In spite of a welcome, but sadly brief, respite over the festive period, if you’ve opened a newspaper, turned on your radio or looked at a screen in the last few months, you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit depressed by what you’ve seen.
Fuelled by an epidemic of Brexit paranoia, it seems the people of the UK have retreated into safe-mode.
Whilst high profile international business is abandoning the London ship to head for safe haven in Frankfurt and Paris, the high street has suffered the loss of some big-name players that we all thought a permanent part of the retail roadmap.
House of Fraser, Homebase, Toys R Us, Poundworld; if a shop selling items for a pound or less can’t find enough customers to keep on trading, what kind of climate is this to start your own entrepreneurial venture?
I met two young creative entrepreneurs who are rewriting the rules to pull off something of a business revolution right here in Bristol.
Jenna Hughes doesn’t strike you immediately as a captain of industry, being softly spoken with a laid back, friendly manner.
Yet in the first year of trading, she has grown her clothing brand, ‘Nebbity’, to a £20k+ turnover.
Jenna instinctively knows the fashions and trends her customers want to buy and its clear why she understands her market so well.
“I started about a year ago,” she says, “I make my own clothes. I originally tried to just make things that I liked and I couldn’t find. I found people on ‘Depop’ and they were looking for these types of things.”
Typical of this hungry young breed of entrepreneur, Jenna is no clumsy trader; she’s agile and quick to adapt.
“Instagram’s my main thing,” (she has amassed 22,000 followers on the platform in the first year), “I don’t really use Depop anymore. The customers are different on Instagram.” She explains.
Jenna puts her success down to consistent hard work,
“It’s the amount of work you put into it. The more you put in, the more you’re going to get out of it and I find, literally, if I stop doing something for a week, then it all completely slows down.”
She also credits Bristol with playing an important part in her success as when I ask her if the city compares well to other places she’s lived as an up and coming entrepreneur, she doesn’t hesitate.
“I do! I actually think there’s a lot of opportunities for people that are trying to start businesses, especially in the creative industry.”
Alex Rodrigues, managing director of Bristol based media outlet and music collective VRBL, couldn’t agree more.
“There are so many opportunities here,” he says.
Alex moved to the city in 2015 and was immediately drawn to the vibrant music culture he found here.
Like Jenna, he and VRBL music collective co-founder, ‘Gabriel Waves’, followed their creative passion and quickly built a following of like-minded people who couldn’t find the live rap music they wanted.
“I really wanted to be part of Bristol. I really wanted to make a difference or have an effect on it. The rap shows that I’d been to in Bristol weren’t up to what I thought they could be. It was a very much outdated sound so we thought, why not, let’s do our own thing!”
Like every venture, they’ve experienced highs and lows, but Alex is upbeat about the future.
“We’ve done some shows where we played to a crowd of ten people but then there were ones where we played to 300. We want to now try and expand from Bristol. We’re doing a UK tour at the moment, continuing that into the New Year and hopefully doing some European shows as well.”
When asked for his tips for business success, Alex is understanding of the daunting task of starting a business at a young age, but simply suggests giving it your best shot and going for every opportunity you can.
“I think a lot of people are a bit scared to step out of their comfort zone and do things that they’re not used to. I think that nine times out of ten when I shoot for a shot, I get it. I don’t think that’s because I’m doing anything special. I think most people can do that…”
Don’t dismiss this passion and optimism as the naïve enthusiasm of a start-up, though, as more successful and long-standing Bristol start-ups show that it really can be done.
I spoke to Emma Smith, experienced businesswoman and founder of Envolve, an established and successful Bristol technology company; to gather some entrepreneurial advice.
Emma demonstrated a similar unique entrepreneurial spirit and passionate mind-set that drives the success of Nebbity and VRBL.
“At Envolve, we are inventing a totally new way of advertising, through conversational interfaces such as live chat and chat bot technology. I’m totally passionate about putting customers first when it comes to advertising… consumers now expect to receive content that is relevant and driven by their engagement with a brand.”
Emma’s experience has taught her that people are key to the success of a business.
“I find that when you land a good staff member the key to keeping them is to empower them to be the best they can be; we need to share the responsibility of building a company together…”
When asked what advice she would give young entrepreneurs, Emma shares her top three tips for success.
“Have a great team. Have a great idea. Have fun, because without that there is no motivation.”
With a post-Brexit UK on the horizon, it begs the question of how city business spheres, like Bristol’s, will weather the impending socio-economic storm.
Although it can seem harder than ever to find your path to success in the modern world, start-ups like Nebbity, VRBL and Envolve show how modern-day technology and society allows for a range of creative manners in which to create a business.