When gin-maker Rachel Hicks is distilling the latest batches of her Sky Wave gin in Bucknell, near Bicester, she doesn’t consider herself to be part of the largest sector of the county’s economy. Like most other small businesses, she is too busy getting on with the job of producing a great product and delivering a good service to her customers.
“We only launched our craft gin business last year” said Rachel. “Our focus is on meeting demand and on getting the unique flavours of the botanicals we forage for our gin exactly right. There isn’t really time to think about your role in the county’s economy. We just take it for granted that we’re a micro business, but we’re growing.”
Yet, Sky Wave Gin is typical of most businesses in Oxfordshire. It has two employees and both are founding directors. Small businesses are, by some distance, the biggest part of not just Oxfordshire’s but the country’s economy. According to the Business population estimates by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, at the start of 2018, 99.3% of all private sector businesses were small businesses, 16.3 million people were employed by an SME and SMEs’ combined annual turnover was £2.0 trillion*. SMEs are the economy’s bedrock and they need to be encouraged and supported.
OxLEP Business is the county’s Growth Hub and has a mission to nurture enterprise and provide services which can help new, growing and innovative SMEs to thrive.
Helen Brind, who manages the Growth Hub comments: “These small businesses really are vital. What we do is help them to grow by offering business skills and innovation workshops, one-to-one advice and support, mentoring and coaching, access to equipment and resources as well as grants. Everything we do is aimed at nurturing their entrepreneurial spirit. We understand how difficult it can be to establish a business. For a start, nobody ever comes into business as the ‘finished article’. We all have areas which need developing or improving.
“Of course, if you are a larger company you’d buy in the expertise you need, but that is unrealistic for most SMEs. That’s why at OxLEP Business we offer support to help people develop their businesses and stay competitive.”
Through programmes funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), OxLEP Business have engaged with over 1,300 businesses, 81 workshops have boosted entrepreneur’s skills, nearly 400k has been awarded to SMEs via grants and more than 125 businesses have benefitted from 1:1 support from Network Navigators and Innovation advisors. Helen explains: “We have a team of experienced business people working with us whose job is to encourage businesses, pointing them towards the resources, networks or partners they might need to move to the next level.”
Sky Wave Gin has just installed a new still which will increase their distilling capacity ten-fold. They have been able to plan their growth thanks to a grant from an OxLEP Business-run ERDF programme; ‘Elevate’.
“We would not have been able to expand like this without OxLEP Business” Rachel explains. “It has made it possible for us to really market what we are doing confidently, knowing they believe in our business enough to help finance the equipment we needed to transform it.”
OxLEP Business is also assisting Oxfordshire’s small businesses to innovate and develop and commercialise innovative ideas through an ERDF programme launched last year; ‘Innovation Support for Business’. Helen Brind said, “There is so much innovation coming from SMEs. But it is often difficult for them to access the labs, research and partners they need to make progress. We work with businesses to do just that, linking them with facilities that are normally available only to substantially larger organisations.
“Whatever the issue, OxLEP Business is tasked with nurturing enterprise”, Helen says. Oxfordshire is ranked amongst the best places to start a business in the UK, and we have plenty of support available to help SMEs to succeed.”
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.
Sky Wave Gin