Talking parrots: hatching ideas from Lord Ashcroft Business School
Anglia Ruskin student's IoD committee post brings unexpected business opportunity.
He doesn't quite know how it happened, but young entrepreneur Joshua Barnard is jointly heading up a new company that will develop parrot DNA testing kits for a demanding European market. His partner on the venture got in touch seemingly out of the blue.
"Whatever he knew about me he thought I was the right person to speak to, so he contacted me. And that's how it started. I've been doing the digital development, but I'm also going to be project managing the marketing, so I've evolved into the business management. As it grows I'll be involved with every aspect of that business' development."
Josh, now the Institute of Director's education liaison officer, is one of a growing number of students that have begun to reap the benefits of the IoD's student membership. Graduating from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge this year, Josh is coming to the culmination of a whirlwind three years since starting a BA in enterprise and entrepreneurial management that, as well as joining the IoD, saw him become the president of the university's Enterprise Society.
He's now planning to start a new digital marketing company, while jointly heading numerous start-ups and continuing involvement in consultancy. One of these start-ups, PollyGene, is introducing a kit that has been designed to identify the sex of parrots, as many species have identical genders.
The kit is backed up by a lab that can use it to process DNA from more than 400 different bird species. Right now they're undergoing trials in Leicestershire pet shops, but it's Turkey and Italy, where parrots are common household pets, that Josh has set his sights for future success.
These ventures are some of Josh's first forays into business. He grew up in South Africa, and his background is in digital development; something that he's excelled at since childhood. He built his first computer when he was 11 years old.
"I never made a Half-Life, but I did try and it was really explorative. That's why I went down that route: coding, development, design, building PCs, programming. It's just because I was interested. I just wanted to try different things and I like to create stuff,he says.
Josh moved to the UK when he was 18 and worked a number of jobs that took him away from his digital roots.
"I started in a call centre, then I moved into data entry, and then I moved into wooden floor renovation - a bit of construction. I loved that. Anyway, I fell through a roof and thought that's not for me.
"I worked in catering for quite a long time. I had different thoughts, when I came to England, about where I thought I'd be. When I was in catering I had a dream of being a private chef in private yachts on the Mediterranean. The dream's fallen away and isn't something I want to do anymore; I'd rather be the one who has the private chef on a yacht. Life happens and ideas change.
"The turning point that has put me where I am today has been coming to university. When I came to university I came with one objective in mind, which was to learn, network and take advantage of as much as possible. Just be a sponge. And that's what I did. I met everybody, I made a point to meet as many people as I could, follow up, go to as many networking events as possible, just put myself out there, and when you start out it's a bit difficult to get over that psychological block, thinking I don't know anybody there.
"For instance I went to the IoD's annual dinner and I didn't know anybody. There must have been about a thousand people there. I went in sweating, nervous, but you go in and you just do it. I was at a table full of very interesting people doing all sorts of things - it was really cool. I'm South African, I say that a lot. It was really, really cool."
Josh is now 28 and graduated this summer. He is stepping down as president of the Enterprise Society and stepping into a chairman role, keeping his Anglia Ruskin links intact.
"I think my plan for the next five years, so to speak, is to pursue my own business ideas and the opportunities that I'm genuinely interested in. I want to focus on digital marketing and digital consulting. There are a lot of businesses that are not implementing digital, or taking advantage of digital, as much as they should.
"I set up Brand View Media, which is a digital company, at basically the same time I started university. The idea was to offer my digital services through that company. I didn't even know about the IoD at that point. I didn't really have a vision and I had no business experience. It was a shell to offer freelance services.
"With what I've learned with the IoD I've been able to grow that. I've been able to get the right contracts in place, get the right advice, all through people I've met at the IoD networking events.
"It's really easy to start a business in this country, but to operate a business properly takes a little bit of education. Networking is fundamental and that's one of the things I try to promote as much as possible in the society: network. Go out and meet as many people as you can. Talk to them, they're human beings, just talk to them and you never know what could happen from it."
As busy as he is, Josh is rebranding to set up Digital Sorcery, his new digital marketing venture. Nevertheless, he's always open to that next call from out of the blue.