Prince's Trust helps ITers achieve business dreams

When Jaz Daurka and Anoop Bhabra wanted to start their own company they didn't think financiers would help them, writes Nathalie...

When Jaz Daurka and Anoop Bhabra wanted to start their own company they didn't think financiers would help them, writes Nathalie Towner.

Both graduates in computer science, Daurka and Bhabra found themselves without work at the beginning of the IT slump. Their contracts as a junior developer for the Immigration Service and as a software consultant on Y2K compliance had come to an end and there was nothing promising on the horizon.

Fortunately, this provided the ideal opportunity to set up the business they had been talking about since their university days. Back then they did not know what their venture would involve, except that it would have something to do with IT.

However, seven months of unemployment gave them plenty of opportunity to research the market and decide that offering companies template-based Web sites was the way forward. They realigned their skill sets and became self-taught Web designers.

All they needed to get the enterprise off the ground was some seed funding, but by mid-2000 most investors had had their fingers burnt in the dotcom crash. The prospects for two unemployed ITers in their mid-twenties touting an Internet-related business were not rosy.

"We were talking to the Business Link in Hayes about starting up the business when one of their advisers recommended the Prince's Trust," says Daurka.

The Prince's Trust is a charity that gives young entrepreneurs start-up finance and support. It agreed to back Daurka and Bhabra and gave them help with their business plan. It then offered them a £4,000 loan after they made a presentation to the charity's panel.

The money helped them secure office space and buy the necessary technology. The loan has to be paid back on a monthly basis after the first six months of trading, but the Prince's Trust does its utmost to ensure this is manageable.

This is where the ongoing support from a mentor proved indispensable for Daurka and Bhabra. He helped them avoid the mistakes that many start-up companies make. "We were obviously very comfortable with all the IT issues we faced but far less so when it came to contracts, legal affairs, accounts and marketing," says Daurka.

"The business mentor has been really invaluable, we see him on a monthly basis. We had no experience of accounts before, so the main advice has been about how to keep the books in order, keep all records, chase invoices and not let debtors get out of control."

The original business concept has evolved, and the company - named pages123.com - now provides high-quality custom-built Web site solutions for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). "We found that the personal touch is more in demand, so now we offer a service and not just a Web site," says Daurka. "SMEs see the value in the Internet but feel daunted, so we hand-hold them through the process."

Currently technology businesses account for only 7% of the Prince's Trust's start-ups but this is set to change dramatically. On 30 April the trust launched the Technology Leadership Group to give more prominence to technology oriented companies.

"The funding used to be skewed to different industry sectors, but when BEA Systems became involved it gave us the impetus to kick-start a technology group," says Julian Barrell, senior development manager at the Prince's Trust.

The aim of the Technology Leadership Group is to support disadvantaged or unemployed 18 to 30-year-olds who wish to start up technology businesses or use technology at the heart of their business. The group will be able to draw on funds of £10m, of which £5m will be raised through sponsorship and £5m will be donated by the Government - that is enough capital to launch more than 3,000 new businesses.

As the scheme expands, Barrell is keen to get more mentors from IT backgrounds involved. "You need to give up three to four hours a month, be a good listener, a sounding board, and, of course, give encouragement," he says.

Barrell is convinced that the Prince's Trust will be providing seed capital for an increasing number of IT companies. "Despite the recent downturn, there are still pockets of wealth in the technology sector, some companies have been doing really well. In 1991 we gave no support to IT companies, this has now gone up to 7% and we expect this figure to now increase significantly."

The Prince's Trust Web site is at www.princes-trust.org.uk

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