How I discovered the power of Croydon’s entrepreneurial community
Director of Strata Security and experienced entrepreneur Ben Holt on how Croydon's community spirit gives it the edge over East London.
Croydon has a thriving entrepreneurial community: start-up hubs, workspaces, and regular events. Not only is there easy access to free advice, but for those that seek it, there is the warm arm of friendship and shared journeys.
It is easy to take this for granted. But as someone who started out on the other side of town, I know from personal experience how special and empowering this is.
I first decided to start my own business when I felt burnt out and disillusioned with my conventional career. I had been very successful, but having worked mainly with smaller companies I wasn’t clear on my next move and had lost my ‘why’.
So, I saved up my pennies, and quit my job upon hitting my savings target. After a bit of time out, plus reflection and research, I started a business doing something completely different: summer camps as a vehicle to bring leadership skills into education.
I got new training, involved people who knew what they were doing, and made a plan. The plan was half-baked and I had a fair bit of luck. And, incredibly, it worked.
At the start, I had to spend a long time preparing for and building something that I knew might completely flop. Some days, putting in the hours felt like wading through treacle. Fearful of feeling foolish, I wanted to hide away until I could prove to the world that I could make it work.
While understandable perhaps, I had it all wrong. The psychology of entrepreneurship is an interesting and finely balanced thing. Bravado can give you courage, but it often takes paranoid anxiety to root out all the impediments to success.
In fact, I only learned one of the most powerful lessons about entrepreneurship sometime after moving to Croydon: the power of community.
East London has a huge and thriving scene, but ‘big’ often lacks intimacy, and can intimidate. For me Croydon has the perfect balance.
When I first came to Croydon, I moved into a nationally branded office block that purported to serve small businesses. In fact it kept businesses very isolated, plus double charged me and then inexplicably would not repay or respond.
Subsequently, the opening of Sussex Innovation Croydon and TMRW provided a true sense of start-up interaction and community. Regular events helped complete the picture, such as those now run by Croydon Digital.
I discovered what an immeasurable psychological difference it makes to have fellow travellers on your start-up journey. Furthermore, this community provides a brilliant overlap of skills and experience that can bring new ideas, confidence, and connections.
This year, I have been working on two entrepreneurial projects with people I met here through Croydon’s tech and start-up communities. The most advanced of these has now become a full-time job at Strata, helping larger companies to ‘join up’ their cyber security tools and data.
Incubating a start-up can be one of the most inherently insecure of activities. Yet ironically enough, thanks to Croydon, I have finally found the security I was looking for.