Jessica Gibbon has been the Programme Support Intern at the Allia Future Business Centre in East London for the past year. Through her role she has supported the running of the Allia Serious Impact accelerator and incubator programmes which help local impact entrepreneurs to develop their start-ups. As she returns to university to complete her degree, she reflects on her time with Allia and what she has learnt during the year.
In June last year I was finishing up my second-year Economics exams at Bath University, despairing about what to do with the next twelve months of my life. At Bath, most courses include a year in industry sandwiched between the second and third years. While my friends were revving up to begin their placement years in shiny glass-front offices in the depths of the City, I was questioning why I was so unwilling to follow the herd and get a ‘normal’ job. I’d always been resistant to working in an office, hating the idea of being chained to a screen. But as someone who can’t look at a needle and is hopeless at DIY, the possibilities seemed limited.
I’d spent the past year assessing my options, wondering how my course-mates could possibly get quite so excited about the prospect of working in accountancy firms and big corporations. They say that variety is the spice of life, and the idea of carrying out the same mundane tasks day after day made me shudder. It was only when I stumbled upon Allia that I discovered the array of ‘unconventional’ jobs that bypass the career books.
Already established in Cambridge and Peterborough, Allia opened its doors in trendy Hackney in spring last year. Its mission is simple: to initiate innovation and support impactful organisations in some of the most neglected areas of London. Piloted by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the aim is to replicate the success of a similar project run in Detroit following its economic turndown. Its wisdom lies in the ‘trickle-up’ effect, a theory devised by economist Keynes in response to criticism of the better-known ‘trickle-down’ effect. According to the theory, prosperity and growth is best created by encouraging job creation amongst small businesses, as opposed to cutting taxes of wealthy individuals and multinationals. Throughout my time with Allia I’ve watched as the words from my textbooks and theoretical analysis have been put to the test in real-life scenarios.
I recall from my interview being warned that Allia were looking for someone ‘willing to get their hands extremely dirty.’ Looking back over the past year, it is safe to say that warning was justified! Joining a small team in a brand-new Centre, I was involved in all aspects of the project from the get-go. I’ve assisted with the recruitment of over 100 startups and small businesses onto the Serious Impact programmes, and helped coordinate over 1000 hours of support in the form of inspiring panel events, workshops and one-to-ones. My role has stretched and challenged me in a supportive environment and I’ve grown in a way that can only be done outside of a lecture hall. I have shared the journeys of entrepreneurs in all manner of sectors, celebrating their highs and helping them ride out the lows with a touch of ‘founder therapy.’
As my time here draws to a close and I hand over the reins to the lovely Sorrel Carmichael – who has already outshone me with her wall-planning skills! – I can reflect on my year with gratitude for the rich experiences I have had and the inspiring people I have met. Armed with a wealth of contacts and renewed passion for entrepreneurship, I look forward to finishing my studies and embarking on new adventures. My time with Allia has taught me that I need not be one of those ‘sheep’ following the herd into the fields of tradition and protocol; there are far greener pastures to be discovered if you step out of the herd and look around. I’d like to thank the team in East London – and the rest of the Allia family – for treating me as more than just ‘the intern.’ It has been a truly memorable experience that I will take with me going forward into the future.