“Hello world, this is Essex” – a brave and bold welcome to all. That is how Novo Awards welcomes visitors to its website – that is a statement of intent, of ambition and one that aligns with my vision for the region.
When asked to be a judge for the awards, my first reaction was to be honoured by such recognition; my second reaction was how proud I felt for the region that there are people out there championing our businesses.
In 2011 career change bought me closer to my neighbours of 33 years. I no longer wanted to commute; I wanted to be of service to those around me. But how? A successful career in finance does not automatically translate into the world of micro-businesses; the owner-managers of the region were fighting different battles to the ones I was facing or had faced.
My formative years were very much in the domain of small business. I was the son of a motor trader and nightclub owner and started a new venture in fashion at the age of seventeen: all relevant skills but all a distant memory. I decided I needed an education and looked to the Open University. Having failed at academics the first time around, I developed a passion for life-long learning and became self-taught. It was though with trepidation that, at the age of 50, I reconnected with academics. Now, ten years on, I gained a degree and have just finished a Masters in Systems Thinking with a specialism in entrepreneurial education, innovation and technology. I can say, hand on heart, education changed my life.
Education was invaluable but, on its own, would not pay the bills. To help me grow my networks, I founded a voluntary organisation called The Colchester Executive Job Club designed to help people like me go through career transition. Self-funded, the network grew to over 150 people, and we delivered more than 120 mini-workshops covering all aspects of self-development. We helped more than 85 people find new careers and some to start their businesses. We worked in collaboration with enterprise agencies and local networks. It was though not providing an income. We switched the model to a social enterprise and cooperative, where it became a victim of its own success as the leadership found alternative well-paid employment.
People undervalue themselves and their skills. Waste is wrong and to prolong value we have to invest in people. The networks I created and my work brought me closer to my community, the people, and the institutions The Weave now work with. For over seven years, I have forged closer ties with Colbea, the University of Essex and the owner-managers of Essex and Suffolk. I have co-founded The Weave with a bunch of passionate educators, mentors and visionaries seeking to disrupt entrepreneurial education and bring the benefit of life-long learning to us all.
I am proud to be a part of the Novo awards that recognise our community and reward the innovators and game-changers of Essex, people like you.