Pioneering Watton entrepreneur market aims to give ‘ladder of opportunity’ to would-be Bransons

The next Richard Branson or Alan Sugar may have launched their career on Watton high street today when the town launched a pioneering market to help new entrepreneurs.

The idea was inspired by Mary Portas's report on the future of town centres and aims to give budding businessmen a 'ladder of opportunity' to test products in a low-risk environment instead of signing a costly long-term lease.

Organisers plan to mentor small businesses, and introduce successful firms to Watton landlords who could let them share the tenancy of currently-empty town centre shops on favourable terms.

Brothers Joe and Tom Shepherd from Ovington, near Watton, started internet replica weapons business Arms of Chivalry last September but came to the entrepreneur market to meet customers face to face for the first time.

Tom said: 'We are over the moon. To be able to support a market with the support of the local community means a lot to us.'

One person who understands how the market could launch successful businesses is Sharon Aldridge, who started her posh dog collar firm Zigwagz at a stall in Sheringham in May 2011 and now supplies Harrods.

Sister Francis from Sacred Heart School asked her why she wasn't offering them to the exclusive London store, and after she pitched her products Harrods started stocking them three weeks ago.

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She said: 'I think [the entrepreneur market] is fantastic – I think people need an opportunity. People can see if it is going to work. If it does not, they have only lost �5. I would like to see more towns do it.'

Chris Edwards, who launched the market with the Wayland Partnership, Watton chamber of trade and Watton town council, hoped it would increase variety in the town, and help fill empty shop units.

He said: 'I want people within the Wayland area to wake up on a Saturday morning and say 'What's going on in Watton today? Let's go there'.'

One early shopper was Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman who said: 'Across mid-Norfolk generally and in Watton in particular we need to do everything we can to promote rural enterprises to create opportunities for school leavers, older entrepreneurs and to help the vibrant high street. This is a really great initiative.'

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