The Lions were created a number of years ago by Gary Spicer and a travelling companion out of what Gary calls a minister’s frustration to release an entrepreneurial spirit in the Church in the UK. Gary kept asking himself, “How can we connect with that for the kingdom?” The conception came at Geneva Airport of all places, as a springboard to launch and pioneer the idea of a type of Dragons’ Den with the three Cs, Community, Church, Commerce at its heart to create a social impact and to release all the dreamers.
Initially accepting between 60 and 90 applicants, the candidates are whittled down to 15, for a six-weekend experience with people who have been ‘successful’ in their chosen fields, the “good, the bad, and the ugly” as Gary puts it, in the Belfry Hotel in the Midlands. There, they discuss things like the concept of their pitch, case studies of things that have gone wrong and those that have gone right, business plans, team dynamics, legal aspects of what they are doing and how to build good teams. This culminates in an elevator pitch exercise where the applicants have two minutes to pitch to each other. That cuts out the waffle and fantasy and makes them focus on faith and purpose.
The sixth week sees them enter the Lions’ Lair, where they have ten minutes to make their presentation and then face a further ten minutes of questioning to check that the plan is sustainable. If they can convince the Lions, the successful applicants are accepted for the second year.
During that second year, intimate close and purposeful coaching, not lecturing, is where the focus is on creating a structure and sustainability to the dream. They encourage dreamers, but there is a clear difference between a dream and a fantasy. Encouraging and nurturing the dream with faith provides the right foundation to flourish, no matter what their vision is for.
The first year is paid for by the participants, although it can be subsidised, and for those successful to progress, the second year, which sees the applicants again reduce in number to four to six people, is free.
They can look forward to boardroom presentations to previous participants and other second years, and a great deal of support and resources. This is where the Lions is vastly different to television’s Dragons’ Den. There is no profit made by the Lions. They are financed by contributions from businesses, entrepreneurial businessmen to promote an entrepreneurial spirit in Church and ultimately the kingdom. Unlike the Dragons, the Lions don’t lend money with the expectation of a capital return of investment, they give a grant, seed money, with the question: “What is the kingdom aspect of this?” Success is defined not purely by financial return but the impact the venture has on the kingdom.
I asked if there any success stories that really stand out for Gary. There’s a number. The first that sprang to mind was Gemma Francis who founded community choirs, which started as a small choir that grew into big town choirs, getting the community together through singing. This evolved into the BIG Sing™ with more than 15 choirs of around 12,000 people going into prisons, schools, hospitals, old people’s homes, and corporate events and television.
Others include a 24-year-old businessman who has built up an incredible network and property portfolio which has created a financial freedom that he sows back into the kingdom. His branches of Christian businessmen networking together, training others, and above all encouraging others is an example of the ‘domino effect’ of the Lions.
Another success story is the Be Strong project, founded by a “rough diamond” who had been through the prison system and came out with a dream to help other former prisoners. Among the great work the charity does is helping former prisoners find a home, teaching them skills and helping them into a job. Initially, this great dream wasn’t managing to flourish, it wasn’t financially sustainable, but with help from the Lions’ experienced mentors and networks, the coaching and assistance they were able to provide have helped make it a financially sustainable organisation.
I asked Gary where he felt they had the biggest success rate, and he felt that it was probably in the world of business and that creatives were a little more difficult, but they had many growing success stories in the arts and theatres, citing a theatre company in Oxford. Tough messages, variety celebrate
Next March sees the Forward 19 conference, a one-day conference in Coleshill where leaders with a heart for the three Cs have the opportunity to feed into new ideas, and gain coaching and networking with people who have also had a dream and have found a way to make it happen. It’s the tapestry that connects arts, commerce and the Church.
Are you a dreamer, a budding entrepreneur, or someone with a big idea that can’t seem to get off the ground? Maybe the Lions are the link that can get your venture on the road to success.