5 minutes with: Jess Barratt Escape School Faculty

Jess worked in the music industry for six years before deciding that she needed a change. Since then she’s run an education programme for an NGO in Mozambique, and started her own social enterprise that connects young people with peers, mentors and tutors. She’s the newest member of the Escape Faculty and will be co-leading the Startup Accelerator in September.

Tell us a bit about yourself – how can you connect the dots looking backwards? Tell us about the businesses you’ve started and your role at Escape.

I don’t think I ever set out to be an entrepreneur, but a slightly unorthodox and unpredictable career path eventually led me there – happily! After studying languages at uni and expecting I would end up living abroad, I then changed tack and followed my other passion, music, and worked in Artist Management for Warner Music for six years. Looking back now, I think I knew on my first day in the job that the music industry wasn’t right for me – or perhaps that I wasn’t right for it. But it took me six years to properly work that out. And then, looking for an escape, I heard about this website called Escape The City… three months later I was on my way to Mozambique to run a youth-led education programme for a small NGO. After an eye-opening and perspective-altering year there, I returned home inspired by the teenagers I’d been working with, who volunteered their time after school to teach and support younger children in their community. In doing so they weren’t only helping others but learning a multitude of skills – empathy, leadership, problem solving, collaboration – that would be crucial to their own futures.

Researching the UK education system and talking to anyone who’d listen about my ideas, I soon found myself being invited onto an incubator programme for education-focused startups. And Franklin Scholars was born – a social enterprise that supports vulnerable young people by training up other young people as relatable peer coaches, mentors and tutors. Five years later, having grown the business and worked with over 3,000 young people, I decided it was time for someone else to take the organisation through its next five years, while I explore other opportunities (once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur?!).

I’m excited to be involved with the Startup Accelerator at Escape because I’ve been through the journey myself and while it can be incredibly tough, it’s also been the most thrilling experience of my career and I can’t wait to accompany others on that journey.

What’s your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?

Building something from scratch is an amazing feeling; to know that you’ve created something that makes people’s lives a little easier, or makes somebody a little bit happier, or leaves the world in a slightly better place than how you found it. That makes the rollercoaster absolutely worthwhile.

And speaking of rollercoasters… I also love the fact that no day is ever the same. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do a “normal” job again

And what have you found the most challenging?

Feeling out of my depth pretty much every day. Some days I would take that in my stride; other days it would wear me down. I’m not naturally someone who asks for help; that was another skill I had to learn quickly!

What would you consider your three greatest achievements to be?

Setting up Franklin Scholars, and in particular navigating the “valley of death” and getting it through the first five years where so many new businesses fail.
Steering myself unscathed through two career changes and having two children while running a startup!
Managing to have never had a boring job, having always pursued that sweet spot of doing something I love, which the world needs, and which I can get paid to do.

This will be your first time running the Startup Accelerator. How are you preparing for the journey?

I’m doing a lot of reflecting on my own journey, remembering what were the most valuable lessons I learned, and the most valuable advice I was given. But also considering the balance between what I wish I had known earlier, and what I’m glad I learned the hard way! At the same time I’m stepping outside of my own experience, reading up on and chatting to my networks about other startup journeys, in particular those in very different sectors and with very different products and services.

What are you working on outside of your Escape faculty role?

I’m still advising and consulting for Franklin Scholars, while also working on a sustainable creative economy project, and am in the early stages of researching my next enterprise. Oh and I have a small baby who keeps me pretty busy.

What are you reading at the moment?

Three books on the go right now – “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones (good fiction is my happy place), “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” by Anand Giridharadas, and “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad That You Did)” by Philippa Perry.

What podcasts are you listening to?

I’m relatively new to podcasts, but enjoy Reasons To Be Cheerful with Ed Milliband and Geoff Lloyd, and have just started My Dad Wrote A Porno for a little light relief.

What’s the last thing you learned/read/ listened to that you want to share with people looking to start a business?

I’m a big fan of coaching and I think that anyone starting a business should not only have a coach, but also be a coach. Coaching skills can be transformative when building a team, building a movement, or even just having a healthy relationship with a spouse or business partner. A light introductory read is “The Coaching Habit” by Michael Bungay Stanier – read that and then find yourself someone to coach.

Where do you turn for advice or inspiration when you come up against a barrier with your business(es)?

I have a good support network around me and several friends who’ve started up businesses which have both succeeded and failed. Over time I’ve worked out who to turn to in different situations. My husband is also a great sounding board and, being removed from the entrepreneur’s world, often offers a very fresh and sensible perspective.

If I’m struggling for inspiration and/or just need a break I’ll turn to music – sitting down at the piano if it’s nearby, or just immersing myself in a great song on the headphones – it takes me away for a few minutes and then suddenly the ideas start popping again.

If you could go back in time to the very start of your entrepreneurial journey, what advice would you give yourself?

That any advice isn’t necessarily good advice! More often than not you will know what’s best for your own business, deep down, and if someone advises you something that doesn’t feel right, you don’t have to take it. This is why I’m such a fan of coaching. Obviously there is a time and a place for advice from people who really know what they’re talking about, but most of the time you will have the answers inside of you, you might just need some help to coax them out.

Jess will be co-leading the next cohort of Escape’s Startup Accelerator. Find out how the programme can help you to turn your business idea into a reality.

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