As talent pools go, it’s got some pretty big fish. One was a high-ranking director with Asda Walmart in the US, another was a high-flyer with Barclays Bank. Add to the mix top corporate lawyers, an IT entrepreneur, a manufacturing boss, a turnaround specialist and former senior employees with FOOTSEY 100 companies and you’re still not getting the full picture when it comes to the experience and talent in the team of growth advisers at Business Sheffield.
The new, all encompassing service for city businesses was officially launched at the MADE Festival last autumn and aims to be the one-stop port, providing comprehensive help and support – and all for free.
Fledgling businesses and emerging entrepreneurs knock at its doors, but the talented pool of expert advisers spearheading Business Sheffield’s work with growth-oriented businesses are keen to hear from more of the high-flyers who have the potential to soar even higher.
Since launching last autumn Business Sheffield, which receives £1million a year in council funding, has got that foot in the door with 150 local businesses and is in the process of getting in touch with 100 more.
“Previous support programmes have been effective in helping start-ups and micro firms in the early stages of development. We are still focused on helping start-ups.
“But our aim now is also to get to the local businesses which have big potential and the ambition to strive for it and help them to get there,” says Kevin Bennett, head of business growth at the programme. It should be easy, it is a totally free service and there is no product or course being sold into.
“But people are sceptical at first. Expert advice and ongoing help and guidance for nothing, it sounds too good to be true,” Kevin acknowledges.
“The big, successful companies are the toughest nut to crack, for lots of reasons. Some businesses will never be interested in publicly-funded support. In the past, some have found the support offered here seemed irrelevant to their needs or didn’t fit into their timescales. And it’s true we have been guilty of re-inventing services already well catered for in the private sector,” says Kevin.
“But also, the businesses we are aiming at are run by people who know their stuff and are already very successful.
“They don’t think there is anything much the public sector can tell them. The assumption is that you have to have been there and done it in order to understand.
“Well, we have! The pool of talent we now have as growth advisers at Business Sheffield is immense.
“We have 14 in the team and all of them have either run a business or managed at a very senior level. It is by far the best team we have ever assembled and they are passionate about passing on their experience.”
The main objective of the advisers will be to establish long-term relationships. They provide direct support and will also draw on specialist assistance such as UK Trade and Investment, the national Business Growth Service and expertise from Sheffield’s two universities.
Kevin himself has a wealth of top-knotch credentials. Barnsley born, he entered the Civil Service and was responsible for UK trade with South America before moving to the Hague to oversea trade with the Netherlands and came back to South Yorkshire in 2008 to manage the Sheffield enterprise and growth programme.
He says: “Now everything we offer is under one umbrella – Business Sheffield, and the task is to get company bosses to engage with it. All we want to do is grow Sheffield’s businesses so they can boost their workforces and their trade – because that is what is good for the city.”
Contact Business Sheffield for information on 0114 2245000.
Business Sheffield success stories:
Matthew Sibley is a corporate lawyer with significant experience in corporate finance work. He was a member of the City Council’s Business Transformation Team where he provided strategic advice to growing SMEs.
He says: “Mayflower’s major strength is its ability to provide a turnkey service from design and project management through to production and installation. Creative Sheffield’s Business Transformation Team engaged with the business through the Threshold Companies Initiative, a small grant fund financed by Sheffield Council for small projects that could increase a company’s ability to grow. We worked with Mayflower to improve capacity planning systems and to coach the management team and helped it secure an £82,000 grant from the Regional Growth Fund towards buying £400,000 of more modern and efficient cutting and pressing technologies which will open up new markets and lead to increased growth.”
The engineering boss:
After going from production director to MD at the engineering company where he had worked for 30 years, Kevan Bingham knew he had a vast amount to learn.
So did the other managers involved in the buyout of Mayflower engineering on the retirement of owner Bill Dunigan in 2008. But what he hadn’t foreseen was the imminent recession.
“We ended up with a hot potato and had to lay off 30 people,” he recalls. “We struggled through and made a profit – we have done every year since. But we were tired after what felt like a war and had gone into survival mode. What we needed was to get into growth mode.
“Our accounts manager at Santander bank suggested we contacted Creative Sheffield’s Business Transformation Team 18 months ago and that introduced us to Matthew Sibley, now a growth adviser with Business Sheffield.
“He helped us get a £15,000 shot in the arm which trained up four in the senior management team and got their confidence up. But the relationship has been ongoing and among many things he helped us find money toward the new equipment we need to grow. Orders are up, profits are up, we’re up to 79 workers and recruiting again.
“We have traditionally made machinery for the UK steel and construction industries. But now we’re breaking into the rapidly expanding nuclear, sub-sea and offshore markets. We had long dreamed of that but thinking about something and doing it are very different things.
“We are now a supplier to Leeds-based One Sub-Sea, making high-spec seabed pumping equipment for the oil industry.
“The contract is worth £1million and we intend to grow in these sectors with the strategic business plan I’ve put together at a five-month Goldmann Sachs growth programme I’m currently on.
“My place would have cost £20,000 and it’s free thanks to Business Sheffield. All the support we’ve had has been free – as a Yorkshireman I’m delighted about that. But also the advice is from experts who understand management.
“Mayflower didn’t know this kind of help existed in Sheffield. I’m sure there are many other companies who still don’t.”
Duncan Scott spent 15 years in commercial and private equity senior management at Barclays. His business advisory consultancy has worked with Sheffield Enterprise Agency and the City Council’s Business Transformation Team across the sectors.
He says: “My support initially focused on the managing cashflow needs of this rapidly growing business, then on strategic issues impacting on long- term financial capital and intellectual capital requirements. During 2014, we supported IC with a £5,000 grant for product development and web enhancement and helped it access £240,000 of finance from the Regional Growth Fund to support expansion and the acquisition of new premises.”
The retail boss:
Tristan Cowell launched his business IC Innovations selling imported homewear products in 2005. Its first product, a novel way of displaying Christmas cards, won multiple awards and the company began buying in from abroad other products for the home, kitchen and garden. Now it also has its own brands, made in the Far East and supplies over 5,000 UK retail outlets and continues to innovate and develop new products.
“I met Duncan Scott through the council’s Business Transformation Team in 2010 and he’s still helping us regularly via Business Sheffield, an organisation which seems more targeted and controlled than what existed previously for local businesses,” says Tristan. “He and other advisers he has introduced us to are genuinely interested in creating the jobs and wealth the city needs.
“When Duncan first got involved there were four of us here. Now there are 18. It has been so useful to have someone external to the business as a sounding board. “He has given us confidence, mentoring and good advice. Sometimes we just talk through what we’ve done recently and that helps greatly. It makes you realise what you’ve achieved.
“Without him we certainly wouldn’t have applied to the Regional Growth fund. It is enabling us to move from Heeley to new premises and a flagship showroom on Savile Street in March.
And with his help, on the horizon for 2016 is exporting to Europe.”