Mayo presenter/ producer Simon Atkins told David Hennessy about his new TV show and format Ready Set StartUp, working with Philip Schofield and how he would like to take his father back to Burma, the country his family had to leave to escape persecution.
TV presenter and producer Simon Atkins has just launched a new TV format called Ready Set StartUP.
The series, available on Amazon Prime, depicts ten of Britain and Ireland’s most promising early-stage entrepreneurs battling it out in a series of high intensity challenges for a £100k investment into their business.
Simon told The Irish World: “I guess the difference between this and a normal reality show is that there is very much a business element at the heart of this.
“It’s like The Apprentice meets Dragon’s Den except it’s for young entrepreneurs.
“What we really wanted to show is that these days entrepreneurs come in every walk of life.
“We also really wanted to show what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
“It really does follow the journey of an entrepreneur from start to finish and gives an insight into not just how to go about business tasks but also how to execute their own business setup.”
Rather than how The Apprentice has someone like Karren Brady on hand to watch and then later ridicule contestants for their mistakes, contestants are guided here.
“Every step of the way before they do those tasks, they are mentored by business leaders so they’re taught how to execute the task before they do it but also that feeds into how to execute their own early stage start up.
“That was really a key difference between this show, and something like The Apprentice or Dragons’ Den, that there’s real entrepreneurial learnings along the way.
“We wanted to make sure that all the entrepreneurs were getting as much support from both the judges and the mentors along the way.
“Even though one person reigned victorious, it’s about making sure that we’re helping young people kick start their own careers and also in this uncertain economic climate to take the power into their own hands.
“Because you have to, these days you can’t wait around for stuff to happen.
“You have got to create those opportunities yourself and a lot of these youngsters are doing that.
“I hope that this series has been beneficial towards them, but also the audience watching it.
“There’s a lot of people out there, me included, that wouldn’t know how to start their own business.”
Simon is executive producer as well as presenter on the show.
“But what’s been amazing for me is that I became an accidental entrepreneur making this series about entrepreneurs because I set up a new a brand new production company.
“It’s definitely been one of the most pivotal roles that I’ve taken on.
“I’ve really learned a lot from this series.
“I’ve been doing on screen and off screen things for quite some time now.
“I started out in RTE reporting and presenting, but I always worked behind the scenes as an assistant producer and a producer.
“This isn’t the first show that I have series produced, exec produced and fronted.
“However, it definitely is the biggest show that I’ve made and it does feel like a bit of a full circle moment from when I first started out to kind of creating and hosting something like this.
“But I feel like it’s just the beginning really.
“I hope that anybody that watches this series will know the steps and the journey of what an entrepreneur goes through and also will help people who have a passion to set up their own business.
“Hopefully, this will give them an insight and also the drive to do that.”
Is there already plans or talk about a second series? “We launched it at Cannes in April and there’s huge, huge interest to sell both the finished tape and the format globally.
“There’s already lots of countries that want it.
“We’re very excited to make another series and maybe even one in Ireland, let’s see.”
Bringing it to Ireland is a big ambition of Simon’s.
“I would absolutely love to make a series of Ready Set StartUp in Ireland just because I do think people in Ireland have a real entrepreneurial mindset and a real entrepreneurial get up and go.
“I’m speaking to RTE about it in the next week or two.
“I’d love to get Enterprise Ireland on board or maybe some of the big companies that would be interested in sponsoring it.”
Ready Set StartUp is not without Irish representation besides Simon as it features the judge Eamonn Carey, former MD of Techstars, and Shalom Osiadi, founder of Esca Menu, as a contestant.
Simon has also been on the other side of the reality TV show lens.
“I’ve actually been on two reality shows.
“I worked in RTE and TV3 for about five years.
“Then I decided to make the move to London and GMTV at the time were looking for a couple of reporters for GMTV.
“They ran a reality strand throughout the summer and I was selected as one of the contestants for that.
“I moved to London to be on that show and I never came back.
“I didn’t win, but I was literally on the couch of GMTV, doing some presenting on This Morning and Toonattik (ITV kids’ show), hanging out in the ITV Studios. I just knew, ‘This is exactly the kind of place I wanted to be’.
“So I never went back to Ireland until Xpose were looking for a new reporter for TV3 and they ran a reality series.
“They asked me to be part of it so I went home.
“I came runner up on that and then came straight back to London.
“So I understand the whole world of production, of being on screen and also being a contestant.
“I’ve been in London 14 years.
“It’s definitely been extremely good to me.
“When I left Ireland, we were peak Celtic Tiger and there was so much work.
“I was on the couch twice a week for Grainne Seoige’s show, Seoige and O’Shea presenting and I was also producing in the background.
“I was making a really, really good living but unfortunately, I knew that it’s very hard to climb the ladder in Ireland because there’s so few jobs.
“And when I left to go to the UK, everything crashed and TV in Ireland was just not as lucrative as it was, so I think I made the move at the right time.
“As much as I adore Ireland, London has been extremely good to me.”
Simon has interviewed many A list stars.
Who has been his best interview, has he been starstruck by anyone? “Who was I starstruck by? I have to say I was definitely starstruck by Jennifer Lopez.
“She performed on a show called The Greatest Dancer and she did a closed set rehearsal before the live show.
“There was three of us in the studio.
“I felt like she was like performing to me.
“I certainly was star struck for her.”
Has there been a worst interview? “This is probably not news to anybody but an unsavoury character that I have met before is probably James Corden.
“Look, I think the day that I met him he was having a bit of a bad day, I think everybody knows he’s got a bit of a mean side to him.
“Sometimes he’s nice but he’s also got a bit of an unsavory side, let’s just say.”
As he mentions, an early gig for Simon after he made the move to London was on This Morning, a show that has been hit by scandal recently.
“I worked with Philip Schofield at the beginning of my career, that was like 14 years ago.
“I worked on his Saturday night entertainment show which was called All Star Mr And Mrs.
“And Philip was, from what I remember, extremely professional, very good at his job, and also very, very approachable.
“I absolutely had a brilliant time working with him.”
Is it sad for you to see the recent scandals? “I think there are mixed emotions for a lot of people.
“For me, my experience with Philip has always been lovely and it is sad to see: The biggest presenting duo in the UK end their relationship in such an unamicable way.
“What I thought was really sad was the way they paid tribute to Philip and there was no big send off.
“It was just like, ‘We’d like to thank Philip for his time on the show’.
“They showed three slides and then he was just gone. That was it.
“And him and Holly were obviously really good friends.
“It looks like she’s had to distance herself from him for obvious reasons.
“But who knows what’s going to come to light?
“So much has come to light already but is that the end of that story? I’m not quite sure. I think more stuff is gonna come out and people might be even more surprised by what comes to light.”
There has been talk of This Morning being toxic and even the suggestion the whole show should be scrapped.
Was it toxic in your time there? “What I will say is live television can be a very pressurised environment.
“So when the pressure is intense like that, people can snap.
“So at times any show can have a really heightened sense of emotion and sometimes people might say that that’s toxic.
“I personally have not really worked on any shows that have been toxic.
“However, some of my friends have worked on This Morning and some people said it’s lovely and some people have absolutely hated it and said that it is toxic.
“So I think different people experience different things.”
Simon explored the differences between religions and their attitudes to homosexuality in My Big Gay Jewish Conversion.
We went to ask him about it but wrongly said the word ‘fat’ in there thinking of the well known film that the show takes its name from.
“I’m not fat yet,” he laughs.
“I had a Jewish boyfriend, I was Catholic and I wanted to explore the different religious attitudes towards homosexuality.
“I pitched it into the BBC and they commissioned it.
“It was a massive moment for my career because it was the first time that I developed something, pitched it, got it across the line.
“And it was an unbelievably interesting topic.
“Where I shot in predominantly in Tel Aviv, and also in Jerusalem, one of the most religious neighbourhoods in the world where you can get stoned for being gay and their views can be very, very extreme.
“But it was amazing. I actually loved making it and it helped me understand a lot more about Catholicism and Judaism.
“I wouldn’t have been able to make that documentary 10 years ago because I wasn’t comfortable with my sexuality.
“I wasn’t out.
“I wasn’t able to talk about being gay.
“So for me today to be able to get that commission but also talk freely about my sexuality was a huge moment for me.
“And my boyfriend has given me his blessing as well, because when we had this commission, he was petrified of me exploring not only our relationship, but also his religion and the Jewish community.
“There was definitely a few hairy moments where we were afraid that the documentary might be portrayed the wrong way.
“But overall it was brilliant. I’m glad I did it.”
Simon has also worked on Married at First Sight.
“What’s great about Married at First Sight is it is a huge, huge social experiment but it’s also done through the reality lens.
“So working on it is absolutely fascinating.
“I think that’s one of the reasons I absolutely love doing my job.
“I love to talk to people to understand what they’re about, where they’ve come from, what makes them tick, what has made them who they are today.
“It does really give you an insight into what makes people tick and why people are the way they are.”
A documentary Simon wants to make and would be fascinating is the one about his own family’s roots in Burma.
“There really is a story there.
“What’s really sad is that Burma was under military regime for years.
“A lot of my family have been back but my dad has not been there since he was 18.
“They fled the country.
“He was arrested for looking too Westernised when he was 18.
“He was at a festival and he was wearing jeans, and there was a group of them arrested.
“They were to be shot the following day.
“My granny ran a couple of secondary schools.
“I guess she was quite well connected so she had her uncle pawn his watch to get my dad out of prison.
“Then my granny made the decision, one by one, to send her kids out of Burma to the UK.
“So they left everything behind.
“They left their wealth, they left their families, their friends and they boated to the UK.
“She sent some of her kids out on their own not knowing if she would get out, not knowing if they’d all get out.
“But they all eventually got out, landed in the UK and basically had to start their lives again.
“My dad has not been back there since he was 18.
“That would be a huge dream of not just mine, but all of my siblings to bring my dad back and just bring him around the country where he grew up and the country he loved.
“To bring him back would be a phenomenal thing and to capture it all on camera would be amazing.
“I’d actually like to do a documentary about the whole family and how they got out of Burma because I just think it’s incredibly interesting.”
Ready Set StartUp is available on Amazon Prime.