John Hegarty Starts The Garage, Incubator in Search of Future Stars

Venture Offers $80,000, Mentoring and London Desk Space

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John Hegarty and Tom Teichman
John Hegarty and Tom Teichman
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John Hegarty, founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, is opening a London-based incubator called The Garage, which aims to build on his successful run of investing in and starting companies over the last 40 years.

Mr. Hegarty was an early investor in a number of companies, including Mind Candy, which unleashed Moshi Monsters on the world, and Not on the High Street, a U.K. e-commerce site that brings together independent retailers.

He was also a founding shareholder in Saatchi & Saatchi, co-founded TBWA London in 1973 and helped start Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 1982.

"There's a loss of faith in large companies," said Mr. Hegarty, who turns 70 this year. "Young people don't want to climb the corporate ladder or be part of Procter & Gamble -- 56% of them want to start their own business and to be more in control of their own future. The other side of this is that eight out of ten businesses fail. We want to increase the odds of success."

Venture capitalist Tom Teichman -- also an early investor in Mind Candy and Not on the High Street -- is Mr. Hegarty's partner in the venture. The pair will work with Michael Acton Smith and Holly Tucker, founders of Mind Candy and Not on the High Street, who are described as "mechanics" at The Garage. Two senior BBH staffers are also part of the set-up: group strategy director Nick Kendall and global engagement planning director Kevin Brown.

The team will lend their support and expertise to their chosen startups. Potential candidates are asked to send in three-minute videos. Twenty will be chosen to pitch and six will ultimately be invited to work at The Garage's Soho offices, based in a building owned by Mr. Hegarty. Winners will benefit from a $80,000 investment in their company, funded by Mr. Hegarty and Mr. Teichman.

Mr. Hegarty described the three essential ingredients The Garage is looking for in an early-stage business: Is it disrupting the current business model? Is it scaleable? And do we like the people?

"So much of what we do [in advertising] is helping and guiding a business," Mr. Hegarty said. "I want to take all those lessons and employ them helping young companies build a brand. You can have a great idea but in two months someone else will have that same idea or technology. There's no exclusivity – but there is exclusivity on building a brand, which is why it's fundamentally important."

Starting The Garage has not induced the same sense of fear as starting BBH, Mr. Hegarty confessed. "I'm not nervous, I'm excited," he said. "As a creative I love the sense of building something from nothing. At BBH the decisions we made in the first month -- like not doing creative pitches -- are the decisions that stayed with us for the next 35 years. It doesn't mean you don't evolve, but you change your practices and not your principles."

Mr. Hegarty will work full time at The Garage, except for the one day a month he still devotes to BBH.