By Claire West
The mentoring programme developed by the Entrepreneurs’ Forum continues to achieve real success for emerging businesses. Two companies in the scheme, Helveta and Teleadapt, both mentored by John O’Connell, have recently seen their growth recognised in leading business awards.
The Entrepreneurs’ Forum is an initiative born out of the Information Technologists’ Company, the 100th City of London livery company. Its aim is to help nurture new technology-based businesses, through networking and advice. The mentoring programme pairs growing companies with experienced entrepreneurs who offer their time and experience pro bono.
John O’Connell, one of the mentors, created Staffware, a pioneer in business process management, as a start-up in the 1980s. From simple beginnings, he took it first to AIM then the main London Stock Exchange before, as chairman, leading the sale process to Tibco Software Inc. for $260 million. Today he is mentor to Helveta and Teleadapt.
Helveta provides technology which helps environmental sustainability. Its CI World supply chain software is designed for sensitive products like timber, allowing timber products to be traced back to the tree stump and making a stand in the fight against illegal logging. It recently won the Vision and Future Growth Potential award at Cleantech Connect 2010, as well as being named the sixth fastest growing cleantech company in Europe. Deloittes ranked it number 11 for growth across all technology companies in the UK, and 61 in the EMEA region.
“As a fast growing company, we really feel the benefit of a very experienced non-exec chairman,” said Patrick Newton, CEO of Helveta. “John lightens the load on my shoulders in terms of investor relations, and ensures all parties understand the potential and risks of growth.
“He is a seasoned player, and he brings valuable experience,” Newton added. “We are dealing with a ‘lumpy’ business, and John understands the organisational challenges in running a software company, which is why it works.”
Teleadapt has become a leading player in a critical niche market much appreciated by business travellers: its products help people get connected in hotel rooms. Its connectivity panels, which distribute power and allow users to plug computers and cameras into TVs as well as providing wired and wireless internet, are rapidly becoming brand standards in leading hotel chains around the world. In July, the Sunday Times and HSBC placed the company on the International Track 100, a new league measuring growth in international sales.
Unlike Helveta, where O’Connell has a formal role, Teleadapt use his knowledge in a much more flexible way. “John brought me into the Entrepreneurs’ Forum - I knew him through our mutual love of rugby,” said Gordon Brown, managing director of Teleadapt. “Now we meet maybe once a month to discuss business issues. It gets me out of the silo mentality - I know I am not alone.
“It is mentoring in its purest sense,” he explained. “He is very abreast of the latest thinking, and challenges me based on his experience, asking me ‘have you looked at it this way?’”
Brown also emphasised the value of the events organised by the Entrepreneurs’ Forum: “every one gives us new insights,” he said.
John O’Connell is mentor to both companies. “Mentoring is about striking a balance between enthusiasm and realism,” he said. “I find enormous satisfaction in trying to see things through someone else’s eyes, in empathising with the entrepreneur and trying to build on their enthusiasms. It also means I find my views and opinions challenged and questioned - often by myself!”
The Entrepreneurs’ Forum mentoring programme calls upon a panel of proven business leaders who give up their time to provide support for new businesses. This support is primarily in the form of one to one mentoring for entrepreneurs to help them reach their business goals. It is particularly focused on businesses driven by an individual fired with a passion for a unique new idea, and can help them prepare for first round finance in the £250,000 to £1 million range, the most difficult step in the current economic environment.