One year ago I took a punt and sent in a video application to win an Emerging Talent Fund pass to Thinking Digital Manchester. I was brand new not only to technology and all things digital, but to entrepreneurialism and startupping, too. To say I was emerging was a bit of an understatement.

I had left my career of 20 years and entered a startup weekend in Sheffield and won it, then entered one in Manchester and won it, too. I had decided to take that second winning idea and play to the whistle. The thing was, I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing and I needed a lot of help.

Thankfully the folks I had met in the digital and tech communities of Sheffield, Manchester, and Leeds were super helpful and extremely generous with their time. Over numerous cups of coffee, they enlightened me on the ways of the tech startup world and introduced me to their networks of equally helpful and generous people.

These connections led me to Thinking Digital, and of course, the work of Herb Kim. The timing couldn’t have been better. It was just the inspiration I needed at just the right moment. The community in Newcastle turned out to be just as helpful as its northern neighbours. And talk about the power of connections- it turns out that Herb and his family were local celebrities well known by a friend of mine who grew up in the same neighbourhood as the Kims back in America. A small world it is, too!

Anyway, I was feeling all things brave in my new tech-startup-life-post-public-sector, but also feeling the startup pinch, so I figured a hit-and-hope for the Emerging Talent Fund was my only option for broadening my digital horizons.

I got a pass, and I made my way to Tyneside and the beautiful Sage, Gateshead. I met an incredible array of people there: people who reminded me of the power of creativity, like Steph Posavec, Sam Aaron, and LJ Rich; people who taught me to think differently (digitally!), like Jennifer Lyn Morone and Patrick Meier, and those who inspired me to keep going and go for it, like Alexandra Depledge. And, perhaps mostly importantly for my story so far, one of my heroes who became the first member of my advisory board, Ken Banks of kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS, who reinforced the message that there is plenty of space in the digital world for SMS solutions, especially in social entrepreneurialism.

If it weren’t for that boost of encouragement and energy so soon after my startup weekend win just out of the chute for my new business, I wonder if I would have had the courage and motivation to stick at it. I even went on to apply to an accelerator and just completed it this past December.

Looking back on this past year feels incredible. A brand new experience, seen through to a viable though still very young business, with lots of momentum and a great support network around me, much of which came from those days spent in Newcastle at Thinking Digital.

It is a real honour and privilege to get to come back again and show my appreciation, and to assure Herb Kim, the organisers and sponsors that I did not squander the opportunity given to me, and that the Emerging Talent Fund can and did help at least one emerging talent to get a leg up and keep going long after the event had ended. I would encourage anyone to always take a punt and go for these sorts of generous opportunities that our communities put out there, because you just never know who you might meet.

Thank you Herb and Thinking Digital, and I look forward to seeing everyone again in May!

Elizabeth Shassere is Founder and CEO of Textocracy, an SMS based customer feedback and business information service committed to opening up the voice of the service user in public sector services. You can find out more at www.textocracy.org, or follow us on Twitter @SMSTextocracy.

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