The New Entrepreneurs Foundation Chief is playing a central role in building skills among future entrepreneurial leaders.“I'm here to connect the dots,” says Neeta Patel, CEO of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation.
“Our mission is to develop the entrepreneurs and business leaders of the future and my role is to ensure that we successfully deliver our programme and connect all the people who can help us to do that.”
Established in 2010, the New Entrepreneurs Foundation is a charity and a not-for-profit focused on providing aspiring entrepreneurs with the skills and support they need to successfully launch their own companies. As Neeta Patel explains, the Foundation occupies a unique niche in the UK's business support ecosystem. Working with partners, it offers participants not only extensive coaching and mentoring by experienced business people, but also – crucially - placements with established fast growth companies. “We are providing tomorrow's entrepreneurs with hands on experience, skills and networks,” she says.
When Neeta joined the New Entrepreneur's foundation as CEO in 2012, she was bringing a wealth of business experience, much of in the evolving digital arena. Her career began in the 1980s, when she worked for BT, marketing the, then unfamiliar, concept of e-mail to a business audience. “It was very pioneering at the time,” she says.
From there she moved on to roles at Datastream Reuters before being appointed Head of Marketing at insurance giant Legal & General. “That was in 1996, just at the start of the world wide web,” she says. “At L&G, my team launched the first ever personal finance website in Europe. At the time, there were only 300 URLs registered in Britain.” The site won many e-commerce awards, beating high profile rivals.
And a theme was emerging, namely driving change in established businesses. From L&G, Neeta moved to FT.com (launching a subscription service) and the British Council (revamping their web presence and libraries as information centres) before taking a sideways step into private equity at Psion Partners, matching investors with entrepreneurs.
Neeta's current role at NEF offered a “blank sheet of paper” but also an opportunity to manage the input of a diverse array of partners, including placement companies, funders, mentors and coaches.
Applicants go through a rigorous selection process, but once in a cohort, the foundation's goal is to maximise their chances of success.
“It's all about developing the individual and helping them address the challenges they will face,” she says. In that respect, the course is designed to help entrepreneurs address challenges in the road ahead. Through teaching and placement, courses impart skills and encourage critical thinking while also helping individuals to build support networks of peers and mentors. “Money is also a major challenge. We facilitate access to investors,” says Neeta.
To date, six cohorts have gone through the NEF programme. As a direct result, 65 ventures have been launched, creating more than 650 jobs. In total, the programme's alumni have raised more than £12m in seed funding.
And as Neeta sees it, encouraging entrepreneurship is vital to the UK. “It is the start-up and scale-up companies that are creating jobs, she says. The NEF is part of a bigger picture of economic development. “A huge amount is being done to support entrepreneurship in the UK. There are more than 600 incubators and accelerators, and that's amazing. Tax breaks for investors through SEIS and EIS are also hugely important. At NEF we are playing a small but very significant role in encouraging entrepreneurship.”