Perspectives on Life as an Entrepreneur
Bolton School Bursaries

The first of the academic year’s Perspectives lectures at Bolton School focussed on what life is like as an entrepreneur. Girls’ Division Head Mrs Kyle and Sixth Form student Miya Brennan introduced the four guest speakers and Mrs Jepson compered the event.

Charlotte Morley (Class of 1999) was first onto the virtual podium, recalling how, after leaving Bolton School, she had studied Geography at Cambridge. After this, she spent 10 incredible years working in Intelligence where, she said, she tackled threats to national security and developed numerous work and life skills. She recalled, however, that she couldn’t shake the belief that sustainability was where she could have the greatest impact and so, using technology, she attempted to build consumer products which might help change the way we live. 

Charlotte told how she had recently read that entrepreneurship is the process of starting and running a business and taking on financial risk in the hope of making profit. For her personally, she said it was also about striving to make the world better and was the best thing she could imagine doing for her children’s future. She also emphasised how it involved considerable risk, both financially and in terms of your reputation. She told how she founded thelittleloop while working as Head of Digital Product at Notonthehighstreet and how she left her role to work on her own business full-time. In 2022, she appeared on the Dragon’s Den with her proposition and became the first contestant to come away with double her investment request.

Charlotte’s first tip to the audience was to define the impact you want to have – for her it was a chance to solve real world problems. She told how you need huge self-drive to succeed as an entrepreneur and, more often than not, the ability to be innovative and creative; warning that only 10% of start-ups succeed. On the plus side, she said you have more control over your destiny and can work more flexibly. Charlotte told how, in her job, she gets to do everything and, for her, this was a good thing as she has always needed variety and stimulation. Her success, she said, has led to her being able to meet Deborah Meaden and Stephen Bartlett every six months and has allowed her to visit number 10 and to meet the Prime Minister; she also told how she has won awards and had the privilege of developing a team. Being an entrepreneur, Charlotte said, gives you the opportunity to leave a legacy, to do good and to make a real change in the world.

After leaving Bolton School in 1982, Rob Dobson gained a first-class degree in Electronic Engineering from the University of Southampton. He recalled that, after university, he had the chance to join a big company or a small consultancy run by his university professor. He chose the latter and advised the audience to always choose the entrepreneurial option!

Rob recalled how he then went on to start his own company, which lasted for 2 years as they worked in a cowshed; on reflection, he realises that he wasn’t great at sales and marketing! He told how he then went on to start his own business, an electronics consultancy and how they secured work with EE, still a fledgling company at that point, and at other mobile phone companies. He told how he had always wanted to make his own products and how he had started with hardware but moved to software. His company, Actix, experienced rapid growth employing over 200 people in eight locations around the world as it focused on algorithmic optimisation for mobile phone networks. He then recalled how, after the birth of his first child, he realised he was doing too much travelling and that he wanted to go back to developing products. He explained how he determined to sell the business in order to return to his roots of running a small company. Rob said he believed entrepreneurship to be about following your passions. He advised pupils to try and work out what you are passionate about. From a young age, he said that he knew he liked making things – his uncle having given him an electronics kits when he was aged 13. Rob felt that many of the attributes you develop as an entrepreneur, such as good communication skills, the ability to interact with others, being patient and keeping going regardless of setbacks are what you need to do most jobs. Rob explained how he is passionate about empowering young people and helping them realise their dreams and told how he had started an entrepreneurship programme at Bolton School two years ago.

Rob was Bolton School Boys’ Division’s Prizegiving Speaker in June 2017 and the Primary Division's inaugural Hulton Lecture Speaker in May 2023; he is now one of the most active independent angel investors in Scotland.

Krish Patel told how he left Bolton School in 2008 aged 16 for a scholarship at Bury Football Club, where he went on to gain a professional contract. He recounted how, after injury and aged just 20, he didn’t know what do next. Winning a scholarship to play football in California and to study for a Business degree over 4 years, he moved to the US. Krish explained how he then gradually moved away from caring about material possessions to caring about people; showing people how much helping others matters. He told how, aged 24, he ran four marathons in four days and went on to visit Uganda where he coached football, helped homeless children and built a school. Moving back to Bolton, he realised there were lots of homeless people on the streets of his home town and decided to swim 53 miles across the lakes of the Lake District, raising funds that helped 36 homeless people into jobs via a Manchester charity.

In 2019, Krish told how he launched Tales to Inspire, a platform and social enterprise to share people’s stories online in order to inspire change; it went on to become a blog and a podcast and a not-for-profit organisation. Krish explained how he then visited schools and businesses to deliver workshops and programmes and even became a TEDx speaker. In February of this year, Krish launched StoryOak, after interviewing his grandma. StoryOak captures people's life stories on film which are passed onto their family members, so that no story goes forgotten.

Being an entrepreneur, Krish said, is all about finding the gaps and then finding solutions. He advised to not always follow the well-trodden path but to be creative and told the audience that you can do it your own way. There will be times, he said, when you are lonely and full of self-doubt and that being an entrepreneur can be tough but, overall, it is very rewarding and through hard work you can get so much out of it.

Katherine Swift (Class of 1990) said being an entrepreneur is all about belief and passion. Katherine told how she studied Modern Languages at university but decided a career in this field wasn’t for her. She told how she initially went into marketing and media and worked for the Manchester Evening News, The Independent, the Capital Radio Group and Talk Sport before moving into event management. Then a significant life event had such a profound impact on her that she completely changed the course of her career in a way that she never would have expected.

Katherine said that she felt compelled to move to the Third Sector when her mother was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2010. She vowed to do everything she could do to help her and started working with a breast cancer charity that funds world-class research. Spending time in the research unit, she told how she became fascinated with the potential that green tea, which is full of antioxidants, had to fight the disease. If her mum was going to drink green tea, it had to be the best, and it was then that she discovered matcha. They both started drinking matcha green tea and felt great; Katherine explained that she felt so passionate about matcha that five years after her mum’s diagnosis, she launched OMGTea, a specialist matcha green tea company. Almost 10 years on and they are now stocked in Holland & Barrett, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Ocado and many more stores. She told how she had to sacrifice a lot of time and of the risk but that her passion saw her through. In 2018, she too was invited onto the Dragons’ Den: whilst she was not given any funding, she said it was a great learning experience. Katherine said that entrepreneurialism is a journey of ups and downs but it gives you flexibility, independence and job satisfaction. She agreed with earlier speakers in believing that businesses need to have a meaning beyond making money and not only does she demonstrate this through OMGTea’s third sector partnerships but also through her charity, The Healthy Life Foundation, that was founded to fund research into age related diseases. Katherine said that she lives and breathes her business; that authenticity is vital and that you need to be true to your values.

The audience asked a variety of challenging questions, adroitly fielded by Mr Kettle, which included how best to promote your company against larger competitors, to what extent did school and university prepare you to be an entrepreneur, how do you identify problems that need solving for society, are languages an asset in being an entrepreneur, how do you know when to accept defeat and to move on, how do you network effectively, how important is it to have a degree in entrepreneurship and how do you manage a personal and work life balance?

You can watch the discussion in full here.

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