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North East 'Dragons' share secrets of their success


Three of the region's top entrepreneurs are passing on their skills to a new generation of business men and women thanks to a scheme run by Newcastle University.

Students at Newcastle can receive advice from three 'Rise-Up Visiting Entrepreneurs', Jane Nolan MBE, Max Robinson and Angela McLean.

The three will talk about the secrets of their success and be on hand to give one to one advice to any students who have a business idea they want to develop.

They are sharing their knowledge, helping students develop strategies and giving realistic insight into starting, growing and developing a successful business. Jane, Angela and Max will talk about the pitfalls they found during their careers and how they can be avoided, as well as key strategies for success.

It's all part of the support that Newcastle University students can access during their time at the University, and even after they have graduated. In the last two years Newcastle University students have set up 59 businesses, providing vital employment in the North East and elsewhere.

Marc Lintern, Director of the Careers Service at Newcastle University, said: "There is no better way to learn than from people who have been there and done it for real. The advice the entrepreneurs are able to give will be invaluable for any student who wants to start their own business and has a great idea but doesn't know how to take it further. We can offer them a real boost through our Rise Up ideas incubator unit and advice from experienced business experts."

Jane Nolan MBE, from Alnwick, a graduate of the School of English Language, Literature and Linguistics at Newcastle University, has had four decades in business -and she draws on her very varied experience in her teaching and one to one coaching work at Newcastle University.

Her company, Shark Group, which she sold in 2007, was a successful niche design and manufacturing business, with national and international awards for design and innovation as well as awards for export achievement and staff development. Jane won the NE Rural Woman Entrepreneur of the Year and was awarded the MBE for services to UK exports.

She said: "The role of the Visiting Entrepreneurs is to support enterprise activity and students in a range of ways, sharing our stories, the successes and failures, the lessons learned. To me, the qualities which have been crucial are resilience, passion and determination, the ability to make things happen, to see opportunities and find solutions for problems, to create a strong team ethos and to work well with people, both colleagues and customers. Because Shark Group was a niche company, I needed to have a broad skill set - this included learning some skills I originally felt were way outside my comfort zone - but I learned that you can do anything if you have the determination."

Multi-award winning Angela McLean has started five businesses in the past 25 years - in both manufacturing and the service sector.

One of her businesses which she launched 22 years ago, Baggers - children's rainwear in a bag - starting with ten pounds, a sewing machine and the kitchen table was a fast growth business ending up with a £2 million turnover in just over two years.   Angela is now re-launching this business with her daughter Jessica as Baggers Originals in April 2013.

She said: "Managing this type of growth is difficult especially for the inexperienced and this is where mentors can be vital.   It is difficult to start a business and the nascent entrepreneur needs help and support, this is what we can provide as we have had the experience.  Entrepreneurship has become more visible in the last ten years and I wish this kind of support on offer at Newcastle University had been available when I was a student it would have been a huge help to me and minimised the risk."

Max Robinson is a highly respected academic, pioneer, inventor and visionary in the field of 3D X-ray imaging.  Some of Max's early research around 3D imagery led to major contracts for bomb disposal and nuclear material handling applications.  His present company, Kromek, based in Durham, was founded in 2003 and has since won numerous industry awards and has over 60 employees. The company produces a range of products for x-ray and gamma ray imaging based on its revolutionary method of producing semiconductor detection material.

Max said: "When I first started I knew nothing about business but I learnt as I went on from my mistakes. Hopefully I can help others avoid those. I would say the key thing is to do your homework very thoroughly in particular with regards to markets and competitors. And you must believe passionately in what you are doing, otherwise why should anyone else?"

Pictured, left to right, are Angela McLean, Max Robinson and Jane Nolan.

published on: 2 April 2013