Jay Tompt: social entrepreneur, activist, community leader based in Totnes, one of the originators of the Local Entrepreneur Forum, manager of the REconomy Centre in Totnes. Originally from California but now a proud Devonian.
“It was the 1999 WTO protest in Seattle that spurred me into action. Before then I got my MBA and started a company in Silicon Valley. I was always interested in environmentalism, but after Seattle I embarked on a journey to align my career with my values. With my partner I set up an activist company Planet Hardware where we focused on “Green-It-Yourself” initiatives, created a green product screening methodology and developed the Greener Choice Sticker system. In 2009 our parent company went under with the financial crash and Planet Hardware went with it. My wife and I decided to move to Totnes.
I knew I’d get involved in Transition Town Totnes (TTT) even before I arrived. Shortly after we arrived I joined TTT’s Business and Livelihoods group which was looking at ways of strengthening the local economy. While the local economy had some amazing stuff, some resourceful, industrious, entrepreneurial people, other elements and actors needed for a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem weren’t there.
We looked to Silicon Valley for inspiration. We realised that if you want to stimulate a new type of economy activity you need to create a space for new ideas and new players to emerge. This way people can begin to gain confidence and broaden their ideas about what it means to be investor, entrepreneur, supporter or activist and things start to happen. So, TTT’s Frances Northrop and I set about creating that space in Totnes.
One of our lightbulb moments was the idea of doing an incubator in a day. The Local Entrepreneurs Forum (LEF) was born. We describe it like this: “a LEF is a one jam-packed productive day, that brings entrepreneurs, investors, and other change makers together to learn from each other, form new relationships, and begin working together on new local enterprises”. It’s amazing. It works at lots of different levels and creates a synergistic effect. It’s a place that links learning about Entrepreneurship, gaining investment, meeting fellow travellers, meeting people who could contribute to your project and a way of Entrepreneurs seeing support and gaining confidence. So far we’ve had 18 entrepreneurs pitch, 500 people participate in the process, £70,000 raised as a direct result of pitching, and around a couple of hundred thousand pounds of indirect investment secured.
It’s not just about money. Financial investments come in many forms; loan, equity, grant, pre sales, and gift. Non-financial investments have been extremely wide-ranging including professional business services, use of land, meals, massage, mulch and much more. We’ve seen local job creation as a direct result of their LEF with 7 new full-time, 5 part time and other temporary jobs generated so far.
Being a change-maker means taking on lots of roles: leader, communicator, part activist, part entrepreneur, part Permaculturist, part rabble rouser. You have to stretch a bit and get out of your comfort zone. The most important things are relationships and network building. Building working partnerships & the art of connecting are also vital. Always start by bringing something of value to potential partners and contacts. This helps people see that you are walking the same path and helps lay the foundations for future collaboration.
Working with people can be a double edged sword. It is both the best and worst thing about doing this work. The biggest barriers are the ones people put in front of themselves e.g. starting out saying “that’ll never work”, “that can’t work” or “here’s what’s wrong with that idea”.
LEF is a really easy way to create new economic activity in a local area. Organising one a year is a simple ask, a simple task. I’m already talking to a few groups across the UK. I’m putting the finishing touches to a LEF toolkit and plan to get out there to spread more of this thinking.
Exciting things are happening in Totnes. We’re looking into creating a Local Investor Network – a small network of people who are ready to make financial investment and who stay connected for the whole year – to stimulate more of the kind of activity that they see at the LEF. People are talking about taking local initiatives to a regional level and growing interest in the idea of a Bank of Devon.
It’s not just in Totnes though. I love being able to support the spread of this stuff. A strong network is emerging in South West Wales. I recently visited the group behind the Fishguard Transition Community Café featured in ’21 Stories of Transition’, and plan to return there soon to discuss how to develop incubators and community-supported entrepreneur culture. I’ve just been invited to Maison Du Transition in Esch, Luxembourg to help them run a practical day to help launch their activities.
Totnes LEF 5 is on May 12th at Totnes Civic Centre. You can find lots of information about the LEF on the REconomy Centre website. Alternatively contact Jay directly by email who would be happy to do a Skype call. If your group would like to organise a study trip to Totnes, Jay recommends contacting local social enterprise Futurebound who specialise in this area.
The following people have been essential to developing the LEF and other great work in Totnes – Frances Northrop, Hal Gillmore, Mary Popham, Holly Tiffen, Sophie Gallymore Bird, Dee Cunnison, Chantelle Norton, John Elford, Nat Holmes, Sally Croft, Pete Yeo, Nicola Lang, Myrtle Cooper + lots of support and input from many others.