Attracting SMEs to the UK

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Bringing leading young businesses to the UK The UK’s attractive Sirius Programme has a new format and a new (private sector) management 

The Sirius programme aims to bring some of the best young entrepreneurial talent from around the world to the UK where they can build their businesses for the benefit of themselves and the UK economy. Participants receive a complete package of services to maximize their potential for success – probably better than any UK young business could expect.

The package includes seed funding of approximately £35,000 plus 30-days of acceleration training, mentoring, twelve-months office accommodation and support in obtaining visas from a dedicated Sirius allocation. The total package is estimated to be worth up to £60,000. Companies participating will cede a 10% stake in exchange for the support received.

Sirius was developed originally by the then UK Trade and Industry (UKTI) in 2013 to promote the UK as a destination for young entrepreneurs, and to date has attracted over 2,300 gifted and ambitious applicants from 93 countries, leading to 73 companies coming to the UK. The programme aims in the future to attract up to 100 entrepreneurs representing 40 new companies to the UK each year; and these will be spread across different regions of the UK.

Management of the Sirius Programme has been transferred to a consortium of private and charity sector organisations to facilitate its growth and development. The consortium includes The Accelerator Network, Entrepreneurial Spark, NACUE, Natwest (part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group), The Rain Gods and White Horse Capital.

The support programme is to be run on a not-for-profit basis and seed funding for the start-ups will be sourced from UK private investors under the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), with the expectation of a strong investment return given the calibre of international start-ups and the support they will be able to access in the UK, now including investor input.

Timothy Barnes, Chairman, Sirius New Direction Ltd commented (3 Nov), “The development and growth of the Sirius Programme underlines our confidence in the reputation of the UK as a leading global destination for young entrepreneurs. There are some incredibly ambitious entrepreneurs with great business ideas that would benefit from being based here and we are keen to hear from them all!”

He added: ‘It is a highly competitive programme, but with much of the previous marketing conducted outside of the UK it is not as well known within the country as it might be. Teams from anywhere in the world can apply, as long as one or more of the co-founders is from outside of the UK. Overseas students already in the UK as part of their education are particularly welcome.’

Applications for the new format programme are open now via http://www.siriusprogramme.com – the first cohort to be selected before the end of the year, to be active in the Spring of 2017.

John Whatmore, November 2016

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The contribution of the “10,000 SMEs” programme

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A small but effective contribution to Scaleup needs

New research shows that Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Programme is an effective growth builder, but it makes only a limited contribution to the UK’s Scaleup needs.

For leaders of small businesses from across industry sectors this is a ‘high quality, practically-focused business and management education programme’ during which every small business owner develops a customised Growth Plan to direct their organisation’s business strategy and expansion; and it provides networking and peer learning opportunities.

For the cohort of 70 small business leaders selected to participate in each programme (and there are firm criteria – which do include an indication of growth potential), the three-month programme (offered by five leading UK universities) is delivered over 100 hours. It is made up of ten days of residential learning in three separate sessions (each at a different location) in between which are periods of flexible online learning. Each session features education, discussion and peer-group work to enable individual participants to define their growth goals and pool their experience.

The success of the programme is ascribed to a blend of formal learning, mentoring, and peer-to-peer support, which includes:

  • specialist workshops
  • one-on-one business advising
  • business coaching
  • access to professional experts
  • ongoing support and guidance offered through networking with the resulting community of business leaders.

A just-published survey of past participants indicates that they enhance turn-over and go on to employ more people – more so than comparable businesses in a control group. In line with some though not all of the needs for successful scaling up indicated by the recent Barclays Report, they:

  • introduce new processes
  • use more financial data
  • source new suppliers
  • introduce new training opportunities
  • develop and launch new products/services
  • seek external finance

and above all they

* develop increased confidence.

The latest assessment report focuses explicitly on the successes of the small businesses that it has attracted. But it also ends on what is a sobering note: if the 33,000 other small businesses with profiles like those of the 933 participants to date were to show similar growth, while it would add £4.3bn to the economy, at this rate it will take years to reach just 10,000.

John Whatmore, November 2016

Action Learning: I meet a programme leader

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Action Learning – I meet a programme leader

Regular group meetings feature in many recent development programmes for SMEs, so I asked an expert on Action Learning: what is it; what is its magic; how does it work; where does it take place; who manages it; and what are its credentials?

What is Action Learning?

It is an intimate process in which people who want to get things done come together to support and help each other:

  • to clarify individual’s goals;
  • to benefit from the ideas of others in determining how to tackle obstacles;
  • and commit each other to progress towards objectives.

It is for people who come together on their own authority, whose decisions have significant consequences, and who are committed to this kind of process.

(Prospective candidates need to understand what it will be like, to have met one another, and to commit to a number of days for its meetings.)

What is its essence?

It is a way of helping people who are inspired by working with others to resolve their problems, to make use of challenge and support in equal measure, and to do things differently. It aims to draw on the personal experience and insights of other people whose fields of interest/activity are similar but different, in order to help you in your way forward. (It is on a completely different plane to a board or committee meeting.)

“It empowers you to play at a higher level.”

What happens at meetings?

Getting in the right mood (‘How do you feel to-day?’ ‘What has happened in your world since we last met?’) is the launch point for the day; then everyone has a slice of time in which to air a big issue that is bugging them and elicit the thoughts and ideas about it from the others. (Members will have given thought in advance to how they want to use their slice of time, which will include talking about how things have gone since the previous meeting of the group.)

They share their current objectives – problems or opportunities – and invite help from the knowledge and experience of the others (‘ruthlessly, compassionate with one another’); and aim to clarify thoughts and to identify plans. (And at the end of the day, they reflect in the same frame of mind on the process.)

“Support from another planet!”

How does it work?

Groups meet regularly – every several weeks (people from different organisations commonly meet every four to six weeks) – often enough to maintain the unity and commitment of the group, but not so often as to interfere with people’s jobs. ‘It is like losing an arm if one person fails to turn up.’

Where do meetings take place?

They usually meet in a relaxing space, for a day at a time, and each time in a different location – often on the premises of different members of the group (or in locations that are of common interest to the members eg a research organisation or an innovative developer, with a tour during the day.)

How is the process managed?

Someone – sometimes a member of the group – handles the organisation, prepares and/or circulates material, arranges the day’s happenings, leads the process, and articulates the plans that members have concluded, as well as the group’s decisions.

What are its credentials?

Professor Reg Revans first formulated the process in the 1940s, drawing on his experience of scientific method, and put it to use in the Coal Board, where substantial increases on productivity were attributed to it; and it found applications later in the Health Service. It has only rarely featured in academic work on management.

Lately, Growth Builder programmes (like the Judge Institute programme and the UCL/RBS programme, and others) have made use of its techniques (which could also be beneficial in incubators) – especially in terms of drawing from other people’s experience, perhaps because collaboration is increasingly valued in a disruptive world.

John Whatmore, November, 2016

 

SETsquared tops Trumps

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SETsquared tops Trumps 

The top Incubator illustrates the range of support that can be offered to young businesses.

Karen Brooks of SETsquared, a partnership of five universities centred on Bristol, recently rated ‘Global Number 1 University Business Incubator’, spoke at a recent ‘Knowledge London’ meeting of leaders of university incubators about the six programmes – at a variety of levels in the innovation pipeline and in various sectors – that SETsquared runs; and added that it was all about a mutual relationship with industry – understanding what business wants; and she commented that SETsquared had no academics on its staff.

The most striking contrast, I suggested at that meeting, between Accelerators most of which are branded ‘pop-ups’ (as c.12 week programmes) and Incubators many of which are in universities, is that the former:

  • are more involved with their businesses
  • provide more input and support,
  • have many more contacts with the business world.

But SETsquared is a leader in all of these respects.

At the Pervasive Media Studio at Wastershed, Bristol – a twelve month home to a dozen young businesses, over lunch together on a Friday everyone has to talk about their progress, about which notes are immediately circulated so that teams can meet up to learn from one another’s experience. Jim Milby, until recently a Director of Barclays Bank, who mentors at Startupbootcamp, insists on a weekly review with his team wherever he is a mentor. Paul Miller, one of the authors of Nesta’s The Startup Factories, and founder of Bethnal Green Ventures – a winner of a major grant from the Cabinet Office’s Social Enterprise Startups programme – holds a review once a week with every team in the Accelerator. At ‘Office Hours’, he asks the same questions of each team “What did you achieve last week, what will you do next week, what is stopping you; and what have you learned”.

Accelerators provide more input and support, especially in the form of mentors, notably with specific advice eg on design, potential customers, fundability etc – often in a ratio of four or five to every team. Techstars, Startupbootcamp and Wayra Lab all have around 150 mentors for each programme, (as does SETsquared,) among whom two or three are regularly attached to each team; and Seedcamp has even more.

As does SETsquared, they have many more external contacts with local practitioners, experts and entrepreneurs in businesses in the sectors in which their young businesses are involved, upon whom they can call for specific help. Moreover their leaders are often entrepreneurs themselves.

Incubators are still essentially providers of office space more than they are facilitators of business development, but it takes little (often only a canteen) to encourage their occupants, who are all on the same growth path, to draw from others’ experience and find the essential help that they often did not know they needed!

John Whatmore, November 2016

Support for leadership and growth – in charities

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Leadership and Growth in SMEs

‘ella forums’ is a leadership development programme designed to inspire growth in social enterprises, in which Chief Executives come together for monthly sessions, where they hear the latest thinking from guest speakers, share best practice, and receive coaching from experts.

Where ‘Scaleup UK’, the recent Barclays Report on ‘Growing businesses, growing our economy’ focuses on the will and ambition to grow, it can be argued that that comes down to leadership. ella forums is a leadership development programme for social enterprises and their growth.

Members from the same area come together in groups of 10-12, for a monthly meeting, (to which they commit for 12 months). The meetings are designed to give each individual the tools and support they need to help their organisation develop and grow. The approach is based on learning from experts and from each other, combined with more personal one-on-one support from a coach.

The session is run in two parts. In the first part, an expert talks about their field and how it is relevant to the member’s issues. In the second part, the group discusses in a confidential and non-judgmental setting any issues participants may be facing, to help them resolve problems.

Participants also receive coaching from someone with the right skills and knowledge to address issues and support progress (selected by the group’s chair).

There are monthly evaluations as well as an annual Social Value Report by which the impact of the programme can be evaluated.

‘ella forums’ was set up in 2013 as a Community Interest Company (CIC) – a limited company for community benefit. In June 2014, a partnership was announced, unique in the social sector – with GrowthAccelerator, the service backed by the government and private enterprise and designed to help SMEs to grow, but the government terminated its support for that entire programme in 2016.

ella has been growing and now has fifteen groups in various locations across the country and expects to add ten more in the coming year. Following a 6-month pilot, the Lloyds Bank Foundation recently announced plans to open groups in partnership with ella for beneficiary charities across the country, of which there are expected to be an additional ten.

ella has also set up groups of different kinds: one group for emerging leaders; one group with both charity leaders and corporate leaders; and one is planned specifically for start-up and pre start-up organizations.

ACEVO (the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) runs similar CEO Forums for members – to network, gain peer support and hear from specialist speakers on the issues that affect them (such as leadership, governance, personal effectiveness, leading through change and managing the workforce). The forums are round table meetings with a limited number of places available, but these forums do not have regular memberships.

See also: The latest support programmes for SMEs http://wp.me/p3beJt-gB

John Whatmore, November, 2016