Artificial intelligence, drones, pet funerals and Porthcawl tapas were just some of the new Welsh businesses ideas on show at the official opening of the Entrepreneurial Spark business accelerator hub in Cardiff’s new 1 Central Square development.

Powered by NatWest, and run in partnership with KPMG and Dell EMC, the new hub – or ‘Hatchery’ – will provide free support, mentoring, networking and office accommodation for around 70 Welsh entrepreneurs. Access will include physical office space; a start-up ‘bootcamp’; dedicated mentoring; and regular events, workshops and training – all free of charge.

The launch of the new hub comes at an opportune moment for start-ups in Wales. According to the recent NatWest Entrepreneurship Monitor the number of people who think that now is a good time to set up a business in the UK is at its lowest level since the Monitor began in 2012, with the proportion of people who are not already self-employed and wanting to start a new business dropping from nearly 40% in 2015 to just 10% now.

The Monitor also found that although potential entrepreneurs in Wales feel they have the skills to succeed, they do not feel they have enough entrepreneurial support in their local area while only a quarter of Welsh people rate Wales as a good place to start a business.

The new businesses enter the Entrepreneurial Spark programme for six months - in either the August or February intake - with the most promising being given the opportunity to continue for a further 12.

Similar hubs in cities such as Leeds, Brighton, Edinburgh, Bristol, Birmingham and Glasgow have already helped to transform the support available to hundreds of local start-ups with events such as regular competitions for prizes of up to £50,000, as well as networking and support programmes that bring together a whole system of potential investors, experienced entrepreneurs and NatWest business managers.

Entrepreneurial Spark’s last Impact Report, published at the start of 2016, shows 88% of start-ups and early stage entrepreneurs who have been through Entrepreneurial Spark’s unique enablement programme are still trading today. The report also highlights the scale of the support the accelerator is providing entrepreneurs across the UK. Since Entrepreneurial Spark was founded in 2011, the 660 businesses it has supported have had an aggregate turnover of £85,891,661 (£40m, in 2014), attracted £45,167,348 of investment (£18 million in 2014) and created 1,816 jobs.

Alison Rose, CEO of Commercial and Private Banking at NatWest, said: “The results of our recent Entrepreneurship Monitor show that the current economic climate is impacting people’s confidence to start up a business. It is clear that people want local support, local networks and local advice and this is why we have partnered with Entrepreneurial Spark setting up the hatcheries across the country to revolutionise the way we support entrepreneurs. Wales is highly entrepreneurial, and by providing the area’s aspiring business owners with first-class support and office, as well as access to our people and networks, they will be able to concentrate on establishing and growing their business.”

First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, said: “The importance of entrepreneurial spirit cannot be understated. Our business owners are the lifeblood of our economy and important role models for our next generation of budding entrepreneurs.

“It is therefore vitally important that we encourage and champion our Welsh entrepreneurs and help create the right conditions to help businesses grow and thrive. This is exactly what this venture is all about and I am delighted the Welsh Government is supporting the creation of Wales’ first Entrepreneurial Spark Hub.”

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