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The Big Interview: Emma Sinclair, co-founder of EnterpriseJungle

Joanne Frearson talks to Emma Sinclair, one of the nominees shortlisted for the UCL/Business Reporter award, about how there’s more to entrepreneurship than business

Emma Sinclair

Becoming an entrepreneur was always in Emma Sinclair’s veins. As a young child, she loved to hear the stories her father told her about how he built a business. She would read the back pages of the FT to check the share prices of his companies, and would listen intently at family dinners when conversations focused around business.

Nothing could convince Sinclair to swap the entrepreneurial path for anything else, so after a stint as an investment banker she decided to break out on her own.

Her achievements since have been impressive – by the age of 29, she was the youngest person in the UK to take a company – Mission Capital – public. Her current day job is as co-founder of global software company EnterpriseJungle, and she was also a founding partner in health and wellbeing club Wakeman Road (a venture she has subsequently exited).

But what is just as inspiring about Sinclair is her drive to give back to the community and help others with her business skills. At the age of 21 she became a governor of a beacon status school in an economically challenged council estate in Southwark, and she is also currently UNICEF UK’s first business mentor.

Her work has not gone unnoticed and she has recently been nominated for the inaugural UCL/Business Reporter Medal for Entrepreneurship, which honours entrepreneurs who have used their skills to provide opportunity for others. Sinclair tells Business Reporter: “Teaching basic business skills can change the course of someone’s life, even if applied only to a hobby, personal passion or your job in a large enterprise. There’s an opportunity to do that every day.

“I do my best to speak at schools and incubators – places where there are young minds in the process of making decisions that will impact their life and where they might not have exposure to people they can ask questions about business. Equally in large enterprises, encouraging entrepreneurial thinking is critical.”

Last year, Sinclair went to Zambia with UNICEF, where she met with and mentored aspiring young business people across the country. She was part of the Building Young Futures programme, which aims to unlock the potential of disadvantaged young people by providing them with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to set up their own business or find work.

“I get as much excitement hearing someone smart and passionate share ideas as being able to impart some thoughts that might help,” she says. “We all need a bit of encouragement and inspiration and I think entrepreneurs can be well placed for that – because, by nature, most successful entrepreneurs are optimists.

“I meet young people in environments where I would find it difficult to thrive without the tools and digital access that so many of us have become accustomed to, who are eager to learn and already showing promise. That’s really uplifting.

“By sharing in and supporting their journeys and those of aspiring young entrepreneurs wherever I find myself, I am playing a very small part in improving skills that can help make positive change.”

Sinclair has plenty of advice for people wanting to start their own business, but warns there is no “secret sauce”, and that setting up your own business is not for everyone. “Entrepreneurship is often deeply tied to a type of survival – many of my peers may not relate to it, but I sincerely can,” she says. “When you don’t have the safety net of family or a salary, pension and healthcare, the outcome of your business directly affects your ability to eat.

“Much like builders in your home, building a business – certainly one that has scale – takes longer than you think. Work out why you want to start a business and be honest with yourself about whether you have the perseverance to weather the long road, as it’s really not for everyone.

“There are many entrepreneurs, myself included, who would say that building a business is like betting all your chips on red every day – for weeks, years and months. It’s a long road – but when you win, it is so rewarding.”

Sinclair has worked across the company spectrum, at the IT helpdesk, and as cleaning lady and CEO – her first job where she learned about earning money was at McDonalds. She now feels her obligation is to give back and to teach others skills which could potentially change their lives. She has already helped many and as her work continues she will hopefully help many more.