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Stephanie Sparrow

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Who wants to be a millionaire?


Like entrepreneurs, trainers are by their nature ideas people, but how do you translate  a great idea into hard cash? Stephanie Sparrow talks to a professor of entrepreneurship, a psychologist and trainers-turned-entrepreneurs to discover exactly what it takes to make a million.

How to have a great idea – and make it work

According to Professor Binks at the University of Nottingham, it is possible to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset.

“Being an entrepreneur is about opportunity recognition,” he says, “ Its about having antennae and doing something about it, rather than thinking ‘that’s a good idea’ and doing nothing,” he says.

Finding a good idea can be done too. Binks says that it is about looking at a problem and stripping it down into potential solutions.

“Blast it with the richest possible divergent thinking, really explore every possibility and home in on the best solution, which I call ‘pre- concept innovation activities,” he says.

Binks has found that the ingenuity process relies on convergent and divergent thinking at different stages. He believes that it moves from convergent thinking at the definition stage, divergent thinking at the discovery stage and convergent thinking at the determining stage.
However, don’t equate entrepreneurialism with racking up debts.

“A lot of entrepreneurs start and grow organically without relying on debt,” he says.

Could you change your career and your income? Trainer turned entrepreneur Neil Westwood certainly has. Within three years he has moved from delivering Six Sigma training within the NHS to establishing a business which is nudging a seven- figure turnover, thanks to his eye for a good idea and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Westwood, age 36, made his mark on television programme Dragons’ Den last year, when he and wife Laura, a commissioning and review officer at Worcestershire County Council, demonstrated the Magic Whiteboard—a portable flipchart which they had been distributing from a home- based internet business as a sideline since they bought £1,000- worth of stock in 2006.

Dragons' den

Their slot, screened in August 2008, saw them secure £100,000 investment and a 40% stake in the business from dragons Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis. Westwood now works full-time as sole distributor of the Magic Whiteboard and has developed the product range with their German manufacturer.  

Leaving a 15-year career in the NHS sounds like a major step, but Westwood, who sees himself as “naturally entrepreneurial”, says that it is more a case of making the most of his transferable skills.

“My job in the NHS was to find ideas to make care better,” he says. “Five years ago no-one in the NHS was using lean thinking or Six Sigma. I adapted them to fit my part of the organisation, and so I am used to taking a lot of risk among sceptical people.” 

Training professionals could find that they have plenty of entrepreneurial qualities and transferable skills that perhaps they were not aware of, says Martin Binks, professor of entrepreneurial development and director of the University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation.

“Trainers can break out of where they are already because they have certain key attributes which can be transferred to any audience,” he says. “ For example, they can ask what else people need training in, and what have they got which could be used with different groups of  people. And they needn’t be afraid to leave the 9-5.”

Mental attitude

One trainer who has done this successfully is managing director of Lancashire-based Pinna Consulting Helen Bailey.

In 2002 Bailey left a 21- year career with a high street bank to set up her own business. “I had joined the bank when I left school and eventually became senior manager responsible for improving customer service,” she says.” But after taking an external coaching qualification I realised that I wanted to take my knowledge to small  organisations. Instead of being a small cog in a large organisation I wanted to be a more influential cog.”

In seven years, turnover for her business and executive coaching company has risen from zero to £200,000 and is on target to reach £500,000.

Bailey is now involved in encouraging entrepreneurs across the county as Pinna, and its strategic partner Learning and Skills Network (LSN) has just been awarded a contract to deliver a leadership programme designed by the North West Regional Development Agency specifically for small businesses.

She is clear about the qualities which have helped her business to succeed and which she will hope to see in others.

“A strong mental attitude is key,” she says. “ Its about having determination belief and resilience. Its about being open-minded, learning how to change and grow.”

Have you got what it takes?

Occupational psychologist Stuart Duff, a partner at the Pearn Kandola consultancy, says that resilience is the hallmark of an entrepreneur.

“One of the best ways to predict success is to look at how you have bounced back from a set back,” he says. “Most entrepreneurs have experienced bankruptcy and failure at some point.”

Professor Binks suggests this check-list for potential entrepreneurs:

  • Make an assessment of your own capabilities. What do you know about and what do you do?
  • What are the needs out there?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • Home in on an opportunity that your strengths can address.
  • Don’t be fooled by the media’s portrayal of successful entrepreneurs as high-handed and combative.

“Successful entrepreneurs will try to include the experience and knowledge of their staff in the decision- making process,”says Binks.

At Magic Whiteboard, Laura Westwood says that her husband’s success is due to a mixture of “a good product and Neil’s passion for that product.”
Her advice is :

  • Find something that people are going to want
  • Find something that you believe in

The Pitch 2009 is an exciting competition for small business owners. Organised by’s sister website, the competition allows contestants in five UK regions to pitch their business to some of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs and investors for the chance to win £50,000 of prizes, including one-on-one mentoring from former Dragons’ Den judge Doug Richard. Applications for the South East heat of The Pitch 2009, taking place in London on 14 July, are still open. For more information and to enter, visit

BT Business is also giving SMEs the chance to win a £10,000 business grant. If you're a small business looking to expand or a potential entrepreneur looking for some cash to start up a new venture, this is the one for you. The business grant is being launched to coincide with BT's new Business Experience event, happening all next week (30 June) in central London. The closing date for entries is 31 August.





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