Louise Doyle of Mesma Limited
Entrepreneur Louise Doyle tells us what inspired her to launch her education software business Mesma Limited and explains how she got the business up and running.
Louise has been nominated for the BQ Festival's Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award. Book your tickets now by clicking here!
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Mesma provides quality assurance software and consultancy to the education sector; including schools, colleges, apprenticeship providers, universities and government departments.
What did you do before you started this business?
I ran (and continue to run) a small, established consultancy business serving the same client base but with a change leadership focus. I set it up to allow me to take more control over the balance between family life and work. It has served me very well for that purpose and resulted in my involvement in some exciting work in the education sector. Mesma is a very different prospect but my consultancy business certainly means I served my apprenticeship in running my own business. Prior to that I was a director at Sunderland College and held change/ programme management roles with Orange Telco (now part of EE) and British Airways.
What inspired you to start up?
My business partner! Or one of them at least. At the time, she worked for a client of mine and over coffee, we were lamenting the inefficiency of the self-review and quality improvement planning process; an expectation of the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework. I am pretty good at joining the dots between my connections so we brought Neil, now our Technical Director and third business partner, into the discussions. We knew we could work well together from the get go. That is singularly the most important factor for me. We make a good team with different perspectives, knowledge and skills.
How would you describe your business to a novice?
We exist to support improving the quality of education from early years to adulthood, by making quality assurance simple to understand and undertake for leaders and managers.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
We engage with specialists both formally and informally. For example, this has included, support to develop our business plan, engage potential funders, business development, marketing and international market expansion. We are particularly grateful to edot3, Sphera Consulting, RMT, NorthStar, Wherewithal Consulting, DTI and Edgy PR. Wherever possible, we use experts who are based in our region, as we hold a strong believe in supporting other businesses like ours. In terms of our subject expertise we have an extensive team of associate consultants who we draw on alongside a very productive partnership at Strategic Development Network. There are organisations in the North East who claim to support with mentoring but if I’m honest, we’ve heard a lot of talk but not much in the way of action so we’ve built our own networks.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
In the main, we have self-funded Mesma. Like many small businesses, we have built a product and service we are extremely proud of whilst also holding down demanding jobs. If there’s a will, there’s a way. We are also grateful for regional support from NBSL and have ongoing dialogue with NorthStar about our growth plans and possible funding support when it is available. It is a difficult balance to strike for small businesses; having the time to focus on our internal plans and engaging with the processes associated with accessing funding can be difficult for us on occasions.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
As I have alluded to, our business during the early years and even to a degree now, built as an addition to our other job roles. I look back now and I can’t believe we did it. To have the clients we have, who work with us year on year is something I am extremely proud of. Personally, I give up a significant amount of time working with schools in a voluntary capacity. I enjoy and see it as a real achievement that I’m able to apply what I learn at work in the context of supporting improving education standards.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
In many respects, the differentiation found us. What I mean by that is our original plan was to focus solely on the software, without consultancy playing a pivotal role. Over time, we saw that our clients valued our expertise in understanding the sector in which they and we operate and started to seek our support in not only implementing the quality assurance software but also developing the associated policies and processes. We stick very firmly to our core market and our core skillset. As we often say, we are far more than a software service; we have the educational expertise to back it up.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
I love being my own boss. Mainly because I’m really bad at working for other people. I work extremely long hours but I also have a degree of flexibility to ensure my work doesn’t impact too much on my family life. I really like that the buck stops with me. I am accountable for the success or failure of this business. I hope I’m able to get across to my children the drive it takes to make running your own business work, at the same time as rarely missing the important events in their lives. I hear of too many business owners who reflect on their experience and say, ‘I had lost years where I didn’t really see my children grow up’. I never wanted to or intend to be that sort of entrepreneur. Surely, it’s never worth that?
Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
We have a clear line of sight to our future. We will be significantly bigger, with growth being achieved through expansion in our existing markets, international markets and applying our software in contexts other than the education sector. 2017 has been an excellent year for us. 2018 will be even better.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t be afraid.
Be more patient than you may want to be.
Know that you will underestimate the time it will take to get to where you want to be.
Don’t feel you need lots of cash at the outset; sometimes it acts as a strange barrier to innovation.
What you do need is to be surrounded by the right people who share your vision. Partnerships with other businesses allow you to expand without the risk of taking on staff, drawing in expertise where necessary.
Why did you enter the BQ Emerging Entrepreneur Awards?
Someone kindly nominated me else. On that basis its only right, that I then put the effort in to completing my end of the bargain and accepting their nomination! It’s also important to me to show that business success comes in lots of shapes and forms. We’ve had an interesting, challenging route to establishing Mesma. I hope others can learn from this. People who find themselves in a similar position; ‘I’ve got a demanding job, I’ve got a mortgage but I’ve also got a really, really good idea I want to get off the ground.’ It is possible to do so at whatever stage of your career you’re in.
What would it mean to you to win an award?
It is a wonderful thing to be recognised for the work you’ve put in to something. More than that, I’d like that recognition to be shared with my business partners and the people who work hard alongside us to make Mesma successful. They’re all amazing.