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In conversation with Joan Louw, Director Agora Bay Ltd

The Innovation SuperNetwork brings people together to generate fresh ideas, new market opportunities, knowledge and money. It does this with the help of partners in business across the region. We spoke to one of those partners, Joan Louw, Director Agora Bay Ltd who gave us her thoughts on how to get your business ready for a successful finance application.

Developing and growing a business is a balancing act. On the one hand you need to get your products and services to your target market as quickly and efficiently as possible and on the other you need to spend time building the core infrastructure of your business. Both aspects require planning, resources and most of all – that precious commodity – time!

As a director of a (relatively) new, Northern based, consulting firm I have firsthand experience of trying to strike this balance.

At Agora Bay we try to practice what we preach in our role supporting senior management teams to grow their business and explore future financing options. We are conscious that we want to build our own business and not just provide a few hours of consultancy services in a desultory fashion. This means that we have had to take time to consider our values, branding, systems, cash flows, strategic partnerships and the quality and consistency of the services we offer.  At the same time, like all business owners, we need to keep up to date with admin tasks, grow our client base and actually deliver our services!

Supporting operational activity with business infrastructure

In any business, there is a linear progression of operational activities that flow from product development and production to marketing and sales to receipting and managing cash. Surrounding and supporting these activities, is the business infrastructure, the buttress that provides the reasons why you are doing things in a certain way, how you are going to reinvest profits and how you manage the strategic risks that could prevent your longer -term success.

This infrastructure is the value part of your business and is reflected in every aspect: from the selection and development of the Board, the way in which the company and its staff manage and interact with suppliers and customers, to how the business reflects and promotes the corporate brand.

Resource planning is part of building the business infrastructure and identifying and managing working capital is a crucial resource in any business.

There is no shortage of finance and finance products in the market but that does not mean that it is easy to secure loans or investment.

Exploring the finance markets and deciding on the right type of finance for your business is one thing but finding a suitable provider of this finance product may take a little longer – especially when looking for a business angel or equity investor.

Getting it right

From an investor perspective, an “attractive investment” is one that meets and exceeds expectations: from the initial meeting or Executive Summary review, to the completion of due diligence and through the on-going communication process.

A business needs time to research and find the most appropriate finance solution to suit its needs. An optimal finance solution should provide a company with sufficient funding to cover its cashflow requirements – and should be secured at a reasonable cost with and an acceptable level of business risk.

The key to a successful finance application is planning and taking time out of the busy day job to plan!

About the author

Joan and co- directors at Agora Bay are all professionally qualified accountants, with extensive finance and board level experience across a range of business sectors. They focus on building value within the business, helping clients develop a sound investment proposition that clearly explains their business model and their longer term growth plans.

Home / Innovation SuperNetwork

In conversation with Estelle Blanks, Deputy Director, Innovation SuperNetwork North East England

Innovation in the North East of England, really? Yes, really!

As an ‘outsider’ to the region, I am well aware that innovation is not the first thing that comes to mind when Newcastle or the North East of England is mentioned and unfortunately this perception is hard to shift.

Despite 20 years of living in this region and a career focused on economic development through innovation and regeneration, I still get the same intrigued and slightly cynical look as the one I got from colleagues in Sophia Antipolis, France, back in 2001 when we started discussions with the then largest European Science and Technology park about how their networks could help to support high-tech businesses from the North East.

The traditional statistical data don’t help either. In 2008, the OECD found that the North East was ‘below average’ against most key metrics (R&D expenditure or patent applications sought) and this is still the trend.

And yet, over the years and during my time at Newcastle Science City and now with the North East Innovation SuperNetwork, I have seen some tremendous examples of innovation through highly creative SMEs, leading-edge research and larger corporate open innovation practices. Some highlights have been

• Helping Arnab Basu and the team at Kromek, then Durham Scientific Crystals, to prepare for one of their first pitches at the International Venture Capital Summit in 2003/4 in Sophia Antipolis. Innovative products, a talented team and desire to expand their exposure and networks has led to the success story that it is today.

• Supporting and promoting the work of Professor Paul Watson at Newcastle University that led to the creation of the £30m National Institute for Smart Data Innovation (NISDI). Leading-edge research combined with industry and public sector partnership made this possible.

• Reading, back in 2014, in the Guardian, the Financial Times and Computer Weekly how the North of England and Newcastle had become Tech-Hubs and serious contenders to London for start-ups and highly skilled tech graduates thanks to the work of Sunderland Software City, Ignite 100, Dynamo and many others involved in supporting the growth of the digital sector in the region.

• Taking part in consultations for the first Proof of Concept and Co-investment funds and even JEREMIE 1 when we had to make a case that there would be enough innovative and investable propositions in the North East to spend all this money. According to the European Investment Bank, the £142m JEREMIE 1 funds also known as Finance for Business North East is one of the most successful in Europe! Through the return on investment from successful businesses, it has created a legacy that can now be re-invested in JEREMIE 2.

So, somehow, we are getting quite a few things right in the region when it comes to innovation. We have some real strengths and we have to work hard to leverage those assets.

From my experience, long-term vision and planning, partnership working, effective national and international networks and good communication and PR channels which promote existing innovative businesses, risk taking, novel practices and good role models will help us grow our innovation assets and our presence on the innovation map.

We have to be realistic – there is still some way to go. A couple of weeks ago I heard stories from colleagues at Generator which indicate that even our local market place does not source existing innovative solutions in the region… because they don’t know it’s there.

We need to be more visible and promote all kinds of innovation to ensure North East companies benefit from local, national and international opportunities.

This is what we are aiming to do through VentureFest North East 2016 and the Innovation Showcase.

We want to give companies the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do and expose the great innovation that is taking place here and now. Large corporate organisations, small start-ups and anything in between are welcome to take part. You don’t need to give away trade secrets and we can help you promote what you do efficiently.

Last year we showcased everything from a seaweed farm to fingerprint biometric readers and wheelchair adaptations to 3D scanning booths.

If you’ve something to share please find out more and apply here by Friday, October 7.

By Estelle Blanks, Deputy Director, Innovation SuperNetwork North East England