Entrepreneurs have chance to shine in digital hub

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AJAZ Ahmed has been the scourge of the legal profession, and taxpayer-backed bodies that don’t meet his high standards.

So it was hardly surprising that he subjected a group of budding digital tycoons to a real grilling.

SIMON EDWARDS: 'Mr Ahmed gave me a tough time on my ambitions, which made me think maybe I need to think a lot bigger.' PIC: Scott Merrylees

SIMON EDWARDS: 'Mr Ahmed gave me a tough time on my ambitions, which made me think maybe I need to think a lot bigger.' PIC: Scott Merrylees

Mr Ahmed, who co-founded Freeserve, has made headlines in recent years for launching a withering attack on the quality of advice provided by public sector funded bodies.

He’s also behind a joint venture with LCF Law called Legal 365; which is an online legal services provider that has been established in response to radical changes in the legal sector.

So he was ideally-placed to cast a critical eye over the first batch of applicants for the Digital Hub, which provides top class work space in the heart of Leeds for fledgling businesses.

Mr Ahmed was a member of the panel that listened to business plans provided by entrepreneurs who wanted to occupy space at the hub. The successful applicants included Simon Edwards, who runs two businesses - Beanify, a gourmet coffee club and The UK App Company, which makes iphone apps for cafes, bars and restaurants.

“Ajaz Ahmed did give me quite a tough time in the interview,” Mr Edwards recalled. “It was challenging in a good way, because if somebody asks me a question, and I can’t answer it, I like to go away and reflect on it and work it out.

“So he gave me a tough time on my ambitions for the company, which made me think that maybe I need to think a lot bigger.”

The Yorkshire Post is partnering with Leeds Metropolitan University in a scheme that helps new digital companies to achieve their growth potential.

The Digital Hub in Leeds provides flexible city centre office space, mentoring and training services and the opportunity to work with like-minded people in a collaborative environment.

Hub businesses can also benefit from regular exposure in our business pages.

Organisers are looking for early stage, start-up and established companies to join the programme. New applicants are in the process of being assessed.

Steve Baker, a successful software entrepreneur who now works with QU2, the university’s business support service, will provide expert mentoring.

Law firm DWF and accountancy practice WGN will provide professional services and The Yorkshire Post will provide media training.

The first tenants, which also include Immedia, phase90, Snowball Digital and The Capture Lab, moved in earlier this month.

They pitched to a Dragons’ Den-style panel of entrepreneurs and advisers.

Mr Edwards said he had settled in well, and he is keen to invite clients to his new base.

“Before this I was based in a very small office,’’ he said. “What attracted me here was the idea that there was going to be a lot of energy. You share contacts and connections and resources. If you’re all together in one space. hopefully that will happen more naturally.

“We’ve got grand plans for both businesses and want to grow them to be pretty huge and known UK-wide.”

Apart from Mr Ahmed the panel included Neil Warnock, a seasoned entrepreneur who has built three IT start-ups into multi-million pound businesses, Katie Rigarlsford, head of Enterprise Academy at Leeds Met, Helen Oldham, the managing director of Johnston Press Yorkshire and Yorkshire Post Business Editor Bernard Ginns.

Mr Warnock, of Leeds-based Bluesmith Information Systems, said: “The new hub is an digital entrepreneur’s dream - a fusion of technology business incubation and collaborative co-working space. Not only is physical infrastructure and business support taken care of, the opportunities for innovation, creativity and knowledge-sharing are amazing.”

The identities of the next round of successful applicants will be revealed later this month.

Capitalising on the growing momentum...

The Leeds Digital Hub aims to ensure that the rising stars of Yorkshire’s digital sector stay ahead of the competition.

The Digital Hub in Leeds provides self-motivated entrepreneurs with the opportunity to blossom in a stimulating environment, where they can mix with people who are facing the same opportunities and challenges.

The small digital firms occupy the same working environment but operate independently. They can, however, soon find that they have a lot in common.

Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council, said: “This is an excellent initiative. It builds on the strong foundation of creative and digital businesses that have been the hallmark of the Leeds economy over the years since the days of Freeserve.

“There is a growing momentum in the Leeds economy and some of our most talented entrepreneurs are capitalising on the opportunities in the growing digital sector.

“The flexible space and supportive networks of the hub will be a valuable addition to the city.”