Educator to award-winning founder

October 3, 2018

Holly Thompson, founder and skills strategist at Future Skills Vision, shares her business journey and provides insights on being a female entrepreneur

If you’ve been lucky enough to meet Future Skills Vision (FSV) founder Holly, you’ll know her no-nonsense approach and outlook has a direct influence on the way she runs her business and everything in it – forward thinking, innovative and efficient. But Holly overcame a number of challenges as she progressed from senior leader in the education and skills industry to CEO of her own business.

Holly says it’s only now she feels she truly has a voice, and is able to use it to challenge the status quo and make progressive improvements in the way that the skills industry is accessed and operates.

Now entering its third year, FSV is really starting to find its feet and establish itself, says Holly.

“We’ve found a niche in the way that we work – how we message and execute our services stands us apart. We offer an exceptional and professional service, and cut through the jargon, which makes such a difference to our clients and their ability to move at pace,” she says.

“A lot of this is down to having the confidence to be bold and unapologetically myself, which permeates through to the brand and how we operate, something I struggled with in the beginning – it was always there, but the act of starting and growing FSV enabled me to focus and ultimately do things the way I knew they could be done. “We could make a difference and create a professional business that added value in this area, but I wasn’t prepared to do it in a way that was false or create a brand that wasn’t reflective of me and my values – gone are the days where woman should have to uphold a certain image to be a successful founder.”

Holly continues: “Unfortunately, many women lack the confidence in business to be themselves or implement ideas, based on their beliefs, for fear of being judged or failing. I’m disappointed to say I am somewhat of a cliché here. I did find the transition of working in a very large organisation to creating a start-up very difficult.

“What no-one tells you before you embark on that journey is how you may or may not feel during that time and, honestly, I felt lost to a large extent – constantly questioning if I was able to create a functioning, profitable business on my own. But I could and I did, and quickly people started to get on board. I soon realised it was my own self confidence that had taken a significant beating over the years, which I needed to rebuild. I’m pleased to say that with the help of those around me, and those who chose to support me on the journey, I have reinvented a more confident and content version of myself that just hadn’t surfaced before.

“Personally I don’t think it makes a difference that I am a woman. I am a person running a business providing a service that people need or want, so they choose to access it.”

When talking to Holly about what it’s like to be female founder and CEO, she says: “I don’t think it makes a difference that I am a woman. I am a person running a business providing a service that people need or want, so they choose to access it.

“I accept there is a need to champion women in business and to have a gender balance in terms of what and who are represented, but I feel both genders have natural differences and that’s a good thing, that is diversity.

“I would add there needs to be diversity in business in all areas, rather than just a focus on gender – that is what truly drives innovation and a diverse workforce.”

When asked about the issues and challenges FSV are helping to address within the skills industry, Holly replies: “The team’s key focus is to unmask and demystify the rules around funding, to allow businesses to access this more readily.

“It’s that simple. There is a lot of noise and various agendas being talked about on the topic of skills – from apprenticeships and engaging the older generation, to career changers and returners, but what we aim to challenge and are fundamentally improving is the access to opportunity.

“If businesses understand how to better access opportunities to fund training, retraining, upskilling, and everything in between, they will directly and positively impact the economy, creating more jobs and offer strong career opportunities, that’s the goal.”

It’s clear that Holly has a huge amount of knowledge and expertise in the skills industry, and has successfully developed into the entrepreneur and CEO that she is, but Holly admits none of this would have been possible without the people that inspired and helped her along the way.

“Overall the journey itself has involved a lot of soul searching, taking myself from educational director, working in the further education sector, to business leader and entrepreneur,” she says.

“Ultimately, you never arrive ‘there’ – you are always learning and challenging yourself. Some days you feel like you are winning in every area, and others you question your decisions and have a moment of self-doubt.

“But this is where you need to tap into the mentors and inspirational people around you. Surrounding yourself with truly good and inspiring people is life-changing, it’s so important and fundamental to how you feel and therefore to succeeding. If someone is draining you and isn’t adding value to your life or business in a positive way, walk away.

“So many people that I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with on this journey really stand out for me, and have helped shape my decisions, and the business as it grows.”

Holly’s advice to anyone thinking of starting a business is: “Stop thinking about it – just do it. If you are even remotely considering starting your own business, it is most likely because you have an idea, you see an opportunity – so just go for it.

“If nothing else, you’ll learn something. No one ever looks back and says ‘I wish I didn’t try’ – they look back and say, ‘I wish I had…’’’

Future Skills Vision

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Breaking the mould