Find out how we got on at this year's Wales Start Up Awards...
Not us. Not this time. And you know what? I am glad. To be shortlisted down to the final 60 businesses in Wales ‘to watch for the future’ was an honour enough in itself. Plus, if you get the accolade after only being up and running for 6 months, what is there to aspire to?!
Now, I’ve been to a ton of award events as part of my 16+ year corporate career in the City, I’ve even organised and run a few myself. But nothing prepared me for the emotion and passion I was to feel as we stepped into the achingly cool auditorium, set up for the evening among the old shipping containers and pimped up caravans in a converted warehouse in Cardiff’s up and coming innovation district.
As Sian Lloyd, one of Wales’ premier newsreaders took to the stage to MC the event, I suddenly felt like a complete fraud. How could I be here rubbing shoulders with these entrepreneurs and innovators and young bright sparks? So used to hearing words like ‘innovation’, ‘digital’ and ‘transformation’ banded about as part of my corporate day job, here you could actually palpably feel the real passion and drive and dedication. Then I realised, that I was one of them too. A panel of esteemed judges had taken the time to review our idea, our vision and our grand plans for The Forge and had deemed that we are on to something. Wow. Just wow.
And as if I wasn’t dazzled enough by the setting and the splendour of the proceedings, as the different businesses took to the stage to receive their awards, and as I chatted to them later over cocktails (drunk out of jam jars, naturally) it suddenly occurred to me: the difference between this and any other corporate awards event I’ve ever been to was the genuine blood, sweat and tears not to mention the very, very many hours and personal sacrifices to get these businesses off the ground. This was not about spending a few late nights in the office with the guarantee of a steady salary and your 6 weeks holiday a year. This is about putting EVERYTHING on the line. Taking risks. Investing all of your savings. Not seeing your family for weeks on end. Having the grit and resilience to see it through when all the odds are stacked against you.
There was the lady who had set up a community interest company to care for the animal victims of domestic abuse and homelessness situations who told me, emotional and overwhelmed, and clutching her award like her life depended on it, that she had taken only four days off in their first year. Then there was last year’s Start Up of the Year Award winner, another lady for whom this was her one big night of the year. She works so hard outside every day with her 1800+ bee hives that she has to prepare for this event by religiously wearing gloves and doing only ‘light farming duties’ for the two days beforehand. The freight logistics team who took not one but four of the awards who dedicated their success to each other but, more importantly, to their partners behind the scenes, who keep the show on the road through all the dark days. In fact, throughout the whole evening I was struck by just how many of the awards and tributes went to women. It seems equality is very much alive and kicking in the Welsh entrepreneur landscape.
As I mingled with the winners, finalists, judges and sponsors late into the night it made me realise that our journey as a business is really only just beginning. We have SO much to learn and so many more mistakes to make, risks to take and decisions to ponder. Everyone I spoke to was genuinely enthusiastic and interested in our vision for The Forge, proffering sage advice like being crystal clear on your strategy and direction, not trying to be all things to all people and targeting different audiences at different times of year. So many lightbulb moments! So many amazing brains in the room! I have never felt more proud to be a Welsh, female entrepreneur.
And so, as I head back North on the train to deal with the devastation wrought by the storms on our fledgling business, and without an award in my hand, I should perhaps have my heart in my boots. But instead I feel so inspired, invigorated and ready to take on the world! I’ve learned so much, made some great connections and realised that we are just a baby business starting out in the world. So yes. Not winning was the best thing that could have happened to us right now. And there’s always next year...