Holding £1,000 cheque given for his 21st birthday, James Taylor had two choices: buy a round-the-world plane ticket or start a business. Given that SportStars, his children’s sports coaching venture, was named overall winner at the 2007 Startups Awards, it’s safe to say he made the right decision.
“After I finished uni I went to America and coached kids at LA Galaxy,” recalls James. “I always felt such as sense of reward watching them develop. When I got back to the UK I was constantly reading articles about child obesity and the Playstation culture. Something had to be done, and I wanted it to be me in the driver’s seat.”
James withdrew the £1,000 and bought some sports equipment. With no funds to pay wages, he managed to convince a small team of coaches to do free trials with him at local primary schools in South Wales.
At the time James was living on a mate’s sofa and was using Cardiff University’s library as his office.
The same year James had the idea for SportStars, the government introduced a law requiring teachers to spend 10% of their working time away from the classroom.
Planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time provided the young entrepreneur with the perfect opportunity to adapt his business plan to slot nicely the way schools were run.
“The headteachers were left with this headache of how to cover this time,” said James. “I came along and explained this problem they had was actually a fantastic opportunity to get specialist coaches into the schools.”
A month of free trials led to five initial paid contracts. Word of mouth spread, the contracts grew in number and so did the SportStars product range. James introduced holiday courses where a venue was hired out for 11 weeks of the year and the kids came along for five hours everyday.
At present James employs 15 full-time, 20 part-time, and up to 60 temporary coaches during the school holidays. Current turnover is around £1.2m, and the company has offices in Cardiff, Bristol and Swansea, with plans to role the service out across the UK, and even overseas.
“When I started out, I had to deal with a lot of negativity. So many people told me it wouldn’t work. But three years later I’m the proud leader of a fantastic group of men and women that are out there making a difference.”
The Startups Awards judges felt SportStars epitomised everything a 2007 should be: a good idea, based on an innovative model, which was both socially conscious, and community focused.
So what does James have to say to all those people who thought he’d fail? “Startups named us the number one new company in the UK. That says it all really.”