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High50 Entrepreneur Darren Padgett: You need resilience, a strategy and a great network
December 31, 2013 | By:
Being made redundant at 50 gave Darren Padgett a 'boot up the backside' to start his own business, and he turned over £250,000 in his first year. Now 54, he's expanding it
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Darren (bottom right) with Team Activ

Darren Padgett spent more than 20 years running up and down playing fields in Barnsley schools, teaching PE to South Yorkshire children. But an unexpected redundancy in the year he turned 50 meant he swapped his tracksuit for a place at a business school in order to secure his own destiny.

He had already moved into a management position for ten years before the coalition government cut funding to the School Sport Partnership (SSP) in 2011, where Darren was working with Team Barnsley to help improve PE and sport in schools.

With a year’s notice, Padgett knew he wanted to continue the good work that the SSP has started. “I didn’t want to continue teaching in a traditional sense. It was a dark and deep time when I found out I was being made redundant but it gave me a boot up the backside to start my own new business.

“I had the management experience, and working at the School Sport Partnership showed me how to set up a social enterprise. Along with my experience, I had the benefit of a ready-made workforce, as I employed all the people who were made redundant.”

Starting a not-for-profit business

In the year Darren turned 50, he started the not-for-profit business Team Activ, with the aim of providing Barnsley primary schools with regular sports competitions, teacher training as well as national curriculum support.

Before taking the leap of faith into the world of entrepreneurialism, Darren managed to land a place on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business programme in Leeds, where he learned vital business skills, which enabled him to create a solid business plan for his start-up. “The programme really hammered home that you have to have a long-term strategy for the business and yourself,” he says.

With the pressure of employing five people from the launch of Team Activ in September 2011, Darren knew he had to secure funding to get the business through its first year. “I had to become a marketer and promote the business in schools. I had the challenging task of convincing head teachers to pay for a service that they had previously received for free.”

In the year leading up to when the business was launched, Darren managed to sign up half of the primary schools in Barnsley, with each of them paying an annual subscription per child to participate in Team Activ’s sports programme.

Darren has created a subscription service, allowing schools to buy into the company at different levels.

The standard subscription, where schools pay an annual fee per pupil, enables children to participate in inter-school sports competitions and after-school clubs – from traditional sports like rugby and tennis through to more unusual physical activities, such as orienteering and tri-golf.

The premium membership, offers training programmes where Team Activ goes into schools with the aim of improving the standard of sports teaching, as well as organising schools’ competitions.

But while Darren has always had a strong belief in the social enterprise business, he admits it was a nerve-wrecking time, as he’d never considered himself to be an entrepreneur. “It’s still a leap of faith to invest in yourself. Then once you’re convinced yourself that it’s a good idea, the next problem that needs solving is: where the money is going to come from?”

In Team Activ’s first year, the business turned over £250,000. The profits made by Darren and his team go back into providing sports opportunities for children.

With plans to expand the business, Darren, who is now 54, laughs when High50 asks if he sees himself putting on his retirement slippers any time soon. “Running a business allows you to be so creative, and to put so many of your ideas on the table, so I can’t ever imagine stepping away from the business completely.”

Expanding the business

Team Activ is looking to expand in several different directions to secure its future. Darren has employed a development manager to kick-start a new part of the business, which will facilitate corporate sports activities.

“We’ve been organising community events, and have realised that these are transferable into the corporate market. So we are working on using most of the networks that we’ve build over the past three years to do for businesses what we’ve been doing in schools.”

Then there’s an off-shoot of the business – Go Wild in the Peak District, a family-based adventure day, which includes BMX trails and tree climbing, all organised by Team Activ. With such wide array of physical activities on offer via his business, Darren feels energised by what he and his team are achieving.

He believes that his age and experience has only been beneficial to starting up a new business. He says: “I didn’t have the experience and self-belief before, and definitely played it safe in my 30s. While I would never have chosen to do this, it is the best thing that could have ever happened.”

Three tips for starting a business in your 50s

• You have to believe in and have a great knowledge of something to run your own business – you can’t just start up on a whim. Having a strong belief in something will enable you to articulate exactly what the business will become, and who your customers will be

  1. • You need to be very resilient and persistent. Talk to people who you trust. Run your business idea by people whom you respect and get lots of opinions on what you’re proposing to do
  2. • Start creating a network of people who are going to be helpful to you. Find mentors who can guide and advise you on the experiences that you are going through
  3. Teamactiv.org