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Sir Alan Sugar would have you believe you need to be cruel to be kind when it comes to helping others get into business.
Reversing that stereotype is Andrew Deeley, founder and CEO of Innov8 on Sheppey, the Island’s first business “incubator”.
The concept room inside its offices looks a world away from its previous incarnation as a walk-in safe.
Its white walls, backlit with bright blue LED lights, are covered in a special dry-wipe paint, which means that it now functions as one big whiteboard.
Mr Deeley, who founded the new start-up centre, jokes the heavy steel door can be used to lock people inside until they come up with a good money-making idea.
It also doubles as a handy place to keep valuable equipment overnight.
After five months of hard work and £19,000 of investment, drawn from a £50,000 grant from Kent County Council, the incubator is now ready to go.
As its name suggests, the aim is to provide an environment for business ideas to grow until they are ready to hatch. Different programmes offer help to 16- to 24-year-olds and the over-25s.
Existing companies with fewer than 10 employees can also get support and advice to help them grow and local entrepreneurs have agreed to come aboard as mentors.
Mr Deeley and Paul Best, of the charity and training organisation the Island Partnership, can help unemployed young people gain access to funding for an accredited business management course run at the centre.
With the help of Lauren Hodges at Sheerness Jobcentre Plus, two people have obtained funding from the government’s New Enterprise Allowance scheme in the past few days and another four are now going through the process.
I love business and it never ceases to amaze me the ideas that people come up with. Andrew Deeley
Pete Perrin and Dionne Jarvis received help in their application for a grant to set up an online company called Boys to Men’s Clothing, which they aim to have up and running within two months.
Mr Perrin said: “[Andrew] gave us lots of advice in the early days about what we would need to do to start our business.”
Innov8 on Sheppey is subletting space at the former Swale council building in Trinity Road, Sheerness, from Restoration Youth.
It has a drop-in centre where people can work on their business plans on six new computers.
They sit on tables made from wooden pallets which were left in the vacant rooms.
Across the corridor are two rooms, with space for 12 workstations, laser printers and a photocopier.
This is just the first phase, however, and there are plans to turn more rooms upstairs into a manufacturing space for new products.
The centre has been established as a community interest company, which means 65% of any profits made will go towards helping more businesses.
To remain sustainable, a small fee is charged if it successfully helps a business obtain funding, although initial consultations and support are free.
Rent is charged for the workstations and office space and money is also made through an optional membership, and businesses can also pay a small fee to use Innov8’s office as a professional address.
Mr Deeley said: “I love business and it never ceases to amaze me the ideas that people come up with. You just need that support structure.”
One of the ideas to come out of the incubator, called Shop on Sheppey, has been labelled a “local Amazon”.
It is looking to make it easier for people to buy products and services that are available on the Island by offering them on a website.
Customers would then be able to choose to have an item delivered or to collect it for themselves and pay either online or by cash on delivery.
Working on the project is 23-year-old Sam Reid,corr who came into the incubator looking for help setting up his own web design business.
Mr Deeley put him in touch with Simon Kiteleycorr, 42, who runs his own web design company, Aflier.com, from Minster.
The pair are looking to sign up more clients, but say they will be ready to launch in a matter of weeks.
Mr Reid, who previously worked as an IT engineer, said he is happy he came to Innov8.
He said: “More than anything it’s the people I have been able to meet and seeing behind the scenes.”
Mr Kiteley said: “There are people like Sam that are being lost to the local environment, people with brilliant skills that can bring so much prosperity, and there’s no reason why we can’t be a prosperous community.”
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