Meet the 'cake terrorist' helping tech start-ups
Tech businesses in Oxford are being given a helping hand by a former Wall Street trader who made his name in doughnuts.
Gary Frank is the co-founder of the FAB Accelerator in the city and passing on more than 25 years of business experience to fledgling start-ups.
The economic crash of October 1987 hit the then futures trader hard.
“That night I went to bed a fairly wealthy man and woke up broke,” he told BusinessCloud. “I came back to the UK and was unemployed – and pretty much unemployable.
“I started up the Delicious Doughnut Company in 1989. The UK wasn’t ready for American-style doughnuts but I got into other products – muffins, flapjacks, brownies and cupcakes – and the whole thing took off.
“By 1997 we were the Fabulous Bakin’ Boys and in all the major supermarkets – we were the biggest independent cake brand in the UK.
“We didn’t have ‘disrupters’ back in my day but I remember going to pitch at one of the supermarkets and the buyer looked at me and said ‘You guys are cake terrorists!’, which I took as a compliment.
“It was all about being bold and brash with our brand.”
Frank retired from the £20 million turnover business in 2014 and “wanted to give something back”, so he started working with start-ups in Oxfordshire.
The entrepreneur in residence at Oxford Brookes University Business School started up the FAB Accelerator in August of last year to help start-ups of all types. Each programme lasts for 12 weeks and ends with a pitching event for the 12 businesses in front of a room full of investors.
“There’s a big demand for it because there’s no one in Oxford helping start-ups. My colleagues and I put this together so we could help a bigger range of start-ups,” he explained.
“When I started by business there was no one to help – I didn’t know anything about making doughnuts, or running a business. I made it up as I went along. It’s a good way of learning, but you make a lot of mistakes.
“I’ve come across most situations and scenarios, which I can pass on.”
The Oxford FAB Accelerator has helped many tech firms on their business journey, the most recent cohort including Streetdrone, which is working on self-driving, electric vehicles; TechPixies, which helps women upskill and return to work; Made with Joy, which helps charities, social enterprises, non-profits and small businesses get a professional website at a reasonable cost; and Spyre, which connects post-doctorate students with science, tech and sustainable development businesses.
Spyre founder Heather Garrick said: “I wanted to see if I could take it from an idea to an actual business.
“Since the beginning of FAB they encouraged me to get out there and talk to people – I met 300 people in the community and got lots of students and business on board.”
Frank summed up: “FAB creates a great entrepreneurial community – it’s amazing the connections that are made.”