The pandemic has been a game-changer for local businesses, and when Covid-19 hit, local entrepreneur and founder of StartUp Disruptors, Becky Lodge, was galvanised into action. Here she explains why she wanted to get involved in reporting on the impact of Covid-19 on the sector in Portsmouth.
My name is Becky Lodge, I’m a company director and started my own business Little Kanga Ltd at the kitchen table in 2015. Prior to this, I had worked as an international sales and marketing director in the radio broadcast software and engineering sectors. Both degree and Chartered Institute of Marketing qualified, I am committed to helping Portsmouth improve its start-up and small business success rates. Over 80% of businesses fail in the first five years, so start-up is risky and expensive.
In 2016, I noticed that start-ups and small businesses in the city were not getting the support and attention they deserved. There was no truly independent ‘voice’, so I gathered a few people in a pub in Southsea – all the best ideas happen in pubs – to talk about how we could improve the start-up business experience for the community, particularly ensuring that the local business failure rates could be addressed.
A number of themes emerged. Women, POC communities and those from areas of deprivation were more likely to receive negative responses, lack support and are often not taken seriously by funding and support bodies. Many were quickly classified as ‘just a mum-preneur’ or ‘just a freelancer’ by organisations that were advising them and were key to their early stage success and survival.
I found this very disappointing. It felt convenient that people could easily ‘pigeonhole’ women, minorities and those from areas of deprivation, whilst others were judged on their ideas and teams and were prioritised for attention.
This is nothing new. Less than 1% of UK venture funding goes to all-female teams, women’s businesses are woefully underfunded, and there are similar barriers facing ethnic minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
We grew StartUp Disruptors from nine people in a pub to over 120 businesses in our first year. The aim was to protect the interests of the start-up community and give them a faster track to knowledge and funding. I started a Facebook group to support local entrepreneurs, practically and emotionally, as it can be very lonely. Within 2 years we had 1200 business members: a mix of entrepreneurs, freelancers, micro-business owners and high growth business start-ups – all wanting to build sustainable businesses in Portsmouth. I shared articles, resources and funding links in the group, as well as my own 30 years of business knowledge, all for free. I lecture at the University of Portsmouth Business School and we also work closely with them to provide support and resources for members.
To date, I have mentored and supported over 3000 business owners, and StartUp Disruptors has raised over £250,000 worth of grant and loan funding. We are now a team of six people based across the UK and alongside the group, we offer targeted support to small businesses for a monthly fee.
Through my own experiences, I’d seen people charging entrepreneurs phenomenal rates for coaching and advice and it was bankrupting start-ups before they even began. I wanted to change this. Our community is about transparency, being ethical, and helping one another to succeed in business. Great advice should be affordable for all.
Our Facebook group now has over 1400 people and is still growing. The world of business is changing and we are making a difference here in Portsmouth.
The impact of Covid-19
Like many others, I was looking forward to baking banana bread during lockdown. However, I contracted COVID on 20th March 2020 and had a prolonged illness, whilst also dealing with the failure of one of my event brands Hampshire Meet The Buyer, which had to be cancelled overnight. This was a crushing blow as we have awarded half a million pounds worth of contract value at this event to small businesses. I was also extremely ill with COVID and had to bed rest for 16 weeks.
But something incredible happened. Knowing that I was alone (my husband was on lockdown in Wales when I was taken ill), the StartUp Disruptors community rallied round, offering to do shopping and give me support. Together, we also extracted one of our community members from France who was stuck there with no flight out. After I told the community, one of our travel agents secured a flight for him within days. A sense of community had grown, offering real support.
Community is what drives a city like Portsmouth, but for too long the money hasn’t been devolved to support everyone. We stand for challenging the way this operates and the amount of support we have in the local business community tells me we’re doing something right!
When Star & Crescent set out to discover the impact of the pandemic on small businesses, I wanted to get involved. I think independent media is imperative for small businesses across the city and in the wider Solent region, particularly in bringing diverse stories of entrepreneurs and businesses to the mainstream. I’m looking forward to sharing stories from local businesses and start ups in Portsmouth.
S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:
- voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
- small businesses and self-employed people
- BAME communities
We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.