Spotlight On … Karen Waite

The IOEE’s member base is incredibly diverse, with people from all walks of life signed-up to enjoy the privilege, services and benefits associated with it. To let you know just how broad a spectrum of people we work with, we’ve created Spotlight On… which, every month introduces you to an IOEE member with an interesting story to tell. This month the spotlight is on Karen Waite, who runs Leap Like a Salmon, an online system for the capture, management and sharing of professional development information.

Business innovator and owner, CIPD Fellow, teacher and university professional Karen Waite has a lot to occupy her time but all of it is linked to her passion – professional development. Officially, Karen’s online professional development business Leap like a Salmon has been trading since 2010. However, over the last seven years the product has been continually developed, ever improving to meet the needs and demands of its exacting user-base. She says:

“Because it’s such a high professional level that I’m dealing with there were several tweaks with the technology to make sure it was fit for purpose. Really, it’s over the last three years that the enterprise has taken off. In essence, it’s an online, secure portfolio that enables people to manage their professional development and the market area is SMEs, particularly across sectors that are required to participate in CPD (Continuing Professional Development), like accountants and solicitors – although not exclusively because people who are very pro-development or want to manage their employees as a whole in one area can use it as well.”

In tandem with her work on Leap like a Salmon, Karen is a Lead External Quality Adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), managing a team of 9 people covering the North, Ireland and international regions. Karen also holds a senior management position at the University of Bradford where she’s been an associate for around a decade. She’s module leader on the university’s MBA and teaches the Managerial and Professional Development module in Dubai. She says:

“My university work links really nicely with the work I do within the company and with the students, as the university use the system for some project work. In fact, the university was where the initial idea for Leap like a Salmon came from. Around eight years ago the university was using a portfolio system for the business learning students that was clunky and difficult to use. I recognised there was a gap in the market for a system that was a lot more dynamic, more engaging and more learner centred. Plus, I saw that it should be connected to a digital platform because people were increasingly looking for a social media element.”

Having spotted the need for a new service, Karen set about commissioning research into her market and the opportunity. Ultimately, the system itself was built by Sheffield Hallam University’s Innovation Hub and was one of the last enterprises to receive money from the now defunct BusinessLink Innovation Fund.

In February 2015, Karen attended the Meet a Mentor event in Leeds in the hope of finding a mentor with expertise in marketing, who could make her think about her business goals. On the day Karen was introduced to IOEE’s Mentor Manager, Paul Harper, who specialises in matching trained volunteer mentors from the banking industry with small and micro business owners. Throughout the last two years, Paul has continued to support Karen through regular telephone calls and emails following up on her progress. In November, they met up at the Entrepreneurial Spark offices in Leeds. Karen said:

“I had a really good meeting with Paul, he asked me what I was doing and how I was moving my business forward. Meeting with him was a good opportunity to reflect and challenge myself again, discussing what has happened and focusing on where I need to go now and what sort of support I need going forward.”

As she’s built Leap like a Salmon, Karen has received support and guidance from business accelerator and start-up programme Entrepreneurial Spark (E-Spark) and she has a base in the organisation’s Leeds offices. The programme is funded by NatWest and KPMG Enterprise. She says:

“I started E-Spark in February 2016 and being part of it is almost like having your own board of directors. It’s so positive and it focusses you. It just gives you that bit more commitment and you do progress, making connections that you wouldn’t normally. At the E-Spark base there are three floors of desks spaces and creative spaces, it’s been a very open collaborative place to work. And I aim to get in there as much as I can. Actually, being part of E-spark gives you more profile than you might appreciate at the time.”

E-Spark participants, as well as benefiting from the workspace itself, also enjoy networking and mentoring opportunities, plus regular meetings with dedicated advisors where they can discuss specific business objectives.

Karen currently has lots of exciting new projects in the pipeline. Towards the end of 2016 she began meetings with retailer John Lewis to discuss Leap Like a Salmon’s use of a dedicated ‘community room.’ Ostensibly designed for community groups to get together and learn new skills such as haberdashery techniques, Karen saw that the room could also be ideal as a personal development space. She says:

“This is a venue that people can use to gain insight and knowledge. I put to John Lewis that I could be there as a support for the community and run an ‘Ask the expert’ on personal development. This is a service I offer on my website already and it’s been agreed that it will be happening from February. There’ll be an open-door policy, and it’s free to attend. If people have a question about their development or career, they can come along to Leeds John Lewis.”

Working along similar lines to the ‘Ask the expert’ section on Leap like a Salmon’s website, these community drop-in sessions will be open to absolutely anyone. Users who feel stuck in a role and are seeking a career change, the unemployed and students, those going through forced or voluntary redundancy or anyone simply looking for a new steer on personal development… all will be welcomed. With time, Karen hopes that these real-world advice sessions will become a regular calendar feature and an invaluable community resource. This, in addition to the fact that she is currently making important headway with two major Leap like a Salmon clients, means 2017 is certainly shaping up to be a busy and productive year. The entrepreneur, who currently works with a small team, is also planning something of a recruitment drive:

“Although I obviously have a lot of people supporting me, this year I will need more marketing, digital and administration support so I’m looking at taking two people on. Other plans in the pipeline this year include increasing my turnover by at least 20% and making sure that I continue to network and develop the relationships I developed with E-Spark to give me the opportunity to move the business even further forward into new markets.”