Talk to most people running businesses and they’ll tell you “there’s no help available for businesses these days.” The thing is, while the ongoing austerity programme has really put the squeeze on many of the grant schemes that used to be around, there’s still a lot out there.
The North East Growth Hub lists every scheme available in the region, but with over 300 individual schemes, this creates its own problem: How do you know you’ve connected with the scheme that’s right for your business?
This is where the Connect service comes in – it’s one-to-one support to understand the business, and then pinpoint the right schemes. After a meeting of an hour or so, I write up a brief, one-page report to summarise the discussion, and provide links to the exact schemes that’ll be of most use to the business.
For example, last Tuesday I had two client appointments. The first was the managing director of a company who’ve spent four years developing a product for use in hospital pathology labs. They’re at the point where their initial marketing has generated some sales, and now they’re looking to ramp things up. That’s going to cost a fair bit, so we talked about how to raise the finance for this, and the pros and cons of two of the venture capital funds within the North East Fund that they could consider.
The firm is already exporting to the EU, and will need to look at their regulatory approvals after Brexit. So we discussed NBSL’s Brexit Preparation Fund which could help out with these costs. Finally, we talked about the challenges for the management team as the company scales-up. The MD was keen on getting all the help he could in this area, and I put him in touch with Scaleup North East at RTC North, and the Entrepreneurs’ Forum’s Scaleup Leaders’ Academy.
After lunch, I went to see an engineering firm who’ve been around for quite a few years. Over the last 18 months, they’ve moved into a new market, and things are really starting to take off. Unfortunately this has created a host of challenges. First of all, they just need bigger premises. So we drew up a specification, then talked about how the councils’ business support teams in each of the areas they were considering could help. Next we discussed how production has changed – they’ve moved from being a jobbing shop to making regular products. The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Programme can help them optimise production and integrate it with their IT system.
This scheme also has some grant funding available for upgrades for production equipment – something that could definitely help out when they move. Finally we looked at staff development. As a small company, they can tap into the 90% funding that’s available for apprentice training. But in addition to this, their production manager needs some help if they’re to get the productivity gains they need. So my final recommendation for them was Be The Business Mentoring. This is a fully-funded, national scheme which helps senior managers to grow with the support of mentors from firms like John Lewis Partnership, GSK, and Siemens.