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Pioneer of the Week: Kallum Russell of Acorn Enterprise

Thought Leader

Pioneer of the Week: Kallum Russell of Acorn Enterprise

Tell us 3 important things we should know about you.

● My name is “Kallum with a K”
● I was listed in the Sunday Times Maserati 100 list this year
● I like craft beer, live music and tablefootball!

Tell us about your business. How did it start? Did you set it up alone or with a team?

Acorn Enterprise is an organisation that educates and accelerates new businesses, from both the non-academic sphere and those within Colleges and Universities. Our mission is to grow the country’s start-up business culture, by creating a sustainable movement that will lead to a fundamental change in attitude and behaviour. Our 3 year plan is to help 501 businesses in Scotland (initially) via our 20 week Business Accelerator Programme. The Programme offers “Acorns” (new businesses): free office space to encourage collaboration, weekly seminars to develop and challenge, and a business mentor who provides accountability.

My business partner, Jerry Alexander (MD of Liberty Business Centres), and I initially started Acorn Enterprise as a pilot project because we felt there was a real dearth of structured and intensive support for new businesses in our county, Fife. Almost three years later, we have successfully run five 20 week Business Accelerator Programmes, where we worked with 15 Acorns on each to develop their: confidence, clarity of direction and business skills.

Of those that have completed our Programme, 75% are still trading and thriving - extremely high when compared to the fact that 90% of new businesses typically fail in their first year!

We are now actively looking to work with others to increase the impact and reach of our 20 week Business Accelerator Programme and other entrepreneurial activities - e.g.the Business Bootcamps we run with Students in Colleges and Universities.


What do you love most about running your own business?

Freedom, independence and control. Running your own business is a liberating experience, especially when you realise that ultimately, it’s entirely up to you (the business owner) whether you succeed or fail. It’s also an opportunity for me to do what I want and work with other like-minded, positive people - I have always found the business community to be extremely welcoming and helpful. Finally, it’s a chance for me to make a real difference in the world, starting by growing Scotland’s entrepreneurial culture.

Tell us about a challenging experience you’ve faced in the process of starting up your business and how you overcame it.

There are a number of other organisations that support businesses, locally and nationally, so we are in a “competitive” landscape - although this space isn’t as ruthless as more commercially-oriented ones.
Therefore, initially it was a challenge to operate in such a crowded market and also work in partnership in a sector where “collaboration” is often spoken about but rarely practiced (due to “turf wars”). Additionally, a number of the public bodies and other organisations that operate in this space have been running much longer than us and have much bigger budgets.
However, we now not only have a good working relationship with a number of business support agencies in Fife and further afield, we also have a strong client base of customers, including Colleges, Universities and other organisations that like our fun, dynamic and engaging approach, that is relevant for new business owners in the 21st century. In other words, we cut through the “noise” by being different and offering services that are truly run “by business owners, for business owners”.

What advice could you give to other startups about starting up in your industry?

As I said above, this sector is fairly saturated, however, I believe that any sector is ripe for disruption! One thing that would be really beneficial to the end customers, the businesses we collectively help, would be a “road map” of the different organisations that can help at different stages of a business and in different ways (e.g. funding, advice and mentoring).
There have been a few attempts at this before with mixed results (it is a mammoth task!) so a really innovative solution would be extremely valuable to both the businesses and other business support organisations.

Can you share an experience that really helped you take your business forward? 

We’re currently looking for corporate sponsors and philanthropists, who want to support our mission to grow the country’s entrepreneurial culture and believe that supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs is the right way to give back, and this involves sending out a lot of emails and letters to start a conversation.
I remember saying to my business partner Jerry, “look, we got a rejection letter, from this bank”, to which he immediately replied, “it’s not a ‘rejection letter’ Kallum, it’s a ‘try again’ letter!”.
This experience changed my perspective, particularly around “rejection”, which business owners hear a lot. It encouraged me to try again, whether at a later date, with a different offering or with a totally different organisation altogether. Too many business owners give up easily and don’t follow-up or try again - of course, there’s a line between persistence and annoyance but don’t be afraid to try a different tact.

Many people start their businesses at home, where do you work? What do you love about it? 

I work from a really cool co-working space in Fife, called Liberty Hubspace, located in Rosyth Business Centre.
I love that I’m constantly surrounded by other business owners, whether they’re just starting out or are a bit more established, the buzz is infectious and there is a real sense of community.
The Hubspace is located inside the business centre, which has 50 offices so you are constantly “in the swim” with other businesses all the time.
More importantly, they have tablefootball, which Jerry and I play to relive some of the stress of running your own business, however, sometimes injuries occur and we have snapped 5 players this season - luckily we own a 3D printer so have managed to 3D print substitutes!

What are three things you know now, that you wish someone had told you when you first started?

1. Say “no” more by learning to distinguish an “opportunity” from a “distraction” - we actually covered this in one of our blogs.

2. It’s entirely up to you whether your business fails or succeeds - yes, there will always be things you can’t control, the weather, competitors and person issues, however, once you accept FULL responsibility for your actions, it’s liberating and energising.
3. Ignore the naysayers and your competition (to a certain extent!) - don’t focus on what others say or do, they have their own story and you have your’s so focus on achieving your goals.

Is there anything specific you’d like to ask or share with the Virgin Media Pioneers community?

I’m a big believer in continual learning so I’m an avid reader of business books; and one of the most influential to me is “the E-Myth Revisted: Why Most Small Businesses Fail and What to Do About it” by Michael E. Gerber. I recommend that every new business owners reads this before starting their new venture (or as early as possible) as it explores the difference between working IN your business and On your business - too many people focus on the former, with detrimental results.

I’m always looking for recommendations for new business books so would like to hear some from other Pioneers?

Finish the sentence: To be an entrepreneur…is to live the life you want to.


Check out Acorn Enterprise and shout out to Kallum on Twitter!

Thought Leader

Haha I absolutely love this quote!

“look, we got a rejection letter, from this bank”, to which he immediately replied, “it’s not a ‘rejection letter’ Kallum, it’s a ‘try again’ letter!”


Thanks for the insight Kallum!

Thought Leader

"liberating and energising" - I love that description - I think it also applies to Freelancing. You and only you are responsible for turning your time into money!


Congratulations Kallum Smiley Wink I almost spelled it with a C just to wind you up! Fantastic to see that you are still so active, well done!