The Welsh Innovation Centre for Enterprise (Welsh ICE) has appointed a new Community Outreach Manager as it looks to connect with potential business founders across south east Wales.
30-year-old Lesley Williams joins the team at Welsh ICE as it looks to connect with potential business founders outside of Caerphilly, in order to ensure more people across the region have a route to support.
Formerly an events and business development manager, Lesley will be responsible for bringing the guidance and benefits of ICE to communities across the South Wales Valleys – areas that have traditionally struggled to access support. Having previously run her own business internationally exporting hand-made teddy bears, Lesley was a Big Idea’s Wales Young Ambassador and Role Model as well as being a board member for the Women’s Enterprise Hub.
Lesley is also no stranger to the area she will be working in, having lived in the Rhondda all her life. As well as her Role Model work, she was on the Board of Made in the Valleys, an organisation that aimed to promote sustainable professional development amongst artists and craft makers.
Jamie McGowan, Campus Director at Welsh ICE said Lesley’s appointment was a key part of the plan to offer support across the region:
“ICE has always been open to anyone across Wales, but naturally, that doesn’t mean it’s always practical for people to get to the Campus. The South Wales Valleys are particularly affected by geography; Merthyr Tydfil is only around 13 miles away as the crow flies, but to get to us on public transport can take up to 2 hours. Having a Community Outreach Manager can essentially take ICE on tour, and help bring the experience and benefits of the Campus to the rest of the South East Wales region.
“In Lesley, we have someone with the experience and perspective of a business founder, someone who has been there and done it and is now looking to help others start up. She’s also a genuinely warm and welcoming person and I have no doubt that she is only going to continue to grow into the outreach role.”
One of the key schemes that will be offered to potential business founders is the 5to9 club™, an after-work club which provides help and support to those who have a business idea but are still working full-time and cannot take the risk of leaving their job. Through mentorship and expert guidance the club helps develop participant’s business plans, taking them from concept through to potential investment and launch.
Lesley, who has already hit the ground running after securing 5to9 clubs™ in Ebbw Vale and Merthyr, said the Valleys has untapped potential:
“We’ve already begun to take ICE on tour and I’ve been blown away by the response so far. In just a few weeks we’ve engaged with 16 potential business founders, which shows there really is an appetite for grass-roots support.
“There’s so much potential and talent in the valleys region, but often it has to go elsewhere, like Cardiff or London, to be realised. I think everyone is aware of the challenges the area faces, and the only way to tackle them is to start building things. Whether that’s a cake making business that eventually employs three people or a furniture manufacturer who exports all over the world, it’s time there was a place for our bright sparks to shine.”
Welsh ICE is one of five regional enterprise hubs across Wales, all funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government. The hubs will see over £4m invested to provide supportive spaces and mentoring for new and growing businesses, with the ICE Campus supporting the South East Wales Valleys region.
The outreach work will share values with the Valleys Taskforce, the ministerial body set up with the aim of tackling poverty, creating work and improving the quality of life for the area. Taskforce member, business advisor Andrew Diplock has worked closely with Welsh ICE.
“Lesley’s appointment is key to helping the Valleys Taskforce achieve the ambitious actions on the Our Valleys, Our Future delivery plan, focused on creating a connected and vibrant business ecosystem in the South Wales valleys. Providing good quality advice and support to business start-ups is one of the main objectives as well as fostering a culture of enterprise to promote business growth.
“Lesley’s enthusiasm and ambition to take the excellent opportunities offered by Welsh ICE into communities across the valleys will provide budding entrepreneurs with the support they need to see their business ideas come to life.”
Community Outreach Manager Lesley continued:
“If anyone has an idea or a desire to start their own business, please get in touch with us, by phone, social media or e-mail. There’s almost always a way we can help, whether that’s through us directly, or with one of our partners, we can offer support to anyone in the early stages of their business.