A week or two after I formally left my previous job to freelance, Lisa Lake, a friend of mine and the CEO of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Montego Bay, asked me to help get the word out about new career opportunities at the Centre. The Branson Centre Caribbean is part of a network of entrepreneurship centres around the world (the first was launched in South Africa) developed by Richard Branson in order to give entrepreneurs in developing countries the skills, opportunities, and inspiration they need to launch and grow their businesses.
I glanced through the flier before forwarding it to an e-mail list I manage, and a part-time opportunity caught my eye. They were looking for persons to improve and run the training program for the fifteen or so entrepreneurs admitted each quarter, training them in how to create amazing business plans, raise funding, acquire new customers, and implement their expansion plans.
I had seen dozens of business plans per month as a director of business development for a private equity firm, and could easily tell which ones would get funded and which would not. I also understood the criteria serious investors needed met before considering investments, and knew what banks were looking for in order to lend. If my private equity firm acquired a company or a strategic partner, we helped them land big customers and grow their businesses.
My skills seemed to match what they were looking for. I was also looking for a project with relaxed hours that would give me some financial stability each month, while freeing me to work on other projects and on my book. This opportunity literally fell into my lap. As the saying goes, leap and the net will appear.
That said, I went through a pretty grueling four-round interview process, including a case interview with a member of the London-based Virgin Unite team and a live presentation on a business idea. I presented “A Book is a Business” which I later turned into a blogpost here.
While this process was going on, Lisa separately needed help during the pitch day for the current cohort of Branson Centre entrepreneurs. She asked me to judge the entrepreneurs as they pitched their business ideas to our panel, and to evaluate their written business plans. I drove from Kingston to Montego Bay the week before the pitch day and sat down with Lisa to flesh out the evaluation criteria for the 5-minute elevator pitch, the longer boardroom presentation, and finally the 30 to 60-page business plans. Lisa and I worked really well together, and I loved being a part of a team that cared about the energy and spirit of the entrepreneurs as well as the business side of their ideas.
We worked non-stop from 9am to 7pm on the pitch day, judging twelve entrepreneurs, each allotted 30-minutes. I got a real sense of the work the Centre was trying to accomplish and how critical it is that Jamaican entrepreneurs get exposed to this kind of structured help. At the end of the pitch day, Lisa told me the good news – they were making me an offer to be an Entrepreneur Development Consultant for the upcoming year.
So yeah, Richard Branson is now my boss, once or twice removed!