More work needed to guide businesses towards the support they require to thrive

When invited AD: VENTURE to take part in the Embracing Growth round table, we knew we wanted to be involved.

In our role supporting entrepreneurs & new businesses with high growth potential we recognise it’s vital for us to have a strong understanding of the real world barriers to growth that start-ups and scale-ups face in the region. These discussions are essential to enable us to shape the support we offers to businesses, ensuring we help them address these challenges in a meaningful way.

The Leeds City Region has a strong offering of public sector business support. This is  a result of the progressive vision and hard work of the region’s leaders, which brought public and private sector partners together to secure the funding needed to deliver practical support to businesses at the crucial start-up and growth stages. The region’s businesses benefit from a particularly strong offer of hands on support through a range of programmes such as AD:VENTURE, the LEP’s Business Growth Hub, The Digital Enterprise programme and the Strategic Growth Programme.

Does this mean we’ve nailed it and businesses should have no issues when they start out? No, of course not. Like any organisation, we too are constantly evolving, striving to ensure we are delivering services that are relevant and impact the businesses we work with. AD:VENTURE covers a wide range of  support including one to one mentoring, workshops and access to finance including grants.  The team needs to ensure we provide the right support at the right time.

One of the main challenges cited by businesses at start-up stage is access to finance. We know this is a major barrier, and something we want to support the region to address. What is also clear is that this is a national challenge, and certainly something more common in the North when it comes to early stage investment. It’s also generally been suggested that the UK is more risk averse than other countries, particular the US, when it comes to early stage investment, and the failure that will inevitably be part of some entrepreneurs and innovators journeys.

There is currently a lot of work being done by both public and private sector organisations to help businesses in the region understand what support is out there and how to access it. We still have some way to go, but this builds on already excellent links between the private and public sector and a strong history of collaboration. We’ve recently been involved in a fantastic piece of work to map the funding landscape. This began as a collaboration between Leeds Council and Leeds University, starting with an event in Leeds Digital Festival. It also brought in the work of a group of private sector organisations who had been considering the same issue. This is a challenging piece of work, in no small part due to the complex nature of this landscape.

We can see how this clearly links to some of the early findings of MIT REAP. We are current exploring how we can work with partners to develop a product that will help businesses and funders easily navigate what’s available, ultimately enabling them to make informed choices on what is the right type of finance or funding for their enterprise.

Reflecting what was discussed during the event, businesses on our programme often cite difficulties in accessing talent as a key challenge. Recruitment is not cheap, whichever way you approach it, and you don’t want to get it wrong. What we have found when offering sessions on HR and Recruitment is that businesses each have a very personal journey with recruitment, personality can be as important as process. We are currently exploring different way to deliver support in this area and would be open to suggestions on how we might be best do help business with this challenge.

It was also interesting to hear at the round table that the person’s attitude really is more important in many cases than tech skills, and that many tech based businesses would be more open to flexible roles to accommodate modern ways of working. How do we share that message? Is there an opportunity for businesses open to flexibility to access the returners, the retirees and young people through apprenticeships?

Having a strong support network and the opportunity to collaborate with peers was also a strong theme. As our programme manager Sarah Carling commented: “Clients initially come to us for funding, but a year or two down the line they find the ability to meet with other business owners and have discussions with them is equally important,”

Many of our clients cite the relationships, networks and access to their advisor as a crucial element of the support, and usually one they didn’t expect to value so much when they began working with us. Having a place to go to ask questions and explore new ideas in a safe place is essential for start-ups. Probably for anyone really. It can be a lonely place for an entrepreneur in the early stages of launching and growing a business. It’s also unlikely you’ll be the first to encounter the problem you are having.

We took a great deal from taking part in this discussion and it’s certainly given us greater insight into how we can shape our future programme and continue to support our region’s entrepreneurs to think big.