Startup “1985 style” – East Midlands Picture Services

EMPICS Business Card c.1986 In 1985, I was a 22-year-old press photographer in a well-paid and rewarding job at the Leicester Mercury. I had excellent colleagues – and a very comfortable life. However, it was not enough for me – and I wanted to work for National Newspapers and create my own business.

So I set out to create a photo agency in the East Midlands to provide pictures for National Newspapers. The business was called East Midlands Picture Services – and was based in Nottingham. In the next 20 years, the name would be shortened to EMPICS – and it would become the largest independently-owned sports photography agency in the world.

The business was to be a partnership with my best friend. Unfortunately, as we explored getting support from banks for our new venture the response was not particularly positive. My pal decided it was not for him, so we didn’t become business partners.

Eventually, I managed to get a £2,000 overdraft from Williams & Glyn Bank (now part of RBS). The business started in June 1985 – and 20 years later I left the business after a trade sale to the Press Association.

Looking back through some old papers, I found a copy of the original business plan. It’s linked to here as a PDF. Readers might find it amusing on many levels – the language, the fact it was individually typed (well before the time of wordprocessing) and that the cashflows are handwritten on graph paper (no Excel spreadsheets in those days!).

EMPICS was not a hi-tech startup – it ended up just being me on my own in an office in Nottingham. It was not a raiser of venture capital or seed funding (although as the business grew we did have 3i as a VC investor and a business angel). However, it was a leap into the unknown – and a roller coaster ride. To be recommended – to the brave…

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