In May I was approached to get involved in the Erasmus for Entrepreneurs scheme following a pitch I made at a competition. The scheme essentially pairs young entrepreneurs with experienced people who set up their own company several years ago within the same industry. In order to ensure that this doesn’t lead to enhanced competition in your area, you go to another EU country.
I thought about this long and hard, and after speaking with a friend, decided this would be a good thing to do. Although in the short term it would set back my progress with my start-ups, I was assured in the long term that it would give a great insight. One entrepreneur who took part in a similar scheme but in the UK, called the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, told me that he valued it as essential, adding that he wouldn’t go into business with anyone who hadn’t had such an experience.
I looked through the various companies and eventually decided that Birra Amiatta in Tuscany, Italy was the best place to go. I run 2 companies, BKSK Inspire I mentioned in my last post, and Frumtious, a healthy food company, is the other. Birra Amiatta is a microbrewery based in the heart of Tuscany: big wine territory so immediately this presents a challenge. They brew an array of ales and then bottle them themselves. Given that manufacturing, branding and logistics are a huge part of Frumtious’ future, this was a logical pairing. Before going, I had tried to learn Italian, but hearing it being spoken between Italians is completely different. So to clarify, before going, I had never been to Italy and spoke no Italian; some would say that’s mad, I saw it as a great adventure! I’m half French and thus fluent in the language, which is a benefit given that both languages are Latin based and contain some similarities.
I arrived in Pisa on Saturday 28th September. Pisa itself is very small, and quite a dirty city. But the Leaning Tower is obviously a highlight and the food is spectacular. The following day I travelled to Grosseto in Tuscany before being picked up and driven an hour to Arcidosso, where I’d be staying. Arcidosso is a very small place, built around an old castle on top of a steep hill. There are only about 4,000 inhabitants and it is quite inaccessible by public transport.
I was immediately greeted by a home cooked meal and made to feel very welcome. The food and coffee I was given was nothing like I had ever had in my life, the English attempts at Italian food and coffee pale vastly in comparison.
I started working on Monday. I was given the company history and then shown around the brewery. The nice part was that rather than simply explaining the manufacturing process, they are letting me get involved with the physical production; so I’ve been mixing ingredients, grinding malt and producing beer.
I think that there is a common misconception about start-ups and entrepreneurs. Some people, very wrongly in my opinion, start a company for the kudos of being able to say that they are a Company Director. Starting a company isn’t glamorous at all; it involves a lot of long days and a lot of hard work. People see role models like Richard Branson and Alan Sugar and think that it’s all private jets and expensive hotels…it isn’t. Obviously one day, if you manage to build an empire then you can enjoy those luxuries, but many don’t. So being shown how the company started and being able to get my hands dirty and be involved in every step of the process has been fantastic and I feel very privileged to have been given this first hand experience.