our community, organising workshops for members and leading our team of staff. I also work with the rest of the board to strategically steer the centre. At lunchtimes, I often play Street Fighter 2 on the Campus' mini-snes in reception - though I generally button bash my way to victory.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

As a student, I dropped out of a film degree to explore the world and do a bit of travelling. Travelling, whilst fun and enlightening, is expensive, so I started working in cocktail bars in Australia to be able to keep going. It turns out I am somewhat of a pernod prodigy, and after learning how to make a mean Cosmo, I was hooked on working with and serving people.

I returned to the UK and threw myself into a career in hospitality. I ended up being involved at a senior management level in restaurants and bars, which took me from Cambridge to East London, to Luton and finally to Wales where I found my home.

In 2015 the opportunity to join ICE as Community Manager came up, and sick of the late nights in a bar, I made the move and haven’t looked back since.

Being a customer service geek helps massively when running an Innovation centre, our team has got to be on hand for all manner of requests and queries, particularly when working with the start-up community.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

Being present, behaving with integrity and encouraging play. The power of play is so important; the positive results that can be seen in a team when the day is broken up with regular improvisation and play is incredible. Starting a business is tough, but when your business is helping others start, you share their tests and troubles. By bringing a spirit of fun and creating a positive atmosphere, we help people realise that there is always a solution to any problem.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

We made some really painful changes to the setup last year, founders moved on and we changed some long-term suppliers. It was hard at the time, but necessary to move the business in the direction we thought best. The upside is that now we have a renewed focus and a streamlined business heading in 2018.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

We are fortunate to have a great community at the campus so games such as five-a-side football on a Monday night is always nice. I’m a genuinely terrible player but it gives me the chance to burn off a little stress. We also have a weekly running club at ICE which is a real stress buster, we are situated in some beautiful Welsh hills and woods and getting out there on a lunch-time really helps.

We also have spaces at ICE designed to help people relax. In reception, we have a lounge area with comfy chairs, a TV and a games console. We have a few tournaments set up for the more competitive amongst us. We also have a ping-pong table which is always popular.

There is also a restaurant, coffee shop and bar on site if people want to unwind after a long week.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I actually wanted to be a dog, but when my mum convinced me that wasn’t possible I decided to be a cartoonist. I still draw today and get a number of chances to flex my creative muscles in my current role.

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

Negativity. You’ve got to surround yourself with people who smile and see the joy in things. Criticism is good and should be encouraged, but it should be productive and positive results should always be the goal. We’ve managed to curate a community of like-minded individuals here at ICE and will continue to do so. We have a big picture mentality and that rubs off on our entrepreneurs and staff.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

In a nutshell, expansion. More space for businesses to grow, different types of spaces for different types of businesses to join our community and more fun spaces to help people enjoy a better work-life balance. Our 10-year vision is to have 1000 businesses working, playing, socialising and living on our Campus here in Caerphilly, creating something truly unique and a European first.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Listen to your customers and learn from your peers. Try to connect with people who are six months ahead of you and listen to them. There is a great deal of value in reaching out for help and sharing what you know if you can help others. If you can accept that you will always need to learn and improve, then there is no limit to how much you can develop as a person and as a business. If you take each step at a time, you can travel incredible distances.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

No matter how difficult or frustrating you may find some moments in your career, you're not alone. As the old saying goes 'there's nothing new under the sun', and the chances are the problems you are facing have been faced before, so ask for help more often.