Armed with an idea and hopes of becoming the next big entrepreneur, Lee Sharma entered his bank. Aged 25 and casually dressed, Lee failed to make an impression on his bank manager who sent him home downcast and feeling hopeless.
Today, Lee admits that he was underprepared.
“I wanted to set up my own recruitment firm and I was feeling inspired,” says Lee. “I walked in as a young guy, in jeans and trainers and I wasn’t ready for what faced me that day. The bank manager asked me sensible questions but I didn’t have the answers. I was in that creative, buzzy stage and hadn’t captured my idea into a business plan and I was sent away. It completely dented my confidence and I thought I couldn’t do it. I admit, it gave me a sense of worthlessness.”
However, Lee’s passion drove him towards success.
“I got angry,” he continues. “It was almost spite that drove me to start up my business; I wanted to prove them wrong. I read up about business planning and started the business from my shared flat using my credit card, even selling my car to pay the bills.”
Three years later, the business had done so well that a much larger recruitment agency bought Lee out. He’d made it. However, his initial experience stuck with him. Over the next 12 years, Lee took various roles within Welsh Government, universities and colleges promoting business development, supporting entrepreneurship and helping students to start-up their own businesses.
“I knew I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I had,” says Lee. “But, unfortunately, it quickly became clear that my experience wasn’t unique. Unless you’re engrained in the business world already you have little idea about what you need to do to turn that entrepreneurial spark from inside your head into a viable business plan. Time and time again, I saw young people’s eyes light up when they talked about their idea but with no confidence about that next step. I can only imagine how many would-be entrepreneurs are out there that felt they had to abandon their dream because they couldn’t convert it into a viable business plan and failed to get anyone to take them seriously.”
It was this desire for change that sparked Lee’s latest business start-up, an online platform which takes budding entrepreneurs from their initial concept into forming a fully-fledged business plan. Simply Do Ideas is already being used by universities, colleges and schools right through to start-up support organisations across the country. He’s now hoping to help pioneer the start of a society-wide cultural change in how we harness the future of entrepreneurship in the UK.
Lee, founder and CEO of Simply Do Ideas, comments,
“We have to all come together to proactively address the issues that potential entrepreneurs face; government, business, academia, the banks and those of us who have learnt from our entrepreneurial experiences. If we don’t foster entrepreneurship by breaking down these boundaries and facilitating the idea-to-business journey, we’re only allowing a proportion of new businesses to take off and we’re letting down an entire generation of would-be entrepreneurs. Yes, not every idea is going to make it – but it shouldn’t be prevented because someone doesn’t know what to do next. Just imagine the possibilities if we gave every brilliant idea a fair chance of success.
“This is especially true for the younger generation. You often hear education providers being told they need to make young people ‘work ready’. But they also need to learn the right processes and the practical skills to allow them to realise their potential as budding entrepreneurs too. Some education institutions now have courses or departments dedicated to entrepreneurship and business development; and that’s a fantastic step in the right direction. But this is a culture that needs to be embraced across the board. We’ve seen some great examples of this starting to happen, for instance one university which uses our platform with their students actually runs it across various departments. So whether you’re studying a science, sport or geography, you’re not excluded from learning these essential skills. This needs to become the norm – not the exception – and we very much see this as the future of enterprise education. Innovation, new ideas and the next world-changer can come from anywhere. And we need to equip young people so that when we say we’re a society that fosters entrepreneurship, we really mean it.”