Enterprise Exchange Directors Phil Ashford and Benna McCartney recently celebrated a work anniversary. The occasion helped them reflect on what brought them together in the first place, and what drives them to continue to reach out to people they can support.
Phil and Benna met ten years ago while in working in Newhaven, East Sussex. Phil was working with Business Link and Benna Chichester College SEED Project. They were working with a similar client group but it was a link made by someone else which brought them together and helped them see each other’s qualities.
John Orr was the Resettlement Partnership Manager at HMP Lewes (now retired) and asked Phil and Benna independently to work there. John had identified that self-employment was often the only option for most people once through the gate, and was keen to provide training.
Although this was a short-term project, the seeds of a partnership had been sown and redundancy offered Phil and Benna the opportunity to start a business together and build on their new understanding of each other’s skills.
The next step was to organise focus groups in HMP Lewes and HMP Ford to ask what support the men felt they needed if they were to set up their own businesses. This feedback helped Phil and Benna get funding through Serco and run a successful 18 month programme, working with 89 men, of which 40% ended up in self-employment or employment afterwards.
Over the past nine years, Enterprise Exchange has grown into a substantial business offering self-employment support to those on the edges of society.
The main drive for Benna to begin this work was due to previous challenging life experiences. She has had eight businesses since the age of 18, so understands the additional challenges that women in business face, which gave her empathy for other groups who have additional barriers to enterprise and a passion for helping people overcome them.
As a qualified business advisor running the East Sussex Enterprise Gateway (a programme to enable hard to reach people access start-up business support), Phil found his vocation by linking his specialist skills with a desire to increase opportunities for those with challenges.
Enterprise Exchange now has nine staff members working across the UK and has established a reputation as being the pioneer of self-employment support for those for whom mainstream business support is not fit-for-purpose.