Lee Sharma is the CEO of Simply Do Ideas; a unique and innovative online platform that provides a place for people with exciting enterprising ideas to take that spark of inspiration and turn it into a viable business plan. We first met Lee in May 2016, when Simply Do Ideas had just achieved IOEE Academy status. This month we shone the spotlight on him to find out how his business has evolved over the last year, and how its IOEE Academy status has been an important part of the company’s growth.
It was Lee’s first-hand experience of wanting to set up a business that ignited his passion for enterprise and entrepreneurial skills being accessible to everyone - one particular setback, almost 20 years ago, seeded the idea for his future company:
“I walked into a bank back in 1998 when I was only 25, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, all fuzzy and creative, and said ‘I have a business idea, what do I do?’ - and was immediately asked for a business plan and three years’ cash flow forecast. Of course, I didn’t have those things, and left with my tail between my legs, feeling like maybe I wasn’t cut out for business after all.”
“However, I pulled myself around and became determined to develop the skills and confidence to succeed, and spent about nine months getting my head around business planning and reading every book I could get my hands on. One of the biggest lessons that I learnt is that there’s a lot of very complex business jargon to describe some very simple principles. And that’s the problem – it can be intimidating and off-putting, especially for young people. It can dampen the spirits of young entrepreneurs in the making, and the prospect of setting up a business becomes completely overwhelming. This is why simplicity and accessibility are at the heart of Simply Do Ideas.”
When we first met Lee a year ago, Simply Do Ideas was flourishing in the field of enterprise in education, giving students and teachers alike a platform that would act like a bridge between ‘those brilliant, slightly mad ideas in your head’ and the formal, completed business plan. It is this that has gained Simply Do Ideas much recognition over the past 12 months, with new academic credibility coming from a variety of prestigious sources:
“The University of Wales Trinity Saint David wrote an academic paper on Simply Do Ideas that was presented at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) conference in Paris, which was an incredible achievement for us. The paper was about how design-led thinking could benefit entrepreneurs, focusing on how our platform captures ideas in a creative way, so that it doesn’t put you off, make you lose your momentum, and dull that initial spark.”
Lee says that this academic stamp of approval is also why Simply Do Ideas’ status as an IOEE Enterprise Academy is so important to him:
“Academics are part of our core market. A lot of our clients are educational institutions – comprehensive schools, colleges, universities, and community learning partners – and our contacts are involved in academia themselves; teachers, heads of schools, university managers. Being an IOEE Enterprise Academy gives us the academic and professional credibility that builds trust in our existing and prospective clients.”
Over the space of the last year, Simply Do Ideas has also been given the seal of approval by other esteemed educational organisations:
“We had Simply Do Ideas independently mapped against the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) Enterprise and Entrepreneurship framework. This QAA framework was set up in 2012 and sits as the gold standard of what should be done. This process was fantastic and highlighted how Simply Do Ideas encourages best practice in entrepreneurial teaching and learning.”
“We were also successfully mapped against the criteria of the EU’s Entrepreneurship Competence Framework, ‘Entrecomp’. This looks at all enterprise learning, from primary school education to adult learning, and focuses on doing something, rather than just knowing. Being accredited by the IOEE and recognised by these other external organisations is fundamental to our opportunity for growth, development and moving forward.”
There is also a new third strand to Simply Do Ideas in development, which helps businesses to innovate within their own companies, and harvest any entrepreneurial activity that’s happening internally. Lee says:
“In business jargon, we’d be calling this area intrapreneurship instead of entrepreneurship - but that’s not necessary! The existing methods or platforms for employees to voice their ideas seems to be one of two extremes - either you’ve got fancy corporate innovation systems that are so complex it puts off the average employee, or you’ve got the old-fashioned postcards-in-a-suggestion box. What we’ve created is a platform for employees’ ideas to be heard, that is simple and accessible – and these are the qualities that make it work.”
Simply Do Ideas is working with some big clients in this space, including the Prince’s Trust, Welsh Government and NatWest Bank, but Lee says that innovating SMEs is where his heart is:
“Of course, it’s a great honour to be working with these household names, but what I want is to make innovation accessible to businesses of any size. These small and medium-sized businesses won’t have Innovation Managers and Innovation Departments – and these companies are where the economic growth potential is, so it’s where we can see the biggest impact. I’m still as excited about Simply Do Ideas as when I began. It’s been brilliant so far – exhausting, but brilliant! We’re moving into a new chapter of the business, and I’m excited to see what the next year brings.”
If you would like to find out more about Simply Do Ideas, visit www.simplydoideas.co.uk.