When George Oliver left journalism in July 2020, his plan was for a corporate communications start-up specialising in East Midlands innovation.
The result was 1284 – based at Loughborough University Science and Enterprise Park and founded to respond to the Government’s Levelling Up agenda and push towards increasing UK productivity.
“I got interested in the growth benefits of innovation, increased productivity, and change while I was at the Leicester Mercury,” says George, who edited the paper from 2016 and led its move to digital-first publishing.
“When I started my own company, I wanted to use the skills gained from 15 years in news media to promote regional innovation and its benefits for social entrepreneurs, start-ups, and SMEs.”
Despite being founded in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1284 grew quickly during its first two years.
It has established a portfolio of clients including several universities, local authorities, growing small businesses, exciting start-ups, and the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP).
George is also Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Leicester, a volunteer mentor at Leicester Start-ups and Generation Next, and a trustee at Leicester-based Charity Link.
In March 2023, 1284 was shortlisted for Independent PR Practitioner of the Year at the CIPR’s Excellence Awards – the UK industry’s leading prize night.
And a combination of retained clients and increasing word-of-mouth referrals had resulted in 1284 achieving its original Business Plan objectives 15 months earlier than planned.
It meant George faced a decision in late 2022 – continue as an independent or start recruiting in order to grow the business further.
The result was Amy Orton joining as Account Director in March 2023. Amy – who herself received an STWLC education loan a decade earlier to fund her postgraduate diploma in journalism at De Montfort University – had previously worked as the Mercury’s Local Democracy Reporter.
Her arrival meant that 1284 was in a position to begin its first marketing campaign. George applied for an STWLC loan to fund a marketing plan which will develop 1284’s offer and help move it towards the 150% growth planned in for the coming four years.
George was awarded a £15,000 loan in April 2023, which will be used to fund a new CRM system, full website integration, digital marketing, 1284 newsletter, and more.
“In the spirit of what 1284 is about, we have tried to use local small businesses to deliver services,” he said. “For example, HQ Recording shot and edited our video, Beth Walsh shot our pictures, and Jetpack Marketing is developing our CRM and newsletter. SE Consulting is helping with strategy.
“It makes sense to use the STWLC loan to get such experts in to deliver effectively and free up our time to focus on what we do best – writing and comms strategy.”
George first became aware of STWLC through its partnerships with Leicester Startups and other local incubators.
“I spoke with some of the trustees about whether I would be eligible,” said the 43-year-old.
“Frankly, I thought I could hardly be considered a ‘young entrepreneur’!
“The process was thorough and rigorous, but it was also manageable and very smoothly managed and clearly communicated throughout.”
So, what comes next? 1284 is currently working through local university incubators to research and develop a new service offer for the healthcare sector. That could lead to further recruitment.
“I’ve become interested in the skills agenda while working with the LLEP and, once Amy has settled in, am considering recruiting an apprentice as Account Executive,” George said.
“The plan would be to put them through the Press Association’s PR training so that they think like a journalist and we retain the newsroom approach that is fundamental to how 1284 operates. We’ve got a lot of ideas – now is the time to implement them.”
To find out more about The Sir Thomas White Loan Charity’s interest-free business loans, which are available up to the value of £20,000, interest free for nine years, please click here.