Welcome to the Tough Cookies series where we interview and celebrate the strong and determined individuals who are making waves in the tech industry.
Who better to kick off 2020 than Caroline from the Alacrity Foundation. Caroline has had an amazing career in the startup world. From building the Natwest accelerator hub in Bristol and Cardiff from the ground-up to being CEO of Be The Spark and now head of partnerships of the Alacrity Foundation.
Caroline is an absolute pioneer in supporting startups and demonstrates the values, patience and passion that are much needed to bring communities together in the startup world.
Caroline talks about her career, the support available for Welsh companies, tips for networking and, of course, her favourite flavoured cookie…
You’ve worked across many channels to help entrepreneurs! Can you tell me a bit about what you have done in the past?
Well, I started my career in a number of traditional banking roles within NatWest and joined the Bank’s Entrepreneurship team in 2015 – I led the Bristol accelerator hub and then the Cardiff accelerator hub that supported 100’s of businesses during my time there (and learned heaps about entrepreneurship along the way!).
In 2017 I was approached by the Wales REAP panel to take the lead on BeTheSpark which was the outcome of their hard work as part of the globally renowned programme in MIT, Boston. I was extremely fortunate that NatWest seconded me for 2 years to lead this movement that aimed to drive more innovation-driven entrepreneurship and making entrepreneurial support in Wales more simple, visible and connected.
Can you tell me more about your current role at The Alacrity Foundation?
I was excited to have the opportunity to join the team at the Alacrity Foundation – it’s a unique educational charity and our mission is to mentor and train graduates to create the next generation of hi-tech companies. Our 15-month programme provides the skills and knowledge required to run a profitable technology startup. My role as Head of Partnerships is to develop strategic partnerships with key stakeholders to enhance the Alacrity programme offering.
What are the exciting things happening in Wales at the moment for entrepreneurship?
There is so much going on right now – the number of coworking spaces, accelerator and incubator hubs are growing, lots of events linked to entrepreneurial activity and support – FinTech Wales and Clwstwr Creadigol are particularly exciting right now.
Here is the blueprint map of entrepreneurial support in Wales – it’s wide-ranging and doesn’t just focus on tech. BeTheSpark are looking to make the Welsh entrepreneurial ecosystem more visible, simple and connected.
Whilst this is a very simple google map, if you access the content via the toolbar you can see that it’s segregated into coworking spaces, support organisations, membership organisations, accelerator and incubator hubs. Lots going on – the key to this, of course, is getting it into the hands of the right people (i.e. those who need support!)
“The physical/geography barrier of the tolls being removed are talked about quite a bit but I think there’s more to it than that.”
How can you see the South West working more closely with Wales?
I think that there is potential for collaboration that will bring opportunities. The physical/geography barrier of the tolls being removed are talked about quite a bit but I think there’s more to it than that – to my mind the first steps are sharing knowledge so that people understand what’s happening in different areas and then can establish how to work together in different ways for mutual benefit.
“I’m a huge fan of paying it forward – you might just have that one connection that helps someone else.”
Have you seen common difficulties businesses have when starting out?
The 3 most common challenges are linked to cashflow/investment, getting the right team and finding the right market fit.
What would be your top tip for networking?
Well, the phrase networking makes my knees knock! I guess that comes from some old school networking sessions I’ve attended. So, as someone who used to dislike networking, I’d say that the best tip is to ask questions and to see if there are ways of helping the person you’re talking to. I’m a huge fan of paying it forward – you might just have that one connection that helps someone else. Also, always try to say hello that person who doesn’t have anyone to talk to (and is prob looking terrified!).
What is your favourite flavoured cookie?
Wow, so hard to choose just one (I’d normally say ALL of them) but today I’d go for a lemon cookie.