Nicki Campling works as an ecosystem manager at Barclays Eagle Labs, which helps to support start-ups innovate and grow, creating employment and business development opportunities. The Eagle Labs network is 5 years old, with 26 physical locations across the UK, and started out using under-utilised spaces in the Barclays branch retail network. Start-up businesses have slightly different needs as they progress their ideas, and maker spaces were created; allowing prototyping, 3D printing etc. Eagle Labs are now stand-alone locations, providing maker spaces with co-working spaces in many of our sites. Within the internal network, start-ups can access all levels of support to help them grow. We run both national and local events programmes and provide support in areas such as access to funding opportunities, how to market and pitch, as well as mentoring; through our programmes and partners.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
As an individual, I’ve worked in business banking before and have worked with businesses across lots of different sectors including high-growth entrepreneur businesses. Those businesses were the ones I found most fascinating because they create the most amazing, genius ideas. I just find their whole ethos in terms of their grit and determination and passion for what they do really inspirational.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
I think it entails any individual with an innovative idea or creation, coupled with the drive, determination, and passion to realise that idea and to develop it into something that is not only viable, but also often really successful.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Firstly, you need to have the right characteristics to be an entrepreneur – I don’t think these are necessarily inherent, but I think you can learn them. You also need the initiative to drive your idea forward and the confidence to really go for it. Finally, I’d say having resilience because there’ll be lots of challenges along the way and many moments where you wonder what you’re doing and whether it’ll work out. You can’t allow these challenges to deter you from achieving your goals and aspirations.
What is your favourite part of supporting entrepreneurs?
It’s got to be adding value, in terms of mentoring them and supporting them along their journey; but also in making crucial connections in order to let them develop their business. It could be something like helping them design their logo through external connections, if they are a very early stage business. Entrepreneurs often come from a very data-driven, analytical background so need help with creative flare, or it could be enabling them with the opportunity of attending our Funding Readiness programme, which supports with lots of areas like pitching and being investment ready.
What entrepreneurial individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
There are two key individuals who stand out for me. Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop, is one – she literally launched a business from zero and managed to do that whilst bringing up a young family and not being particularly financially privileged. She just believed in her dream and pushed through to the success that The Body Shop is today.
I also find Susie Ma, the founder of Tropic Skincare, really inspiring. She has a similar story really and, again, I just find her inspiring for following through with her dreams and passion and belief she had for her idea. She went from selling one product in pots she’d made in her kitchen at a market in London to the huge success of Tropic Skincare now.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would want to know what their top 3 defining moments were in their business journey from beginning to end. Even though the two of them have similar backgrounds, I’m sure you’d get very different responses.
On the flipside, I’d also like to ask what their low points were and if, during those low points, there were any triggers that made them give it all a second thought, or how close they came to giving up.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment while supporting entrepreneurs?
I guess it comes down to simply being a part of their journey: in seeing their business go from the ‘idea stage’ where they don’t even have viable products yet, supporting them and helping them making connections, and then seeing those businesses reach the point where they’re raising £2 million + through funding rounds. There’s a certain privilege of building and maintaining relationships with those businesses, even if they outgrow Eagle Labs and move into their own premises; the relationship is maintained.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned while supporting entrepreneurs?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that there are any ‘worse’ times or failures as such because you go through the journey with them and it’s all about facing challenges and working through them. I guess it can be tough in respect that not all businesses work. Sometimes the reality is having to face facts and accept and learn from it.
Sometimes you have a tendency to be conservative on certain things. It could be that business has a bank account and that account may not be doing what a particular business needs it to do. Sometimes you don’t react to that, when maybe you should. From a personal perspective, I am conscious that I don’t want to be ‘pushing’ a business to switch their account. Although it may be a conversation that is needed to give that business the option and opportunity. I am probably also a little guilty of not highlighting sooner that we offer more support than just a bank account. We offer a whole raft of specialism as a team and it could be helpful to provide that sooner than you often might.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I would firstly direct them towards Eagle Labs. More specifically, I would talk to them about our membership options in terms of co-working. We have two different options in Oxford with different costs to make our proposition accessible to as many different stage businesses as possible. I would also connect them to our internal resources – we have mentoring provided to us by one of our partner businesses, and I would introduce them to the programmes we run in terms of Funding Readiness and our scaleup programmes for later on. We also have a global connect programme which is able to provide them with access to global resources. In addition, we have various industry verticals with expertise in specific business sectors, like Healthtech for example. Oxfordshire has a wealth of business support available within the ecosystem and I would help to signpost this.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman supporting entrepreneurs? If so, how have you overcome them?
Based primarily off feedback from female founders, I think one of the biggest challenges for them is probably suffering imposter syndrome and feeling like maybe they’re not good enough or questioning whether they can do what they’re doing. For some reason, this is more common in women. Crucially, women do recognise it and so through accessing support in business mentoring; they can work through it.
What resources would you recommend for other women interested in doing this?
I would really recommend joining any female founder initiatives whilst also surrounding themselves with lots of male founders. Some female founders think that men don’t go through the same issues but they do and there are huge synergies and learns to be gained from this. Internally, Eagle Labs run quarterly female founder event series where we have speakers showcasing their businesses, it provides an opportunity to network, make connections, and support each other. Particularly now that everything is virtual, it provides the ability to make connections across the UK. This has been, in a very strange year; a real positive.
How do you think institutions such as the University of Oxford could better support women entrepreneurs?
I think any improvements would come from the idea that knowledge is power. There’s a lot of media coverage and data around us that suggests inequalities between men and women in leadership – a lot is certainly being done to address this, but they still exist. Arming those women with the knowledge that this is purely a statistic and what it looks like right now; whilst also making them aware of all the great things going on in society to address these issues, is really important. By covering these topics, it may help to prevent women being quite so intimidated by the statistics.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Never be afraid to talk about your challenges or to admit that you are experiencing imposter syndrome. Never feel like you’re alone, arm yourself with a network of support, and aim high.
Any last words of advice?
Keep going, even when the ‘roadblocks’ get in the way.