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Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2006, 21:08 GMT
The speed networking experience
An economy stands and falls with its entrepreneurs. To boost their numbers, industry groups and the government have joined up and created UK Enterprise Week.

The week ends with "speed networking" events across the country, designed to hook up people with bright ideas with business partners and investors.

All day on this page we will be getting regular updates from two speed networkers, an entrepreneur and an investor.

Sumon Sadhu (l) and Colin Allison

Sumon Sadhu is a 23-year old internet entrepreneur, co-founder of Imperial Entrepreneurs and of Zenopy, a think tank for young technology entrepreneurs. He currently prepares to launch recruitment website Jobably.com.

Colin Allison is the founder and chief executive of AFL Associates, a firm that helps companies develop their business plans and prepare them for outside investors. An experienced manager of technology firms, he is a fellow of the Institute of Directors.

Colin Allison at the London Eye
The meeting in the London Eye (yes, there were 20 young entrepreneurs in one pod) gave me the opportunity to speak to emerging business people in such diverse businesses as:

  • Event management
  • Personalised clothing
  • Jewellery from recycled materials
Without exception, the business cases were well researched. Fulfilment and good customer service were well rehearsed.

I am proud to say that today's young entrepreneur is showing a professional front.

Colin Allison at the Young Vic
Surprise, but who should show up but Chancellor Gordon Brown and Sir Alan Sugar!

The quality of business ideas and entrepreneurs is still high.

Networking with several young people produced needs for info, contacts and leads.

A quick look on the PDA produced the info and away go entrepreneurs who have seen the value of networking.

Simon Woodruffe and Duncan Ballantyne (Dragons Den) are scheduled to come later.

A music industry journalist (Jordan) found a lead to a promoter.

Sumon Sadhu at the Institute of Directors
Wow, what a great way to kick off "speednetwork the nation" - at the ornate Pall Mall location of the Institute of Directors. It's amazing that this is just one of over 250 events going on today!

Even before the first whistle had been blown my networking kicked off as I bumped into Kerry Ritz, the UK managing director of the internet telephony company Vonage.

Vonage has been touted as being rather less successful than they had hoped with uptake - despite taking over $200m in investment and spending $300 a customer even before signup.

This was an amazing chance to get an opinion on how the company could fight off competition from the likes of BT.

Kerry mentioned Vonage's new USB enabled landline, which enables long distance calls at local prices.

I look forward to seeing how they bounce back. Vonage are growing rapidly so I was able to pitch [my company] jobably and we'll be meeting for coffee soon. Result!

Gareth from Enterprise Insight kicked off the event by giving away a fiver in exchange for a pound to illustrate the enterprising spirit. It is definitely alive at Westminster school, as I met students with some great ideas.

The most impressive was a 19-year-old of Angolan origin who wants to start a chartered airline to undercut BA in Angola by up to 50%. Is Yemi the next Branson?

Colin Allison at the Young Vic
Photo call completed, Brown and Sugar exit, leaving the Dragons (reinforcements arrived) to weave their magic.

It is to be hoped that they are more encouraging than their reality TV entertainment programme.

Our own 3Cs Community (www.3cscommunity.com) allows entrepreneurs to pitch for critique and help - much less entertainment and much more REAL.

These entrepreneurs are GOOD and deserve all the help that this Enterprise Week can give them.

Sumon Sadhu at the Young Vic
After a speedy session at the IoD it's a short taxi to the Young Vic off Waterloo Road. Introduced by speednetworking guru Oli Barrett the event draws an impressive crowd of young entrepreneurs.

As I head into the conversation I see t he crowds ripple as a crowd of cameras forces us back.

Surprise, surprise - it's Chancellor Gordon Brown together with none other than Sir Alan Sugar! Luckily I get a chance in front of the cameras to pitch to him what we're doing with Imperial Entrepreneurs in nurturing young technology entrepreneurs.

I don't think he really listened, is it all just for the cameras?

Luckily I meet a journalist who is, and manage to get my views across!

Next I encounter Dragons Richard Farleigh and Debrah Meaden. I've never disagreed with a Dragon before, but as I explain to Richard how the UK needs to grow its pool of technology entrepreneurs, he refuses to acknowledge the problems.

I just think he's too distanced having been an investment banker before. If we can't nurture talent at the bottom, how will he find opportunities to invest?

Colin Allison at Live Bar, Deptford Broadway
Speed networking with local entrepreneurs. Choreography University - extending the Billie Elliott effect! An entrepreneur who strongly believes the arts should be commercial and self-supporting.

Have you ever thought of plastic cards? By that, I mean business cards - what a way to ensure the memory of you and your business remain longer.

Sonia Raymond's business ensures quick delivery of those cards - many entrepreneurs forget fulfilment - Sonia has it sorted.

These people are further advanced with their latest "adventure" and their businesses are showing fruit with help from Lewisham business support teams.

Colin Allison
Taking a breather after three venues so far.

The overriding impression is that there are many young entrepreneurs who only need further encouragement and help.

A call to arms: when did you last help?

All it takes is a few hours of your time, but it could be the one thing that makes all the difference to a new, emerging business.

Enterprise Insight and other support organisations have shown the way with their superb initiatives - let's now get on with it and make it happen.

Sumon Sadhu
Moving on I bump into one of my favourite entrepreneurs, Peter Jones.

I really respect how he's built his career from scratch and his sensible advice. I get the chance to swap cards and invite him to Imperial. I'll definitely keep in touch!

After mingling with the celebrities I feel a little dazed and hungry! I find time to catch up with a few old friends, including Kulveer Tagger, co-founder of boso.com, and Douglas de Jager, founder of extate.com.

Kulveer's company has recently been headhunted to Silicon Valley and extate.com was recently described as the most advanced search technology on the net.

I'm glad to say UK innovation is alive and well despite what Richard Farleigh says.

We do need more young technology entrepreneurs in the UK, and keep them here!

Colin Allison
Just heard of an excellent green initiative - see: www.tiptheplanet.com

Sumon Sadhu in Lewisham
A really pleasing observation from the Young Vic is the number of really good entrepreneurs of school age and their ideas.

I met Hayden and Sam from Lewisham School who were the marketing managers for their school's Live magazine. Live magazine is a fantastic concept, a magazine which presents real information for students.

Colin Allison at the London College of Fashion
Hand-made shoes - that's the answer to my wide, high-instep foot needs. I met with just the lady to answer my prayers with hand-made shoes ..... Marsha Hall - www.marshahall.com

Entrepreneurs being introduced to the networking concept for the first time are going away tonight converted.

The "chance meeting" effect is well-known to the seasoned networker. "Newbies" have seen that it does work. Today, I have witnessed several cases of network successes, and hopefully, contributed to several.

Colin Allison at the Dana Centre, Science Museum
Last blog of the day - now at the Dana Centre, Science Museum, organised by Nesta.

These people "recycle" National Lottery funds into helping young, vibrant emerging businesses.

This is a speed networking event that really works - a long table around which some 60 people move, seat-to-seat, at three-minute intervals.

I witnessed four instances of business partnerships forming.

So, really, Nesta is achieving its main aim - that is to nurture new businesses and produce the catalyst that puts the whiz into UK plc.

Sumon Sadhu in Covent Garden
What a fantastic end to the day!

After the Young Vic I sped off to Lewisham to learn about the great regeneration work going on there, meeting an entrepreneur importing premium coffee from Ethiopia, and hearing how they are incubating creative business with 10,000 grants and business support.

Also it seems Greenwich is an up and coming part of London, so property investors be prepared!

After a short break for food (it's hard to network and eat at the same time) I went to the social entrepreneurs event run by Servane from Ogunte at the vibrant Brazilian cocktail bar Guanabara near Covent Garden.

Over peach mojitos it was great to meet with so many interesting social entrepreneurs. I learned about the first socially conscious financial services company called Quote for Kids. The legal structure of the company is such that rather than accounting to shareholders they provide a proportion of profits directly to nominated charities.

Legally its a cross between a charity and a limited company. Very cool.

Will we see an ethical investment bank? That's the next question.

Finally I was at the very chilled out setting of the Dana Centre at the Science Museum where I met creative entrepreneurs. This was by far my most productive session as I discussed a partnership to hold a debate on UK innovation with the Science Museum, met a guy who shared an interest in making horror films and talked to Nesta about sponsoring Imperial Entrepreneurs!

All in all, seven hours later, 100 business cards down and up on opportunities generated it has been an amazing day.

As a young entrepreneur there is really no doubt that speednetworking rules!

After a hard day, I'm off to enjoy a celebratory drink. ;-)

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