Minister for Small Business Paul Scully MP gave his overwhelming support as 12 colleges officially united to launch Visionnaires across the UK during Global Entrepreneurship Week.
Visionnaires is a not-for-profit organisation that has already helped more than 400 people start new businesses through its free programmes run through Capital City College Group (CCCG).
Earlier this year CCCG, which comprises three colleges and an apprenticeship provider, formed a community interest company with United Colleges Group, South Thames Colleges Group and NCG to bring Visionnaires to eight further colleges.
The new partnership was officially launched at Westminster Kingsway College on 11 November.
Mr Scully said: “Visionnaires has already enabled innovative entrepreneurs to prosper through networking and support. These are initiatives that the Government strongly supports because being able to draw on the experience of others and connect with likeminded people is so invaluable whether businesses are starting up or scaling up.
“Projects like Visionnaires play a crucial role in complementing the support that’s given by the Government, for example our new Help to Grow programmes that will boost productivity by supporting SMEs across the UK with skills development and reaching new customers.
“It’s this Government’s ambition to make the UK the best place to start and grow a business. We want to create an enterprise culture where everyone who wants to be an entrepreneur has the confidence to start a business regardless of their background.
“I’m grateful to Visionnaires, and organisations like them, which can reach out to all parts of our community and help business founders get the practical help they need.”
CCCG, which comprises City and Islington College, Westminster Kingsway College, College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London and apprenticeship provider Capital City College Training, has been running Visionnaires programmes since 2019.
Visionnaires will now also be available through City of Westminster College, College of North West London, South Thames College, Carshalton College, Kingston College, Lewisham College, Southwark College and Carlisle College.
The partnership has also been backed by Cllr Matthew Green, Cabinet Member for Business, Licensing and Planning at Westminster City Council, and Sophie Shrubsole, Director of Operations at Westminster Business Council.
Visionnaires’ support extends beyond the classroom with a business incubator offering further support to participants’ businesses after they have completed the programme.
Dani Glasser joined Visionnaires and launched her own business GetStuft selling healthy and nutritious food platters online from a kitchen in Clapham, south London, earlier this year.
She said: “I previously ran a digital marketing agency with a friend in Australia but decided to make a change and follow my passion for food. I also had a catering business and wanted to take what I’d learnt from that and refine it into a more streamlined model to get food out on demand.
“I joined Visionnaires because I wanted to set up a business with scale in mind, rather than with a small business mentality, and give it a strong foundation with the best chance of growth. It’s been great having someone help me fill gaps in my knowledge, such as finance, and think about things in different ways, which has really helped shape the future direction of GetStuft.”
In the run-up to the launch, Visionnaires hosted a series of introductory masterclasses on How to Succeed, Sale and Growth, Money and The Perfect Pitch, featuring panels from business leaders and entrepreneurs, including previous Visionnaires participants.
Helen Tomazos, from Maida Vale, west London, took part in the masterclasses to get some advice on starting a business selling Greek pastries inspired by her parents’ Cypriot background.
She said: “The format to the masterclasses was very good, the questions were precise, and the feedback has given me the motivation I need to formulate and kick-start my business idea.
“One of the panel’s quotes was ‘just start’ but they were also realistic that it requires hard work and commitment and there will be highs and lows. They’ve also invited me to observe their place of businesses, which is phenomenal. It’s absolutely inspired me.”
Visionnaires was established by Pablo Lloyd OBE, a social entrepreneur with 20 years’ experience in starting and leading purpose-driven organisations.
He said: “The UK is seeing a real surge in people wanting to set up their own business. Visionnaires has already helped many new entrepreneurs from our diverse communities turn that dream into a reality. Every day we’re helping more of them get their ideas off the ground in our innovative programmes.
“I am delighted that Capital City College Group, United Colleges Group, South Thames Colleges Group and NCG have joined forces to expand Visionnaires as an inclusive community of best practice. This will lead to more exciting new start-ups and support the UK’s economic recovery.”