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In conversation with Dr Yvonne Gale, Chief Executive of NEL Fund Managers Limited and Business Growth Board member at the North East LEP

As a newly appointed member of the Business Growth Board, how will your skills and experience support the North East LEP’s aim to increase the density of scaleups in the region?

“I have been working with scaling up local businesses my whole career, first in professional services, then running the finance teams inside several high growth local businesses, and now as CEO of NEL Fund Management who have funds specifically targeted at scaling up businesses. You could say I’m a finance for scale-ups expert – helping businesses to grow with the finance they need is what I do every day.

“I bring to the Business Growth Board the knowledge of what scaleups need so we can ensure, as a Board, we create a joined up system to empower businesses with growth potential and provide them with the wide range of ingredients they need, including finance. The more businesses with scaleup potential that are financed for deliverable business plans, the more we together increase the density of scaleups in the North East LEP region.”

How important will access to finance be for our regional economic recovery as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?

“Economically we are a long way both physically and culturally from City of London approaches to finance, but we don’t want any business to suffer for the lack of access to the right finance. Like most imbalances, the coronavirus pandemic has made more pronounced the existing disconnects.

“For years I’ve been advocating that accessing finance from a computer portal or call centre is fantastic until there’s a problem. An example is how many local businesses struggled to get through to their finance providers when they desperately needed to talk because they didn’t have a person-to-person relationship.

“Being able to access finance is about knowing where to go and who to talk to as much as it’s about the amounts involved and the level of cash. Central government created some fantastic interventions but these were for the heat of the emergency and not designed to be permanent or perfect. The recovery will take time and access to finance is likely to be a problem both in who will put up the finance in uncertain times, and does that finance fit the recovery, as every business will be different. As a Board, we need to ensure there is finance available that fills in any gaps over the medium to long term for regional businesses to deliver their potential.”

How will a recession further impact the North East, and what can businesses do to survive?

“I advocate three actions. First, good cashflow planning helps every business owner make informed decisions. As a chartered accountant, I would always advocate spending time on a good long range forecast, but almost anything is better than knee jerk reactions based on today’s bank account balance.

“Second, relationships matter when times are tough. The current situation presents an opportunity to forge deeper relationships with customers and suppliers. Now more than ever, people are logging who helps and who doesn’t. This creates opportunities for developing your business with new and existing partners.

“Third, the business world is in a state of flux and ‘fortune favours the brave’. It is difficult for complex organisations to be nimble but local businesses don’t need to wait for permission from head office. Now is the moment to think big and bold, striding out while others are busy elsewhere.”

Many small businesses are struggling as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. What support is available for them in the North East?

“There is an immense amount of support available in the North East, all of which have rapidly adapted so they can help now. The list is so long that it’s not possible to cover it in a blog. My best suggestion is to talk to people; be that your existing trusted advisors as there may be many ways they can help that you’ve never needed to ask about.

“If you want to widen your pool of who can help, consult the North East Growth Hub or make an appointment to talk to the Growth Hub Connectors. The Growth Hub is a comprehensive portal of the support available in the region.

“Of course if you need information on finance, I’m happy to help. You can reach me by emailing [email protected].”

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New finance support for North East businesses announced

The North East’s leading business organisations are coming together to develop an innovative new way to help companies access finance and grow their operations.

The team that delivers the region’s annual innovation conference, Venturefest North East, is working with the North East LEP and North East Finance to design a new programme of investment support that culminates in a major annual event.

Details of the programme are currently being finalised and will be announced in April when tickets will also be released for the inaugural event on 21 June 2016 at Ramside Hall Hotel, Durham.

The development comes in the wake of the abolishment of the Government’s Business Growth Service, which ended its national business support programme following the Spending Review in 2015.

The programme has been developed with business input from the start. Business networks including the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC), Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Entrepreneurs’ Forum are involved to ensure the creation of a solution suited to the needs of the region’s businesses.

Simon Hanson, North East Development Manager at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Without access to funding our members and smaller businesses cannot achieve their potential to grow their businesses, create new jobs and new wealth for the region.

“The development of this programme is a response to this need and will simplify the investment process for the huge number of business that have ambitions to develop.”

Support provided by the initiative will be dedicated to making it easier for companies of all sizes and sectors to secure the funding they need to develop ideas, innovate and grow. Businesses will receive expert advice to make their propositions as attractive as possible to investors and will gain access to a wide range of funding sources.

Hans Möller, Innovation Director at the North East LEP, said: “The development of this new programme represents a positive, collaborative move by the region to solve an issue shared by the whole business community.

“It demonstrates how the North East is leading the way in shaping its future by designing a solution to the challenges faced. This will really help widen access to funding as well as help SMEs to develop and grow.”

Other partners involved in the development of the initiative’s activity include: Transmit Enterprise, Blu Sky Tax Ltd chartered accountants, Agora Bay Ltd growth finance consultants and NatWest which has partnered with Entrepreneurial Spark to launch business accelerator hubs across the UK including one due to open in Newcastle this August.

North East businesses can register an interest in finding out more about the programme as it develops by emailing [email protected]

This initiative is part of a wider programme being developed with around 50 partner organisations to support innovation in the North East. Led by the Venturefest North East team, the programme is supported by Innovate UK and the North East LEP and North East BIC, with part-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.

CASE STUDY OF A BUSINESS WELCOMING THE PROGRAMME
NECC member Amber North East has grown rapidly since the launch of its healthcare workforce solution business in Durham in January 2015, with 100 staff already on its books.

Operations Director Kelly Bentham welcomed the news of the investment programme saying: “The challenge of finding finance for your business can be a show stopping issue no matter what size your business is.

“If you don’t understand what is available to you when you’re starting out you will struggle to get out of the starting blocks, while growing businesses don’t have the time to consider all of their options so can find themselves stung by high repayments.

“Cash is king when it comes to the growth of all businesses and this programme will make it simpler for companies to get access to the money they need to achieve their ambitions.”