A serial creater of support programmes for SMEs

A serial creater of support programmes for SMEs – just starting on her third programme – this one larger than ever.

Next week: The Leadership of Creative Groups – what makes it so unique.

Always interested in working with early stage SMEs, and making a difference, she took a role as Head of Business Incubation and Enterprise at De Montfort University. The incubator (one of several in the Midlands – each driven by the availability of funding and by their particular faculties and courses) was home to around nineteen SMEs and supported over 100 students per year to start up a business. For this work and support for disabled entrepreneurs and the wider enterprise community, she received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion in 2008.

Following a move to St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge, she managed a significant grant from the East of England Development Agency to generate a support programme for SMEs in its region.

She put in place a cohort of some twenty mentors backed up with over 70 workshops and events a year. Her mentors were recruited for their functional background (production/marketing/finance etc), their industry sector, and for their personality (thinking style and interaction style). A ‘Growth Adviser’ would meet participants to sort out their real needs and priorities in order to appoint an appropriate mentor or coach. That adviser would keep in regular contact – by phone or regular periodic meetings – to identify whether the business’s progress indicated that they needed help on a different issue (and so a different mentor – as was often the case).

Since May 2016, she has been ‘Business Ready Programme Manager’ working for all of Coventry and Warwickshire, and with funding from the EU, University of Warwick Science Park and Warwickshire County Council – specifically with a remit to support technology-based and knowledge intensive SMEs. She is based at the Venture Centre of the Science Park on Warwick University’s campus.

She started to recruit mentors in Aug/Sept 2016 (she was overwhelmed with responses – some of very high quality, despite the fact that they are being paid only a modest rate per session), inducted them in Oct/Nov and now has just over 20 in place – with a broad enough spectrum of backgrounds.

They were selected based on ‘having been there, done that’ in starting and growing their own business; for having had experience in coaching and mentoring or consulting; and as having worked with SMEs. Typically their expertise is in access to finance, in their specific skills and knowledge, and in new markets. In addition, her plans are to offer about four ‘workshops’ per month (at which people with something special under their belt come and talk about it.)

She is currently working with 40 SMEs, and expects to add another 60 over the ensuing 18 months (there is no difficulty in selling what she has to offer because there is no charge for the programme).

Asked what are her main difficulties, she immediately retorts: lack of ongoing funding for this kind of activity. She adds that managing the expectations of both mentors and mentees – their responsibilities and commitments is a constant concern (respect the time commitment of your mentors/mentees; don’t fail to turn up; don’t phone your mentor at 3am!)

The measures required of her are about ‘impact’. Client feed-back and other sources provide information about such issues as jobs created and growth in turnover and profits etc. But what you are required to do, she says, is a bit specific; it turns out that what you want to do is often a bit different!

‘We have to complete our programme by December 2018, and we are now giving thought to what we can deliver after that: which of these businesses will we seek to continue to support; will we do that with regular meetings; and how would we fix dates to suit. It is expensive: how will we find funding for this continuing work?’

Janette Pallas is not alone in her objectives. The Midlands Business Support Network meets quarterly where between 15 and 40 people working in growth hubs and other business support organisations meet up, each time in different locations, to chew over their work (run on a shoestring and good will by a small steering group).

Her work is an illustration of what can be achieved, but there are not many people like her; and programmes for scale-ups ultimately depend on their finding funding. How can these issues be addressed?

John Whatmore, February 2017

Some more about support:

  • SMEs need someone to play the Chairman role. April 2016. http://wp.me/p3beJt-eC Lead mentors have the ability to ask the right questions and to turn up with someone who has just the expertise you are about to need.
  • Support – the latest twists. October 2015. http://wp.me/p3beJt-gJ  Six developments all designed to enhance interactions among and between the entrepreneurs in Accelerator programmes, their mentor community, VCs and relevant corporates.
  • What is valued most in Accelerators. February 2015. http://wp.me/p3beJt-a7 What they get out of ‘Office Hours’, group lunches, others on the programme, their first meeting with mentors, mentor slots and other events.
  • Mentoring: great benefits but considerable problems. Dec 2014. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9E The benefits and the problems are well recognised. Several different routes are evolving, and four distinct approaches to the managing of mentors have different benefits and different problems.
  • Mentor managers can work miracles for startups. December 2014. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9E Above all else, early-stage ventures need their hands holding in their new adventures, but they have no idea about whose hands to hold. Mentor Managers can help them by finding experienced and expert mentors.
  • Curating support for inventers, innovators and creatives. July 2013. http://wp.me/p3beJt-5K Leaders of Incubators, Accelerators and Science Parks provide opportunities for their participants to learn from others – other innovators, creatives and mentors, as well as to reflect on their learnings. What makes for a good cocktail of support?







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