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Sports start-up is batting for success thanks to Business Wales

The Welsh Government has announced further support for its scheme to help unemployed people facing hidden barriers to start their own business. 

The extension to the Barriers to Start-up Grant will provide assistance to 250 more unemployed individuals. To date, 1,637 unemployed people have received supported since the launch of programme in 2020.

Recent findings show that 78% of those supported to start their own business are still trading and on average have been running their businesses for two years – a slightly higher level than the two year survival rate of all business start-ups across Wales (74.5%).

The grant helped Swansea-based entrepreneur, Stephen Baker, conquer unemployment by launching a unique sports start-up.

Stephen launched Frenz Seniors Pickleball to introduce over 50s in the area to a more accessible sport that’s both physically and mentally beneficial, sociable and fun.

Since launching the coaching business in September 2022, Frenz Seniors Pickleball’s community has grown from six to 125 regular subscribers. Similar to tennis, pickleball players use paddles to hit a ball back and forth over a net or table, in singles or doubles games.

Stephen had never heard of pickleball until he moved to the USA in 2007 and took up the sport. Since then and on returning to Wales, Stephen has stuck to the low-impact sport, as a way of staying active and monitoring his health.

Stephen, who was diagnosed with late onset diabetes after suffering an auto-immune reaction at his former workplace, became unemployed in 2016. Struggling to find a job that fulfilled his mental capabilities while supporting his health requirements, he approached his local job centre for support.

Stephen said: “I mentioned my love of pickleball to my contact at the local job centre and he pointed me in the direction of Business Wales, who instantly advised me to apply for the Barriers to Start Up Grant. I used the funding to purchase equipment, hire out spaces in and around Swansea to host classes, and gain coaching qualifications.

“Accessing the grant alleviated me of my financial concerns. Without the grant, I wouldn’t have been able to launch my own business and escape unemployment. I couldn’t be more grateful to Business Wales for helping me to find success in self-employment, which has not only benefitted my physical and mental health, but helped others too.

 “One of our players is 93 years old and wheelchair bound, but giggles hysterically every time he scores a point. It’s a joy to watch seniors play pickleball, the physical and mental benefits are endless. The fact that I can also earn a living from the sport thanks to business Wales is a real bonus.”

Alongside supporting Stephen to access funding, business advisor Graham Harvey helped Stephen to develop a business plan during one-to-one meetings and signposted him to Business Wales webinars on topics like financial planning and market research.

Graham said: “Stephen was a very engaging client to work with in that he was prepared to listen and was receptive to the advice and support that Business Wales provided. I was impressed with his desire to support the wider community he serves, seeking to improve both the mental wellbeing and physical fitness of clients.”

In the coming months, Stephen is partnering Swansea social services to introduce schools, community centres and religious institutions to pickleball’s recreational and rehabilitative benefits.

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to extend this scheme which has already helped so many people find a way into business and be economically active.

“We are determined to create a fairer and more prosperous Wales, where people are supported to fulfil their true potential.

“Wales is also a great place to start and grow a business and I am proud that the start-ups we have backed are twice as likely to still be in business after five years compared with the market as a whole.”

Applications for the Barriers to Start Up grant will run until March 2024. Applicants must be unemployed and over 25 years old to be deemed eligible. Further information is available at: https://businesswales.gov.wales/barriers-start-grant-25-year-olds-and-over

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