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Recipe for rapid growth
Oxfordshire stands to gain immediately from the Government’s mid-term decision to shift away from unalleviated austerity to a £200m cash injection for small businesses.
Oxford Innovation, the company set up back in 1984 by Sir Martin and Lady Wood, founders of Oxford Instruments, has been chosen as one of the four partners spearheading the Growth Accelerator programme — so benefiting from this boost of public spending.
Already it has engaged 20 more staff to act as coaches and growth managers to advise bosses of small businesses on ways and means to expand their enterprises.
This has taken staff levels from 50 to 70 — and the company, originally established to help start-up and early-stage firms find premises and finance and to generally overcome barriers to growth, is still recruiting.
Don McLaverty, joint managing director of Oxford Innovation, said: “The main message here is this: if you feel your small business, employing fewer than 250 people, has potential for rapid growth, we want to hear from you.
”By rapid growth we mean the potential to double in size in three years. We are delighted to win this contract ”
Contracts to run the new programme were awarded to four partners: Oxford Innovation, which will lead the South region; Grant Thornton (originally founded in Oxford), awarded London; Pera in the east; and Winning Pitch, in the north.
One miniscule enterprise cited as a trailblazer with just the sort of profile that might be selected to benefit is Born To Be Yummy, set up by mother-of-two Clare Panchoo, in Murcott, Kidlington.
As a nutritionist, with an MSc in human nutrition from the London School of Tropical Medicine, she had a dream to help children eat more healthy food, particularly snacks.
In 2009 she set about turning that dream into reality and last year started the business selling snacks with no additives and very little sugar and salt.
Her first action was to seek expert advice, which she obtained from Wendy Tindsley, a coach working for the Oxfordshire Innovation and Growth Team that was disbanded in August last year.
Ms Panchoo, 40, said: “Support from someone with huge amounts of retail experience was invaluable.
“I knew what I wanted to do and had a clear view of the proposal, but it can be daunting when you’ve got the idea but not the experience of launching a business.
“What helped before I launched was lots of guidance about writing a business plan — breaking everything down into steps.
“Getting support from Wendy was also invaluable. She challenged my decisions, made me pull every part of the plan apart and look at eventualities I hadn’t considered.
“I was deciding between a more organic route of letting the business grow slowly or going after bigger contracts and growing much faster. When we were finished I knew the plan stood up and going for faster growth was the right way.
“There was also lots of help with finance, introducing me to an investment-readiness programme for female entrepreneurs and putting together the presentation that won me a commercialisation loan.”
Business and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk told The Oxford Times: “I noticed Born To Be Yummy was selected as a trailblazer and I thought it an interesting example of the kind of ideas we want to support.
“Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of our economy and we are helping them realise their potential.
“As well as this ambitious and innovative programme, we are already creating a network of thousands of business mentors and are launching £10m in start-up loans scheme to give young people access to business advice and capital.”
He added the Government was looking for “business gazelles” for well-targeted support that is not area or sector-specific. And he strongly denied this was the beginning of a coalition “Plan B” — austerity alone having failed.
“We have been planning the introduction of this overall reform for at least a year,” he said.
And Ms Tindsley said: “This programme is different from what went before. It is far more targeted on companies that have the potential for real, fast growth.”
Sadly, one difference between this and the earlier scheme is that companies selected will be expected to pay something towards advice costs — ranging from £600 for companies employing up to nine people to £3,000 for larger firms.
Ms Tindsley was also the coach for another Oxfordshire trailblazer company — Locale, a property management company in Little Baldon. It needed help to steer itself from stress to success following the slow-down in the property industry.
Managing director Guy Windsor-Lewis said: “We formed a limited company early in 2006, struck a big deal, but then the bottom fell out of the property market and we struggled. I had to rearrange the company and it did not look pretty.
“That’s when I met Wendy. She was constantly showing us that it was not all bad, settling our nerves, giving us a blueprint. She was someone who would listen — which is great because a lot of people just want to tell you what they think.
“When we first met we were losing money, the business was down to just two of us and were turning over £180,000 a year. Two and half years later there are five of us and we’ve just done £300,000.”
So, if you have a potential money-spinner of a company, however small, there may be help at hand.
After all, you pay your taxes and, if selected for this scheme, you pay a fee too — so why not get something back right away?