Stemming the brain drain

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Business Link adviser Mandi Barnett introduces a new scheme designed to keep Cornwall’s best young graduate talent west of the Tamar

Keeping the brightest young people with new business ideas in Cornwall has long been a challenge for the county, with the allure of big city lights often proving too much to resist for successive generations of young entrepreneurs.

Now, though, a powerful new initiative is getting underway, with the sole aim of proving to Cornish graduates that the county’s commercial environment can be at least as attractive as the undeniable beauty of its physical landscape.

The Convergence Start Up Programme, supported by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by Business Link, provides a practical route for the county’s graduates to realise their new business ideas within Cornwall itself.

Business Link Convergence Adviser Mandi Barnett explains: “There has been a noticeable, significant increase during the last two years in the numbers of graduates emerging from university with great ideas for new products and services,” she says. “The new service is designed to help us identify them by working closely with universities and colleges, and then to introduce them to the wide-ranging specialist expertise and support on offer to them in Cornwall through Business Link and our partners.”

Barnett and her colleagues are working closely with partners like Combined Universities in Cornwall, Unlocking Cornish Potential and individual universities and colleges to set up and promote on-campus ‘outreach’ clinics, where students can find out about the support available to them and how to access a range of services that will help them launch and run a successful business. Other means of providing support include face-to-face advisory sessions, telephone clinics and workshops on specific subjects, including a recent event on getting the most from social media. She is rapidly becoming a familiar face to staff and students in the corridors of academia from Plymouth University in the east, right down to University College Falmouth and all points west.

As she says: “Many of the undergraduates and postgraduates we are starting to work with have already received awards and other forms of recognition from their universities. Even if this was not the case, they’d still be easy to spot through their great ideas, enthusiasm and dedication.”

Many universities and colleges in the region are now introducing Innovation Centres with incubation units for graduate start-up companies. Barnett adds: “Such facilities radically reduce the costs of starting a business, through savings on rent and equipment like computers. Our main role will be to provide expertise on areas like Intellectual Property, the environment and finance through our specialist advisers, in a way that’s specially tailored to graduates’ needs.

“We can also link them to partners like UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), to show them how operating a business from Cornwall doesn’t restrict them to trading within the county – the right idea can go global from here as well as from anywhere else.”

Barnett is quick to point out that the new service is currently work in progress, but she expects that strong results will start to emerge over the next few months. “We believe, in fact, that in time it will be proven to have a disproportionately high impact on the county’s economy as the new businesses grow and begin to provide high-value jobs to more young people, who in turn will be inspired to launch their own companies in Cornwall,” she says.

Tel: 0845 600 9966

web: www.businesslink.gov.uk/southwest