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Challengers & Icons Interview

Series 3. Episode 2. How mentorship is becoming inherently more valuable than investment

“What we do is make entrepreneurship the most normal and common thing in the world.”

Jon Bradford is the Co-Founder of the tech start-up network F6S and news publication, tech.eu. Formerly the Managing Director of the start-up accelerator Techstars London, Jon discusses the new roles of innovation and entrepreneurship and why advice and networking is winning out over investment.

“What we do is make entrepreneurship the most normal and common thing in the world,” says F6S and tech.eu Co-founder, Jon Bradford. Formerly the Managing Director of start-up accelerator Techstars London, Jon recently set up new tech start-up network F6S. We spent some time with Jon to get his views on how entrepreneurship, innovation and investment are changing, both within his own sphere of business, and how he sees this impacting on the wider world.

Jon began by saying that he believes that the new networks he is involved with creating are instrumental in fostering and building a new entrepreneurship and business culture: “People stare out of the window and go, ‘Look at those strange people. They work for other people.’ So you actually want to try and turn the whole thing slightly upside down. I genuinely think there is a change happening in the wider sense, which is people are becoming much more accustomed to actually thinking about starting their own businesses, as opposed to the, ‘I’ll leave university and go and join a corporate’.”

We challenged him that, whilst this is a great and inspiring approach, all start-ups are naturally concerned about where the investment is coming from. We specifically asked him to tell us a bit more about the nature of accelerators and how the new networks he is creating are helping to realise new business opportunities. He started by telling us how he thinks investment has changed from “historical angel investors writing cheques” and why we should no longer look at the value of investment in just monetary terms: “Actually, the advice was becoming increasingly more important… the introductions and the networks that you could get introductions to actually became inherently more valuable. Actually, that’s a long-term trend, not just in digital businesses, but in lots and lots of different businesses.”

Jon believes that in every sector we are becoming more open to a new way of thinking, a new and more entrepreneurial way of doing business and that this will continue to gain traction as a new business model. He said, “So I think we are on a long term trajectory which is entrepreneurship. It’s a global phenomenon that’s happening everywhere. I think it’s a long- term change in the market itself. “

We suggested that business is becoming more social and that collaboration is increasingly impacting on business culture in line with our wider culture. Jon concurred that, maybe contrary to popular belief that views entrepreneurs as ‘go it alone’ agents, in fact, the opposite is true. He said, “I think if there was one common element it’s one’s ability to attract smart people to come and work with you because no single entrepreneur in their own right is ever going to turn into a multinational business. It’s all about teamwork, and it’s all about building teams around you.”

Jon obviously believes that teamwork is key to entrepreneurial success but we asked him to delve a little deeper and to look at what this means for corporate innovation and the relationship between corporates and entrepreneurs. He said that historically there is a belief that corporates can’t do innovation and tend to squash early stage businesses maybe through a lack of interest or understanding. But, he believes that, this is a viable relationship, “Corporates have something to bring to the party – they have deep industry knowledge of customers and how markets work. So actually, being able to blend those two things is incredibly valuable. Bringing the spark of innovation and novelty of young entrepreneurs – and by young I mean at heart rather than by age – and actually combining them with the will, the network and the support structures that a large corporate can bring can actually create really interesting dynamics.”

We questioned him further on this and asked him if this could actually change traditional innovation paths, which can be both lengthy and costly, with sometimes nothing actually coming to market. Jon was passionate about what this could mean, saying, “I actually fundamentally believe that corporate innovation is going through a structural change…and how corporates look to change and the way they seek to innovate themselves is being questioned at all levels through organisations.”

And specifically talking about monetary investment, Jon believes that seeing what the start-up world is now doing, is influencing a new realisation that, “Maybe you don’t need to spend as much, maybe projects don’t need to be three years, maybe there are things that can be done in shorter time bursts. I think this, personally, actually, sets real challenges to consulting businesses and people who have historically worked with corporate innovation…The idea of them going to clients now and saying, ‘Well, let’s do something for 90 days and then at the end of 90 days we’ll figure out what we do for the next 90 days.’”

On that very inspiring note for future positive growth and innovation we drew our chat to a close but we will closely follow Jon’s phenomenal drive and passion for start-up initiatives and networks as he continues to move into new territories and foster the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Jon Bradford’s top 3 insights into the future of entrepreneurship and innovation

  • No single entrepreneur in their own right is ever going to turn into a multinational business. It’s all about teamwork, and it’s all about building teams around you.
  • Investment in business is changing - advice, introductions and networks are becoming increasingly important and inherently valuable for lots of different businesses.
  • Corporate innovation is going through a structural change and there is a new realisation that less investment and a shorter time frame may drive a new innovation path.

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