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Real-life Entrepreneurs Needed for Urgent Mentoring

26/06/2014 12:55 BST | Updated 25/08/2014 10:59 BST

In the last year I've had the privilege to mentor nine new start-up creative businesses as part of a new programme to encourage actors and musicians to create their own businesses. The Creative Entrepreneurs scheme, an initiative of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, has provided access to training, networks and mentors for a range of diverse businesses, from a new theatre company to a community drumming project, all with scalable potential.

It's been an amazing learning journey on both sides, but what has been noticeable for me is that most of the feedback from graduates on the scheme is linked to how useful they have found the access to real-life entrepreneurs. As Hunter Noack from re-form Productions says 'the scheme has been a fantastic opportunity to get face-time with entrepreneurs in the arts, it helped turn my ideas into a sustainable business model.'

The entrepreneur community is awash with 'Celebrity' Entrepreneurs, but as I reflect on the year of mentoring that I've just undertaken it's become ever more clear to me that we need to get a bit real. Undoubtedly, the most helpful support and advice comes from the active entrepreneur, a mentor that is actually doing it, or has been there and done it in the recent past.

I've had two experiences of mentoring myself recently as our enterprise Cause4 makes the transition from start-up to more sustainable business. The first was support from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business programme, including an alumni programme with 20 high-growth entrepreneurs. The learning and trust from this network of other ambitious entrepreneurs has been a lifeline.

In comparison, we've had support from the Government-backed Growth Accelerator programme, which whilst very useful in terms of the financial support for training staff, provides many coaches that have not run businesses before, and therefore whose support I found limited. It's rather like training a doctor for surgery when the teacher has never been in an operating theatre. In my opinion, it can't work.

Nobody should really call themselves an entrepreneur until they've put their own neck and money on the line, and what has also been noticeable for me in working with creative entrepreneurs is that they are also trading their worth and value as an actor or musician, as they seek to sell their business idea. This is tough stuff and has led to many of these entrepreneurs changing direction during the scheme. As composer Jon-Paul Bowman outlined 'being on the Creative Entrepreneurs Scheme has forced me to examine my ideas to such an extent that I have deviated considerably from my initial business idea to something about which I am far more passionate.'

The level of introspection and personal development that comes with learning new skills and wanting to create a growth-business is a big challenge, and given the high-stakes, the role of a mentor undoubtedly comes also with the responsibility of some tough-love. It's simply not in anyone's interest to be too soft on challenging the development of an idea, as it's the very livelihood of these actors and musicians that is on the line. If it's not going to work then you need to know at an early stage, so as not to waste too much time or money. And that's also why having a trusted mentor that's been there and done it, is completely essential.

So as we go into manifesto writing and thoughts for Government about developing support structures for entrepreneurs that are so desperately needed, it occurs to me that the greatest investment possible could be in support for entrepreneurs that are active or have exited to become brilliant role models and mentors for entrepreneurs at all stages. The celebrity entrepreneur has limited real-life value, other than as an initial spur of motivation. It's the real-life grafters and doers that should be supported and trained to encourage the would-be entrepreneur.

So let's make sure that those wanting to take up the challenge of running a business, have the very best in support from 'real-life' entrepreneurs to make sure that they can be successful, and that our successful entrepreneurs are encouraged to spend the time to make this a reality.