Feature: Meet the mentors shaping budding businesses

Barking Enterprise Centres are running a new mentoring scheme. Mentors Mark Sands, Kathy Ennis, and

Barking Enterprise Centres are running a new mentoring scheme. Mentors Mark Sands, Kathy Ennis, and Robert Bowles. Picture by Ellie Hoskins. - Credit: Archant

Learning from mistakes is at the heart of a new mentoring programme to nurture budding businesses.

Barking Enterprise Centres CEO, Karen West-Whylie. Picture by Ellie Hoskins.

Barking Enterprise Centres CEO, Karen West-Whylie. Picture by Ellie Hoskins. - Credit: Archant

Now in its third month, this new phase of Barking Enterprise Centres (BEC) as an innovation hub already has 31 mentees building their vision with the help of industry experts.

One of the four mentors, Mark Sands, is a freelance writer and producer who co-founded Ardent Theatre Company in Stratford.

For the past month or so, he has been working with entrepreneurs whose interests fit under the broad umbrella of “creative industries” – from a brewery-founder keen to expand his business, to an innovator who wants to change the way we use plastics.

“People may have different business programmes, but the underlying process is the same,” he said. “It’s the challenge of working out what people need. It’s so different - everyone has their own conundrums.”

The 48-year-old Stratford resident says the free two-hour sessions are tailored entirely to the individual, and aim to spur on rather than babysit the mentee.

“In this way it’s different to coaching,” he said. “We have three sessions on a particular challenge, but that doesn’t mean they can come back to work on another.”

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Fellow mentor Kathy Ennis, 57, is helping two sisters looking to be role models for black businesswomen.

Through their company Pureality, Tracey and Isha Walters are creating skin and grooming products for men and women of all races, reacting against a trend towards illegal skin-whitening products on the market.

For Kathy, it was through being mentored herself that she was able to get back “over the hump” and start up a second, more successful business in personal branding after “making all the mistakes”.

At BEC, the marketing firm LittlePiggy Associates founder helps mentees in the area of marketing.

“I always say, learn from the mistakes you make,” explained the Cheshunt resident. “I come from a very particular micro stand-point. Most of the advice out there is aimed at bigger businesses, but when you’re starting out you need the everyday smaller stuff, it’s about thinking holistically.”

The idea of the programme is to mentor until the entrepreneurs can fully stand on their own two feet, but the team at the BEC hubs in Cambridge Road and in Wakering Road say there is no abrupt cut-off for the mentoring programme.

Engineer Robert Bowles, of East London Business Place, is able to offer words of wisdom after running his own business.

“Passion overrides thinking it through properly,” said the 49-year-old, who lives in Aveley. “I try to make sure people don’t forget themselves, that they are integrating the personal into their business plan.”

Karen West-Whylie, CEO of BEC, says she is excited about what the future holds.

“We felt we were in a position where we needed to give people very specialist support, very tailored support,” she said.

“We brought in people with a whole string of skills, because the business world has changed so much.”

And it looks like the small army of budding entrepreneurs could grow.

“Subject to funding, we’d like to have more – there’s a need here,” said Karen, 50.

“Barking and Dagenham is a massive area for regeneration, a great opportunity for new businesses.”

To find out more, email donna.finley@barkingenterprisecentre.co.uk