Neil Finnie is Founder of Corkscrew and The Generator Workhub.

Entrepreneurs are the perfect modern-day corkscrew thinkers

This month we talk to Neil Finnie, Founder of Corkscrew and The Generator Workhub. Neil reveals how he finds himself supporting the world of startups and why entrepreneurs are the modern-day corkscrew thinkers.

Can you tell us about your background and how it brought you to supporting the wonderful world of startups?
I've been involved in launching businesses from leaving school at 18, from companies in construction to hospitality, I've always loved being part of something that grows from an initial seed to something that has a direct impact in someone's everyday life. I've also found that my professional and personal development has come in direct correlation from the startup process, teaching myself how to build websites, how to market a product, learning how to do something for yourself is the best type of education anyone can get! Had you asked me 10 years ago would I be supporting other startups and entrepreneurs I would have laughed at the thought, like many founders I think you can have doubts about your own abilities and the idea of telling someone else what to do in their own business seemed alien to me, that's for the business professors and trainers.

However, seven years ago I launched an Internship Placement business, we would place (mainly US) students in international internships that matched their career goals or study focus, so marketing students in marketing companies, finance to finance and fashion to fashion, the same that has always been done. However, we noticed that after speaking to 1000s of students we felt that they weren't being prepared for the working world, education in its traditional sense is very linear, very A2B.

Companies are looking for graduates with initiative, confidence and with creative problem solving abilities, most of those we spoke to couldn't highlight any of these strengths in themselves. You could argue that the intern host should help the student to grow, but most placements only lasted 8 weeks and therefore not enough time for the companies to value the time/resources needed to develop a student who would ultimately leave to return to the US. This was a big issue as we felt the placements we provided weren't having the impact we wanted. Internally, I looked at the skills missing (initiative, confidence and creative problem solving) and asked if I had those skills, I felt I did...I then asked why? The answer was through my experiences in the world of startups. It was clear the process of launching a business from ideation to testing and launch developed the key skills companies are looking for in their employees...that cliché Eureka moment of why don't we develop a program that develops career skills through the process of startup...Corkscrew was created.

What can Corkscrew/The Generator offer entrepreneurs?
Corkscrew - our unique startup programs can help entrepreneurs spark new ideas and test their feasibility quickly through our SEAMLESS Canvas. We can also provide support/advice/investment to those wishing to move their ideas forward. However, Corkscrew is more focused on developing personal and professional skill sets, entrepreneurship and new startups is a secondary goal for us.

The Generator - The Generator was launched in unison with Corkscrew, we wanted those that joined the program to be inspired by others that have launched their own business and to learn in a more organic fashion. Five years later the Generator now has two locations and more than 10000 sqft of space and more than 150 members. We offer entrepreneurs a way to connect with like-minded individuals and to find partners, customers and new ideas for their business. I'm learning everyday from different members, from how to use social media marketing to accounting advice, it's an ever evolving ecosystem of best practise across multiple sectors. It's a very organic approach and we encourage our residents to be proactive in making connections, but it's amazing to see how the community has grown and how supportive they are to each other.

Obviously, as a cowork space, we also provide entrepreneurs the chance to access affordable and flexible office space, allowing them to grow without fear of long commitments and the logistical headache of running their own office space.

What is Corkscrew thinking?
During the second world war, Winston Churchill declared a need for corkscrew thinkers. He was referring to individuals who possess creative problem-solving, initiative, leadership and emotional intelligence skills. Individuals who are able to look at problems in the world and see game-changing, innovative solutions.

Jump forward 65 years and these skills have never been more desirable or in demand. But our education system, which was designed in response to an industrialised Britain, is one that requires and promotes standardisation. Many students today believe all you need to be successful is to reach an answer that has been predetermined as correct. In other words, everyone is taught to think the same way.

Entrepreneurs are the perfect modern-day corkscrew thinkers. They’re people who aren’t afraid to take risks, step out of their comfort zones and challenge the status quo. They champion creativity and imagination. They have the courage to push traditional boundaries, and realise it’s worth investing the time to find the best solution – not the easiest.

What's been the strongest/most creative business concept that you’ve come across to date?
I think that's a really difficult one to answer, as a business can be judged on so many criteria from it's financial success to the impact it can make on society or environment. I'm a massive fan of social enterprises and feel that there will be some exciting developments in the sector over the next decade as we look to business to solve larger global issues. I also love the crowd based companies such as Kickstarter and Crowdcube - allowing businesses to tap into those that share their vision and let their dream become a reality.

Is Exeter a good place to grow a business? What are your thoughts on the region’s innovation ecosystem?
It's much improved from when I arrived seven years ago, I've really noticed more collaboration over the last 18 months. I think it's an exciting time to be in Exeter as the work/life balance is perfect for the new way of working and think this will attract more and more businesses to relocate in the city centre. I think as long as we can free up more commercial space in the city centre and more amenities across the city then we will see even more exciting progress.

What makes you tick?
People...I can map out my life from the people I've met and how they've impacted me. One thing I tell all our participants and those looking at making their way in the world is 'Commit to Connect' and meet as many different people as you can and learn from them.

Date: 22 February 2018

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