Neeta Patel is one of UK’s leading business experts, with experience in digital and e-commerce, business transformation and turnaround, innovation and much more. She’s the CEO of NEF (New Entrepreneurs Foundation), a business development programme aimed at helping aspiring UK entrepreneurs develop their skill set, expand their networks, and jumpstart successful business ventures. We recently caught up with Neeta and talked about resilience, her vision for NEF and what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur today.
How would you describe your current role/job?
As CEO at New Entrepreneurs Foundation, my aim is to identify bright, young aspiring entrepreneurs from across the UK and develop their skills, ambitions, confidence and contacts to enable them to launch successful, ambitious and scalable businesses. We hope that these startups will contribute to the UK’s economy by creating jobs and other opportunities for future generations.
What are some of your top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Get involved in startups as early as you can by interning, volunteering or shadowing founders and startup teams. Build your contacts by going to as many events as possible and networking widely. Build up some savings if you’re working so that you can bootstrap your venture in the early days. Develop key business skills if you don’t have them or find co-founders and advisors with complementary skills. Finally, be honest with yourself: why do you want to be an entrepreneur? It sounds glamorous but most ventures fail, and it certainly isn’t a direct stairway to fame and fortune!
In your experience, what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, and from all backgrounds. Some traits that the successful entrepreneurs I know have are:
- Unwavering ambition – they usually have big plans, big vision and a real desire to make it big and make a difference.
- ‘Hustling’ skills – an ability to find deals, people, services and general help at the lowest or no cost. A really helpful skill while the business is still in its early stages.
- Excellent financial management skills – companies fail because they run out of money, not always because the product/market fit wasn’t there, or people weren’t willing to pay. It’s always because you run out of money, so all founders need to know the ins and outs of managing cash flows.
- Tenacity – successful entrepreneurs never give up. A firm and tenacious mindsets the successful founders apart from those who are likely to fail.
- Ability to work in and manage uncertainty – starting a new venture is fraught with uncertainty and unknowns: your business plans which outline revenues, customers, profits, etc. are totally uncertain. Founders who can navigate this uncertainty and bring out the best in their teams are more successful.
- Team building – recruiting your first team members is critical for every founder but keeping all your staff motivated and engaged while your business scales (and possibly faces critical hurdles) is equally important.
- Personal self-belief – and the ability to draw other people into these beliefs.
Which entrepreneur do you admire most?
I admire anyone who is able to see opportunities and build amazing businesses which become household names, create massive job opportunities and have a positive benefit to society and to business and the economy.
The person whom I admire the most is Mohammed Yunus, Nobel Prize winning founder of the Grameen Bank, the first microlending bank in South Asia. The results of his vision, ambition and energy are now much lauded – thousands of women in rural areas have pulled themselves and their families out of abject poverty through small businesses funded by microloans from Grameen, but little is written about the obstacles and difficulties Mr. Yunus had to overcome from regulators, established lenders, the media and almost everyone else who said that he couldn’t succeed. He did succeed, and his success has bred many other microlenders in other parts of the developing world. I admire his vision, energy, resilience and tenacity in achieving his goals.
What is the New Entrepreneurs Foundation?
The NEF programme is a unique entrepreneurship development programme that selects up to 40 smart, aspiring entrepreneurs aged 21-28 years and provides them with:
- A 1-year, paid work placement, working with the founders of a high growth company
- An intensive training programme of 25 days of workshops on all aspects of launching and building your business
- A dedicated personal coach and access to a large pool of business mentors
- Access to networks via our regular speaker events where we invite established and emerging entrepreneurs and leading UK business leaders as speakers
What do you look for in candidates?
We look for evidence of ability and aptitude in the following areas:
- A demonstrable passion for entrepreneurship
- Proven risk appetite and evidence of resilience
- Ability to manage chaos and cope with uncertainty
- Strong commercial acumen
- Self-awareness and humility
- Ambitious, driven and highly motivated
- Has the right to work in the UK (as work placements are with UK-based start-ups)
The NEF programme would be perfect for anyone who is starting out and is thinking about entrepreneurship as a long term career and wants to fast-track their ambitions and skills in entrepreneurship. The foundation already has 120 Alumni who have launched over 40 new ventures, created nearly 500 new jobs and have raised £3m+ in early stage seed funding for their ventures.
Neeta was an early internet pioneer, having launched the first personal finance website in Europe back in 1997. She is currently an Entrepreneur-mentor in Residence at London Business School, guiding and advising student and alumni start-up ventures.
Neeta has garnered Board-level experience as a trustee and vice-chair of the Finance and General Purposes Committee at a major UK Charity. She’s also a Board advisor and mentor to a number of early stage startup ventures. Her experience encompasses financial services, education, publishing, digital media and technology – in both public and commercial sectors.
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