Community-minded business brain Kate Cowan moved to Leicester.
Kate Cowan, Director of not-for-profit company Spring to Action.
“I absolutely love my job. It’s incredibly rewarding and I love working with people.”
Community-minded business brain Kate Cowan moved to Leicester in 1996, with the dream of studying dance at De Montfort University and one day managing her own theatre. But when Pukaar News caught up with her 15 years later, the now full-time director of the company Spring to Action was flat out, using her skills to show Leicester’s disadvantaged entrepreneurs how to create successful businesses.
Spring to Action, which Kate runs in tandem with joint director Kash Khunkhuna, is a not-for- profit company that specialises in helping the people of Leicester start and run thriving businesses. ‘Spring’ gives individuals the motivation and know-how they need to take the leap into self-employment.
They offer advice on everything from marketing, funding and finance to project management and writing bids for government grants. Their clients range from national charities to local football clubs and young would-be shopkeepers.
Kate said: “Most of our support is free of charge and we specialise in working in disadvantaged communities, with people who wouldn’t necessarily otherwise think about starting a business or wouldn’t realise that they had the ability and the capacity to do that. We work in lots of different areas such as New Parks, Braunstone and Highfields, and we really love what we do.
“Lots of people we work with have been unemployed for a long period of time, some who’ve never been employed at all, lots of mothers who want to get into the workplace but are finding it really difficult to juggle work with having children and finding childcare, and quite a few people just made redundant – they’ve got really high skill levels but can’t find a job.
“So for us, it’s about understanding where people are coming from, particularly in disadvantaged communities where you might have a hundred and one things going on – you might not have much money, you might have been looking for a job for a long period of time and your confidence has really dropped to the floor.
“It’s about looking at all of those factors and, where we can, helping that client get back on the right footing.”
The 34-year-old, who lives in the south of the city, made a leap of faith of her own that’s gutsy enough to inspire every nervous entrepreneur out there. Three weeks ago she swapped a financially-stable permanent job to run Spring to Action full-time.
Kate swapped five years of job security, as Enterprise Support Manager at the city council-run Leicester Creative Business Depot (LCB), for a hot desk at Phoenix Studios, off Belgrave Road. But ask her if she has any regrets and she says none whatsoever.
“I worked for a local authority and it was a good job with lots of prospects, but I’d been running Spring for quite a while in the background (one day per week for the last five years) and it just got to the point where lots of new contracts came in and I couldn’t physically manage to do both at the same time.
“It was quite a big risk really to think, ‘am I going to leave this job where at least I’m employed, when a lot of people would love to be in my position?’
“But I kind of thought if I don’t do it I never will and I’ll always look back and wonder ‘what if?’
Kate graduated from De Montfort University in 1999 with a BA in Performing Arts and Arts Management but decided that theatre management – all spreadsheets for set designs and PowerPoint presentations for new plays – wasn’t her calling.
Her first job as a graduate was with Leicestershire Training and Enterprise Council. Soon after she met her Spring business partner Kash Khunkhuna – who Kate says complements her own professional skills and personal values perfectly.
“We decided that we wanted to offer business support in a different way and we really felt that our values as people weren’t perhaps as reflected as they could have been. We felt that there was an opportunity to get out there and do it for ourselves.”
The pair haven’t looked back since.
Spring to Action offers business support via government funding, through programmes such as ‘Enterprise As a Life’, for Leicester city residents aged 19 or over, and ‘Selling To The Public Sector’.
They also accept privately funded contracts from established businesses that may be in need of support, especially when the free advice currently offered by Business Link dries up in November.
To contact Kate visit www.springtoaction.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Cowan at a glance
Likes: Sewing, gardening, meeting new organisations and new clients.
Lives: In south Leicester, after moving to the city from Hertfordshire in 1996 to study for a degree in Performing Arts and Arts Management at De Montfort University.
Inspiration: Hilary Devey who now appears on Dragon’s Den. Kate said: “Her dogged determination in a man’s world really set her apart. She combines hard business nouse with a softer human side.”
Career: Graduated in 1999; worked for Leicestershire Training and Enterprise Council; and later for Leicester City Council as Enterprise Support Manager for the Leicester Creative Business Depot where she ran business projects and awareness events such as Café Creatif, while also establishing Spring to Action one day per week.
The world according to Kate
Kate on new business in Leicester: “Leicester is a very entrepreneurial location – we’re just not great at having businesses that don’t fail. We have a really high business failure rate, so we’re making sure that we’re spotting holes in clients’ plans.”
Kate on starting a business: “Think about it carefully. Don’t jump into anything before you’re sure that it’s going to work and make money, and that there’s a market there. But if you’ve a great idea, if you’ve got the skills and talent come and talk to us.”
Kate’s personal values for business: “Business support and helping people run businesses is about the people themselves, it’s about helping the client and being on their side of things. Our business is not just about making money, it’s not about getting contracts and leaving the client to get on with it.”