Spotlight on Lesley Williams, outreach director at Welsh ICE
Introducing Lesley Williams – the outreach director for Welsh ICE. Read our exclusive interview with her and find out how she kickstarted her career, what her motivations are and the challenges she has faced along the way.
1 – Please tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
My name’s Lesley – I’m Outreach Director at Welsh ICE (Innovation Centre for Enterprise). We’re a business hub based in Caerphilly – passionate about supporting entrepreneurs to flourish in a fun collaborative community while challenging them to overcome their perceived limitations.
I joined this fantastic community as Community Outreach Manager in 2019, with the mission to take the incredible business support available at Welsh ICE ‘on tour’, to make quality business support accessible to everyone.
My vehicle to do this is an 8-9 week, flexible, after-hours business course called the 5 to 9 Club. This programme walks individuals with a business idea (or 3!), through the fundamental things they need to know about, to make their business a success. They learn and develop their business model alongside a like-minded group of people, in a super fun and supportive environment, with experts on a weekly basis.
The course is designed to fit around daytime commitments comfortably, while accelerating business know-how, contacts and confidence, to take the leap of faith into self-employment.
I’m responsible for the development of this fantastic programme; to collaborate with partners to reach as many budding entrepreneurs as possible; and to support a team of INCREDIBLE facilitators to deliver the programme, making enterprise a freeing force across Wales and beyond.
2 – How and when did you get started with ICE/5-9 Club?
I came across ICE first following a meeting with a community member. At the time I was running my own business – a teddy bear brand in the luxury family market, internationally exporting. I ran this business for 6 years, and in that time I also said yes to far too many “shiny” opportunities, as many entrepreneurs do – I was a member of the board for organisations who shared my passions, around supporting women into business; young people to consider self-employment as a career option, and around supporting creatives to be more entrepreneurial.
I was also a role model for Big Ideas Wales and graduated from USW with a Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurial Practices – around this time I caught the bug for helping others to realise their entrepreneurial dreams and capabilities.
While on maternity leave in 2018, I had developed an idea which was very much in line with the 5 to 9 Club, and while assessing my options, I stumbled across a job advert on Creative Cardiff, for Welsh ICE’s Community Outreach Manager role – and it spoke to me!
I knew I could make a much bigger impact with ICE as a platform than I could alone, so I applied! and will always be so grateful to Jamie McGowan for taking a chance on me with this crazy, and immensely rewarding role.
3 – What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced, and continue to face, is around handling imposter syndrome.
Entrepreneurship helped me to challenge my comfort zone and break past my perceived limitations; however, in this incredibly exciting role, I’m looked up to, put in front of crowds frequently, and leaned on for support by many.
And so, I’ve had to quickly learn to be ok with feeling uncomfortable, and to trust in myself, knowledge and experience.
Also (just the same as with many other people), COVID-19 has been one long challenge on several levels.
Personally – childcare has been difficult, especially alongside a growing workload over the last 18 months. In these challenging times, many individuals have found themselves being pulled towards entrepreneurship out of necessity – The number of individuals the 5 to 9 Club has supported in this time has grown by 75%, and so this growth has been very difficult to juggle alongside family commitments.
Thankfully, I have a supportive partner, and a fantastic team around me, which has also grown on the back of the pandemic. We all work tirelessly to ensure we support as many individuals into entrepreneurship as possible – Micro businesses will play a critical role as communities build back following COVID-19.
4 – What has been your most satisfying moment so far?
Oh, there has been many! The most satisfying moments will always be seeing 5 to 9-ers do well on the back of the programme. To see their knowledge, contacts and confidence accelerate as it does, makes my heart sing!
There is nothing more rewarding or satisfying than being involved with a programme that makes such a positive influence on people’s lives.
5 – Would you recommend entrepreneurship to others?
Absolutely! I believe everyone has a business idea in them, and although entrepreneurship is a lifestyle that’s not for everyone – for those who it suits, it’s a powerful freeing force, and for those who it doesn’t – their experience of exploring that business idea will develop contacts and transferable skills to support them in employment, and their career development.
So yes! I think it’s a good idea for everyone to explore entrepreneurship – and that’s exactly why the 5 to 9 Club is so successful. We provide a safe space to explore an idea and to accelerate networks, around other commitments comfortably.
6 – What was your motivation to become an entrepreneur?
When I first explored entrepreneurship, I was fresh out of uni, and despite my ambition for a big, exciting career, the South Wales Valleys offered me very little opportunities at the time, especially as a creative. Starting a business was my best opportunity if I was to stay in the Valleys.
7 – What drives you, what motivates you to support more entrepreneurs to make their dreams a reality?
Witnessing the accelerated confidence in 5 to 9 ers after 8 short weeks, and the ripple effect it has on their friends and family is incredibly motivating and proves my belief in the power of entrepreneurship to create positive change in communities – through supporting the local economy, job creation, and opportunity creation.
And for those who venture down a social route with their business, the impact of supporting that one person goes so much further and deeper into the heart of a community.
Undervalued communities need more positive role model figures who share the same accent, identity and background as themselves, and entrepreneurship can provide these inspirational figures.
My mission with the 5 to 9 Club is to develop more role models among underrepresented groups of entrepreneurs and to inspire positive change in undervalued and mistreated communities across the UK.
In short – the impact the programme makes on people’s lives and places is what motivates and drives me.
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