Start-up champion speaks to Yasmina Siadatan, former Apprentice winner and now creative director of Start-Up Loans.

Apprentice winner Yasmina Siadatan has moved from working with Sir Alan Sugar to helping budding Sir Alans find the finance to set up their own businesses.

She left her £100,000 a year job with Sir Alan Sugar after having her first son and finding the whole shock to the system of becoming a working parent rather overwhelming, as many parents do.

Last year she took up a job as creative director of Start-Up Loans, a government initiative providing funding, mentoring and support to entrepreneurs. It’s a role she feels passionate about as she knows from personal experience what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Before she won The Apprentice in 2009, she and her brother ran a restaurant in Reading which is listed in the Michelin Guide. She says she had long wanted to set up her own business and at LSE where she was an undergraduate she put herself through courses like book-keeping and did a Business Link course about how to write a business plan. She spent a few years waitressing and travelling after leaving university before both she and her brother realised they were ready to start their own business.

She spent a lot of time researching the market and the siblings were fortunate enough to have their mother’s financial backing. Yasmina’s mother remortgaged her house to fund the restaurant. “She put her neck out financially,” says Yasmina. The bank matched the money her mother put up and the business was able to get up and running. Unfortunately, when she and her brother went to the bank it was 2007 and the financial crash soon followed. “I remember saying at the time that the only thing that could go wrong was if we hit a recession and of course we did. It was like a tidal wave,” she says. The business was fortunate in that it was based outside London and lower interest rates meant local people still had disposable income to spend. What it did affect though was food costs, utilities and council tax rates. Yasmina and her brother had to think creatively to get through that period.

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It was around this time that she decided to apply to The Apprentice as “a bit of fun”. “Around 30,000 people apply so you would be pretty deluded if you thought you would win,” she says. “It all snowballed pretty quickly. I was not looking for a way out of the restaurant, but pretty soon I was signing a contract with Sir Alan Sugar and waving goodbye to my brother.”

Yasmina worked for Sir Alan’s company Amscreen Healthcare, but soon after she started she became pregnant and three years ago she had her first son. It turned her world upside down. She found commuting and doing nursery drop-offs too hard so she handed in her notice. Fifteen months after having her first child she gave birth to her second son. This time round she was desperate to get back to work and had a better grasp of the whole childcare routine. She was able to hire a nanny which made more financial sense with two children and meant she didn’t have to worry about drop-offs and pick-ups or sickness. When her son was nine months old she started her current role at Start Up Loans which she says is a perfect fit for her given her love of the entrepreneurial spirit. Her role is to attract as many people as possible into enterprise, although she admits being your own boss might not be for everyone.

The organisation, which starts 40 businesses a day, was initiated because many start-ups can’t get bank loans to finance their businesses since they have no track record. It used to be restricted to young people, but last year the age cap was lifted in recognition of the growing numbers of people over 30, including the elderly and working mums, who are starting their own businesses. Yasmina understands the attraction for mums of running their own businesses – the ability to set your own hours, for instance. The loans are personal ones given to each individual entrepreneur. People can apply by filling in an online application form. They will then be guided by SUL’s delivery partner network in how to present their business plan. They then decide if they want to pay back the loan, which is up to a maximum of £25K [the average loan is £6K], over a period of one to five years. Interest is capped at 6%.


Yasmina says that having been an entrepreneur she understands the challenges, such as the importance of good guidance. Although her father has owned restaurants, it was in a different era and she says her brother and her made lots of errors due to a lack of guidance. Those who seek a loan through Start Up Loans get a mentor which Yasmina says is as important as the loan itself. “Mentors act as a sounding board. Often as an entrepreneur you can feel very lonely. Having someone who knows your area of business and does not just pay lip service is invaluable,” she says. Start-ups have one hour with their mentor every month for the first year and can then decide if they want to continue or look for a different mentor who can help them through the next stage of building their business.

Yasmina says she might end up returning to running her own business, but for the moment she is happy to be inspiring others to create their own start-ups.

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