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As agency juniors rethink career options, one indie agency is funding their startup ideas

Here Be Dragons offered staffer Jasmine Brown financial backing to launch her jewelry business / That Dress Up Mood

Agencies across the industry are reimagining what work looks like. Will remote workers return? Can team cultures survive as long-distance relationships? And will agency bosses keep their promises? In the wake of the pandemic, we explore the different ways agencies are evolving to meet the needs of staff and clients in a changed world.

Junior staff have been the most likely to be made redundant or put on furlough during the pandemic. Now, as the UK’s furlough scheme begins to wind up and the American and British economies restart, many are now likely to be looking for a new employer – or a new career.

So, what can agencies do to persuade junior staff to hang around? Indie agency Here Be Dragons has come up with one solution: funding their staff’s own startups.

The London creative shop is offering its junior employees the chance to pursue their own business ideas on the side, offering financial backing, business advice and a company laptop.

Paul McEntee, founder and chief executive officer, says: ”The pandemic has really raised some big questions about people’s purpose in life. Are they really happy, or is now the chance for them to follow a passion they’ve always had, and take a metaphorical jump into the unknown? We did our best as a business to support all of our team through a tough time last year, safeguarding their mental wellbeing and keeping them engaged. But it comes as no surprise that, as we ease out of lockdown, people want to make changes to how they live and work.

“This new fund recognizes and encourages professional curiosity among young people who might decide that they want to dial up their entrepreneurial mindset.”

The amounts offered will differ on a case-by-case basis, McEntee says, but Here Be Dragons offers would-be entrepreneurs a cash injection without taking equity in return.

One staffer has already taken them up on the offer. Jasmine Brown’s jewelery business, That Dress Up Mood, got off to such a good start that she’s gone full-time with it. She tells The Drum: “Here Be Dragons backed me and gave me the tools I needed to get my business off the ground – equipment, capital and advice. More importantly, I left the agency on a high, instilled with the belief that I was making the right decision for my own personal trajectory. I wish more companies thought about the bigger picture of individual, not collective, development – even if they lose the employee.”

McEntee says: ”We noticed that our junior staff had sort of itchy feet and we were having some tough conversations. We thought, you know what, we’re going to help you out because we've always believed we’re a people first business.

”We try really hard to look after all our staff, especially juniors, to develop them and keep them in the agency and watch them grow. But if they decide to take their careers elsewhere and follow a dream or business idea they’ve always had, then we think that’s great.”

The agency launched the initiative after identifying an entrepreneurial trend among gen Z consumers, as well as conversations with its own staff, in a trend report published by its forecast service Tailwinds.

”Loads of gen Zs were either made redundant or put on furlough. It’s a huge time of anxiety for them, being at the start of their careers.

”But it also provided a moment to pause and ... reassess their lives. [A record number of] of new businesses were created and registered last year, and there’s been a 76% increase in 16-20-year-olds registering as sole traders.”

McEntee says the policy will form part of its offer to new employees as it recruits for the future.

”We want to be seen as a great place to work for anyone looking to get a leg up into the industry. We’re forward-thinking in how we look after our staff and our internal policies.”

And, if the policy works too well and its side hustlers move on, he points out they might return one day – as its customers.

”I want to take this long-term view on people development. It doesn’t mean they necessarily end up at your agency, you still invest in that person and wish them well. [If they] go on to set up a business, it might do really well. They could come back as clients later down the line.

”Hopefully we can build a reputation as someone who looks after their staff, even after they leave, and gives them our blessing. That’s the company we want to be.”

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