The Spark business contest has been re-ignited to fuel growth for a second time following a successful launch last year.
The Spark Harborough District initiative is funded by Harborough Council and designed to boost jobs, entrepreneurism and the economy.
The programme is run by Oxford Innovation, the owners of Harborough Innovation Centre.
Spark aims to encourages those in the district to utilise the free business support services Spark offers to help entrepreneurs launch a new business or grow an existing venture.
It offers workshops, one-to-one business coaching and a website providing online support tools.
It culminates next May with the Business Idea Competition where the two winners will share prizes worth about £25,000.
After last week’s launch, we take a look back at one of the winners from 2014.
Stefan Richter, of Kibworth, won Best Growth Idea for an Established Businesses.
Muchosmedia Ltd is his software company but his growth idea was for Scribblar (www.scribblar.com) which provides a platform for tutoring online. Hundreds of tutors, tutoring businesses, schools and universities now use Scribblar daily to work in real-time with students using a variety of drawing tools, a shared whiteboard, text chat, audio and file sharing.
It enables tutors to stay in touch with students from the comfort of their own home.
Stefan said: “I am a self-taught web developer and set up my software business in 2007. There was a product, Scribblar, that was initially a side-project but I realised it was organically growing and thought it could be a full-time business.
“I heard about Spark and saw there was a Best Growth Idea category.
“I was already up and running but I had some ideas about how I could grow it. The initial entry was relatively straightforward; completing an online form, describing the idea and some finances.
“I got great help immediately. I met the Spark team at the innovation centre and we spent an afternoon with one-to-one coaching. I explained where I saw the challenges and growth opportunities; they really made me focus.
“The team really made me look at the business from a different perspective and clearly identify the core areas where the business could grow, looking at the numbers rather than guessing.
“The team put me in touch with a financial specialist and we looked at my accounts in great detail.
“I was given a lot of support with the finances to help me develop a three-year financial plan.”
As a result of winning, his business is growing, has more customers and greater income.
He added: “I’ve been able to invest in product development and identified another niche area, which has opened up a new income stream.
“I wouldn’t have been able to invest without the prize money and I have now realised I need to invest to grow.
“I’m getting help hiring a developer and a virtual assistant.
“Without the competition this is something I possibly would not have done.
“I would have continued on my own but not necessarily moved forward.”
Businesses can now access Spark’s business support and will be able enter the 2015 competition in March.
For more details about the support on offer, visit www.sparkharborough.com or call the innovation centre on 01858 414260.