Richard is a founder member of Oxford Wood Recycling Ltd and currently their CEO. He set up the social enterprise in 2005 together with 2 university colleagues with the aim of creating a business that would deliver environmental and social impact. They carry out wood waste collection services mainly to the construction industry, but also to general businesses, and increasingly to private customers. None of the collected wood waste goes to landfill. Instead, most is chipped for recycling, but uniquely to this sector, they also reclaim 23% material for re-use, and this is sold to the public for DIY from their Abingdon warehouse. Their social mission is to provide opportunities for employment to people marginalised in the jobs market, by disability or by other severe disadvantage.
Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: I think my early experience of being self –employed in the flooring trade spoilt me for working within a larger organisation. I realised early on that I had the capacity to get things done, and to earn good money if I threw energy into it. Ok, I also enjoyed having control! I didn’t really get going entrepreneur-wise until I allied my enjoyment of doing business with the desire to make a positive social difference.
Q: So what would you say are the top skills that are needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
A: You definitely require vision, confidence that your way is the right way, and determination to see things through. All that is worth nothing though unless you can take people with you and motivate then to move mountains.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: Seeing people power at work. This may be in mundane everyday operations or the fantastic results of when a project plan comes together. I’m most happy when everything is flying along well without me.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most?
A: Nigel and Karen Lowthrop of Hill Holt Wood. They founded and Karen now runs, a very successful social enterprise based in a business sector that they love (woodland management and forestry) to generate incredible social impact in their community near Newark by training and employing excluded young people. Check out their website.
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: Theirs is a lesson in not just having a good idea and a great natural resource (a woodland), but they asked the question – what problems can I solve for my potential customers/community? I’d discuss how we might further our own aims by asking this question in various ways and with potential customer/client groups. In some ways this is basic marketing, but it really comes alive for me when this approach is married with a social aim.
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: We won a European award in 2010 that recognized the high proportion of our employees who were former beneficiaries. We still have the same kind of profile and that still gives me great satisfaction. It was also pretty amazing that we managed to move our business from Milton Park to Abingdon in just 3 weeks. A lot of wood movements and a lot of racking, but it was when being a logistics business came into its own.
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes as an entrepreneur?
A: I was quite lazy in the past about jobs I didn’t want to do, like making sure that the business administration basics are in place. Sadly, I actually enjoy that stuff now! I also mistakenly thought I could take the business forward whilst being part time and I’m now making up for lost time.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: I feel that there is a good business support network locally, both government led via the LEP and from NGO’s such as Oxford Business Mentors and OSEP, or Plunkett Foundation for social entrepreneurs. We don’t have a problem finding employees although the high cost of living makes attracting people from out of county difficult. We trade from a busy area next to busy infrastructure routes, but despite the problems, it’s a great county to do business in.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you, such as looking for information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
A: I’d advise getting linked up with the Oxfordshire LEP, especially with a view to drawing down any grants that are available. OSEP too for local grants and information. Entrepreneurs don’t always think of this type of finance but it can be a good way of capitalizing a new business. It’s a good idea if you are new to the area to get involved in some networking groups. Information at Oxfordshire Business Networking Events (OBNE).
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: Do the due diligence, then dive in at the deep end.