Zoe Hancock

Entrepreneurial Acumen

1st June 2018

Lisa Botwright finds out more about an organisation set up to help people realise their dreams…

Starting a business is as thrilling as it is terrifying, and as daunting as it is uplifting. There’s no guarantee of success; the myth that hard work is all you need to ensure success belies the countless stories of those who put everything on the line only to watch their dreams nosedive due to economic downturn, unpaid bills or simple bad luck. While hard work is essential for success, what’s also critical is access to the right information, a network of people who’ve got your back, and advice from seasoned professionals on whom you can rely...

Someone, perhaps, like Zoe Hancock? She’s the Principal of Oaklands College, winner of St Albans Chamber of Commerce Business Leader Award, and the new Chair of Wenta, the local social enterprise that provides a one-stop-shop for business support. Wenta, now in its 35th year, was originally set up as the Watford Enterprise Agency by a small group of businessmen hoping to support other small businesses. They re-branded as Wenta Business Services in 2003.

Zoe is keen to ensure that the organisation continues to reach out to as many people who could do with its help as possible. “It’s a very brave thing to set up your own business, and it can be a lonely place,” Zoe tells me. “But nothing is ever as difficult when you know other people sharing the same challenges.”

Zoe, who read History at Oxford, is clearly one of those people who thrives on multiple challenges wearing multiple hats. She joined Oaklands College as Deputy Principal in 2008 following an eclectic career in finance (Walkers Crisps) and international strategic planning (The British Museum). She became the College’s Principal in 2011 and explains that Wenta first came on to her radar a couple of years later when their paths crossed during a series of thirtieth anniversary events. “My students do a lot of different things in business, motor vehicle studies, graphic design,” she explains, “and many of them are very entrepreneurial. Wenta has been a lot of help to them.”

Wenta offers an extensive mixed bag of support from pre-start-up one-to-one mentoring, to group workshops and training events designed to build on your entrepreneurial acumen (finance and bookkeeping, social media marketing or intellectual property clinics, for instance). Within seconds of visiting its website, you’re invited to chat online with an advisor. It’s not just for young people – although Wenta does a lot of outreach work in local schools and colleges – it’s for anyone who wants to grow a great idea, with the over 50s an increasing proportion of their clients.

Naturally there’s an entrepreneurial ethos underpinning the project, but the team’s vision is to plough profits back into the organisation to subsidise further support. Most of its revenue comes from renting out affordable office space to start-ups in Wenta-owned business centres all over Hertfordshire. Their flagship Business and Training Centre is in Stevenage, and Zoe enthuses about the vibrancy of the business community there. “It’s an exciting incubation space – and there’s always help on hand due to the proximity of other people in a similar position.”

She admits that one thing she’d like Wenta to improve is tracking the journey of individuals once they move on, with the aim of adding value by bringing back the most successful people to inspire the next generation. Her other key task is to secure future funding channels now their European grant is in question post-Brexit. Not that she’s daunted by any of this, of course. “It’s an exciting time and I’m thrilled to be in my new role as Chair. I look forward to what the future holds.”

If you feel you’ve got what it takes to be the next Duncan Bannatyne, Theo Paphitis or Deborah Meaden, and you’re hoping for more encouraging words than ‘I’m out’, do contact Wenta for sensible advice and information. “I’d encourage anyone out there with an idea for a business to speak to someone to see if it could become a reality,” urges Zoe... “I joined Wenta as I truly believe in the great work that they do in supporting businesses to develop and thrive.”

To find out more visit www.wenta.co.uk

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