Mike Hughes finds a new spark of entrepreneurialism in the middle of Leeds.
You know the feeling – you have an evening free for a good film on the TV, but haven’t got a clue what to watch. Reviews can be helpful, but you need to trust your reviewer, and they might not share your particular likes and dislikes. So what if you could instantly ask a group of friends for their recommendations?
That’s the scenario that drove film fan Neil McClure to launch Filmies, an app that takes in your mood, environment and preferences, sorts through its library of highly-detailed recommendations from other users and shows you what you what you were looking for. It can then guide you to a streaming site that has that film available at the best price.
The key is in the metadata the app uses, with search tags including phrases such as ‘Friday night’ ‘thinker’, ‘cool’ and ‘twist ending’.
“I’m a management consultant by profession, and I think that has helped me get my plans in order for Filmies,” said Neil, who lives in York and has a base at the Entrepreneurial Spark offices in Park Cross Street, Leeds. “But I’ve always been a big film fan and have had personal experience of how frustrating it can be to rely on the recommendations from some of the algorithms sites were using. What I liked to watch six months ago might not be the same thing I want to watch on that particular night at that particular time.
“I just had the idea that I could do something about it and bring in peer-to-peer suggestions and discoveries using a tagging system instead of 1,000-word reviews that people just don’t have time for.
“I’m not a technical person myself and certainly couldn’t write code, so I started an online campaign to find a Chief Technical Officer and found Alan Reitsch.”
With Alan on board, the mix was right to press on with this social network for film fans, which is due to release a Beta version by the end of the year. Neil’s experience gives a different viewpoint than other BQ stories. This spark of innovation has come to someone in a well-paid full-time job. He’s not building success like many inspirational entrepreneurs, his challenge is to REbuild it and see how far his redirected faith in his own abilities will take him.
“We got a small crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs which has just closed after we exceeded our target and got £18,500. Interestingly, that was broken down into 86 investors, putting in everything from £10 to £4,000, so that is a big responsibility.
“Filmies started with an idea in my head, then there were two heads and now 86 people have out their hard-earned money into us. That’s exciting and inspirational.”
As well as all that support, Neil chose Entrepreneurial Spark in Leeds as well as the company’s London base to provide the right environment for the business to grow. Backed by partners RBS NatWest and KMPG, these centres across the country provide office space – or hatcheries – for early stage and growing businesses seeking support from a network of mentors and fellow businesses.
As well as Leeds, they are already established in Ayrshire, Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes and Newcastle.
“It has been really good for us,” said Neil. “We are constantly around other entrepreneuers and we bounce ideas off each other because we are all at a similar stage. Leeds has a really cool spirit about it which really opened my eyes to what was going on in the city. There is also an honesty and openness about the Yorkshire people that is just what a young business needs.”
The Entrepreneurial Spark centre supplies a tailored and intensive accelerator programme for new businesses, providing a major boost for the region’s entrepreneurs. As well as housing them, Duncan Robertson, head of communications and marketing for Entrepreneurial Spark said whoever gets accepted for a space has to commit to a demanding schedule to get the most out of their six-month tenancy.
“We have two ‘enablers’ at the Leeds hatchery who look after 40 businesses – or chicklets - each as executive coaches. They are your best friend and your worst enemy because they hold businesses to account. They won’t allow you to procrastinate.”
There are ‘temperature check’ updates on how you are doing, compulsory event nights that cover subjects such as sales, marketing and HR, and 60-second pitches after which the chicklets are closely questioned by their mentors to make sure their business plans are backable.
“We look at it as inspiring and enabling positive social change through the action of ‘entrepreneuring’, said Duncan. “By the start of 2017 we will have 13 centres across the country, taking in 80 business every six months. We don’t charge for the space and we don’t take equity in the companies, so a person might come in with one idea or a business already trading – we just need a desire to grow and scale the business.
“It is a fantastic space for collaboration with a high energy environment, but no temptation to sit in your pyjamas watching telly. When we were looking for sites we found that Leeds was one of the most entrepreneurial centres in the UK, which was recognised in the StartUp report a couple of years ago. We aim to help convert that enthusiasm into results that add to the economy and create jobs.”