There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. And every parent would agree that having a helping hand can be massively beneficial. So too, in the world of Oxfordshire’s small and medium sized businesses. Big or small, SMEs cannot take on the world on their own. Helping them to connect, collaborate, learn and support each other is the role of OxLEP Business, the Growth Hub for the county.
It is managed by Helen Brind, who believes it is ideally placed to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit which fuels business. “There is no secret formula and no single way to start, develop or grow a business” Helen tells me. “But there are things many companies have in common and there are people with experience willing to share their expertise.”
Helen Brind says one of the biggest advantages of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding and the work of the Growth Hub has been the opportunity to nurture SMEs and foster innovation of all kinds. “The world is changing its pace right now, making innovation in commerce of greater importance than ever. For instance, one of our programmes encourages small businesses to innovate, think about new ways of doing things or develop new products and processes.”
So far, more than 250 companies have stepped forward; taking part in workshops and sought advice and guidance about innovation.
I’ve been talking with Helen ahead of an event which is bringing Oxfordshire’s SMEs together. The OxLEP Business Marketplace event on June 5th will be showcasing the extensive range of support available to small businesses which has been enabled through programmes funded by the ERDF.
“This is our second Marketplace event. It’s a vibrant way of getting our small businesses into one space to share so much of their enterprise, expertise and experience.” Helen tells me.
“Delegates can discover for themselves the range of products and services created in and delivered by other Oxfordshire SMEs. An event like this gives people who are too busy to look up and scan the horizon and see what else is on offer.”
An exhibition area featuring businesses which have participated in the OxLEP Business programmes will be displaying samples and demonstrations. Throughout the event there will be seminars on a range of topics designed for SMEs offering information and advice.
A finger on the small business pulse
OxLEP Business has every reason to feel it understands the health of the SME community. Since October 2016, the Growth Hub has engaged with 1,222 businesses and one of its programmes has held 98 workshops tailored for start-ups and growth-focused enterprises.
“The majority of companies tell us our workshops broaden their horizons by opening them up to new ideas and giving them solid information, which can make a difference to them,” says Helen, “and our Network Navigators have so far delivered 2,200 hours of one-to-one support.”
Laura Ridge used Growth Hub workshops when she was setting up and growing her rental management business. She had big corporate experience but admits that finding there was help on hand to steer her through her new company’s early days was invaluable.
“The OxLEP Business workshops helped me to cover gaps in my own skill set. Now I use what I learned from the workshops in Positive Property Management all the time.”
Neil Haynes, who makes electric guitars and guitar kits near Banbury and sells worldwide from his online site, has been planning for the next stage of his business with support from OxLEP Business. “I attended a finance workshop which gave me ideas on ways of financing my growth plans. I am also exploring how to secure tax relief on the R&D; I need to remain at the cutting edge of manufacture and engineering design.”
“I have also spent time with an OxLEP Business Network Navigator. They helped me to think through some of the difficulties I face recruiting the right kind of people to make growth possible. I came away full of ideas about the way ahead.”
If you’re looking to start or grow your business or if you have a new idea that you want to bring to market and would appreciate some prompt, friendly, impartial advice – please get in touch with us to discuss your options.