Welcome to our Little Black Book, an inspirational series of business stories and insights from our brilliant members.

Neil Lewis

Neil Lewis on nurturing business

By Neil Lewis

Director, Tiny Toes Day Nurseries

Passion and perseverance are the pillars that support Neil Lewis’ varied entrepreneurial biography having nurtured a diverse range of businesses from inception to growth.

Having spent much of his childhood in the Brecon Beacons, Neil’s affection for the great outdoors drew him to begin his working life as a skiing and windsurfing instructor.

But it was when he debuted into the corporate world that his opportunistic entrepreneurialism emerged in founding a purchasing company, forming the electricity company Maverick Energy, and establishing businesses overseas in Morzine and Croatia.

Driven by personal experience, alongside his wife and business partner Sasha, Neil is now focusing on their childcare business – Tiny Toes Day Nurseries. With four locations planned to open in the next 18 months supporting 1000 children in Southampton and dedicated provision for neurodiverse early years children through their charity Maverick Minds.

Connect on LinkedIn

How is it working alongside your wife Sasha in the same business?

My wife is very organised and great at the spreadsheets and the figures. I focus on sales and marketing, the culture, and the business training.

I’m blessed to be able to work with Sasha because we get so much done, we’re really productive together. It's a real pleasure and bonus that we can live and work together 24/7 – I'm a lucky guy.

How does Tiny Toes differ from other childcare businesses?

We’re not from a childcare background, we’re from business backgrounds and we've approached it very much from a business perspective.

We have quite a different culture and we try to bring business elements into the nursery. We really look after our staff through the development of the individuals with training in things like self-esteem and leadership. We also work closely with the parents regarding the development of their children. We have extra-long opening hours, and we offer great value.

Do you want more articles like this in your inbox? If so then register below...

"Personal experience gives the driver to try to make a change because in charity work there is no real financial reward: it's not about that"

You’re passionate about supporting children with autism, can you tell us more about Maverick Minds?

If you’re passionate about something, then things happen. Personal experience gives the driver to try to make a change because in charity work there is no real financial reward: it’s not about that.

My wife has older children in their early 20s who are both autistic. With seven years working in childcare, we’ve noticed the growth of ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis – it’s a big issue nationwide.

Provision is challenging to put in place with the limited funds that are available, so it tends to get pushed onto the nurseries. That’s where the charity came from – it’s a physical hub attached to a nursery where children can reset. The objective is to be fully inclusive for that child so that they can go to mainstream education with the least number of issues and challenges. I think that it also makes for a more wholesome nursery.

There’s also a need to support the parents. The charity will support children but also provide extensive training for the parents. Autism can become quite isolating, and the whole family needs support. It can be a difficult spectrum disorder because there are not always any physical issues to recognise.

It’s a big passion for us, it’s definitely needed, and we now need to try and translate it into a working solution.

And Maverick Minds also has the potential to benefit other locations in the UK?

Absolutely. We’re speaking to national advisors, professors, universities, and potential funding partners. All our research shows that this is a challenge everywhere and it’s getting worse because the diagnosis is now coming in younger, and a lot of people have gone through life not being diagnosed with ASD.

There are an average of two children with autism in every setting in Southampton – we’ve got 14; we have a much higher ratio because we’re minded that way.

There’s a massive need for ASD provision in nurseries in other places too and with just a bit of effort the children can go into mainstream school much more easily.

The frustrating thing is that everyone is talking about the importance of early intervention in primary schools – but that’s not early intervention. Age 2 to 5 is the cohort we need to be intervening with to get them into primary school without issues.

It’s a big need, it’s a big gap, and that’s what we’re working on with the charity.

"With seven years working in childcare, we've noticed the growth of ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis – it's a big issue nationwide."

Neil Lewis - Director, Tiny Toes Day Nurseries

What are your plans for the future?

We would like four to five nurseries in the Southampton area with three to four Maverick Minds hubs either at our nurseries or others. We don’t want it to become a special school, it needs to be within the grounds of an inclusive neurotypical nursery, so you integrate the children on a daily basis.

What do you and Sasha enjoy doing together outside of the business and charity?

We enjoy ultra running – anything above 26 miles – off-road and in the mountains. 65 miles in 24 hours is my best so far and I’d like to try and improve on that someday. We’re not fast, we’re never going to get on the podium, but it’s a great day out in nature, being out in the hills with everything you need in a small backpack alongside my wife.

Neil Lewis