For the annual ‘Together We Can Take on the World’ conference, members of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum heard from some of the North’s leading business people, including Sir Peter Vardy and his son Peter.
The conference, held at Newcastle’s Crowne Plaza on Thursday (12th May), in the newly regenerated Stephenson Quarter, was sponsored by SGP Technology Group, it was hosted by BBC Radio Newcastle presenter Alfie Joey, and focussed on helping businesses overcome the issues that prevent them from scaling up.
Nigel Mills, chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum opened the conference, saying: “Abraham Lincoln once said the best way to predict the future is to create it, by working together we can do just that, together we really can take on the world. SMEs make up just 35% of GDP but over 60% of the workforce, so winning the scale-up challenge would be a huge positive for North East economy.
SGP Technology CEO Steve Purvis noted the skills gap many North East companies face, saying “Where we’ll find the next 50 software developers is a big challenge, that’s why we started Code Academy, which is a £100,000 investment in digital skills in the region.” He also talked about how the north is perceived in the south of England, and the need to improve this perception.
Irene Graham, CEO of the Scale-Up Institute, an organisation that works to boost the UK economy by helping companies to scale-up, said: “Why is it important that we lean in and support scale-up businesses? As a nation we’ve had incredible success in starting up businesses, even compared to nations like the USA, but we’re not as good at growing them. In 2015 scaling up businesses created 4500 new jobs every week.”
James Lambert, founder of R+R Ice Cream, second largest Ice cream business in the world, talked of the need for growing companies to increase their customer-base, he said: “We started off with 60% of our business with one customer, went out and found more customers, that original firm now makes up 3%.”
Sir Peter Vardy, who spoke alongside his son Peter, said he believes his entrepreneurial attitude and aptitude is making his social action activities a success and told the audience that entrepreneurs have the ability to solve some of the biggest problems governments can’t fix. “Businesses with a social conscience, with entrepreneurial leadership, can improve society and play a role in areas where government cannot always succeed.”
A debate on the upcoming EU referendum, hosted by Entrepreneurs’ Forum board member Graham Robb, the senior partner at Recognition PR and chairman of the Institute of Directors in the North East, featured entrepreneur and North East Mayoral candidate, Jeremy Middleton, who believes the UK should remain in the EU, and John Elliott, founder and chairman of North East-based manufacturer Ebac, who argued for Brexit.
Giving a different perspective on scaling up, Dr John Alderson of Informed Solutions gave attendees some advice on exporting, saying “When you export, you have to think of the customer. Why would someone in Australia want to buy from someone 12,000 miles away? You have to be better than the local products.”
Olympic high jumper Steve Smith, an entrepreneur in his own right since a tendon injury forced him to retire from sport at the age of 26, urged attendees to improve their businesses to concentrate on the factors they can change, saying: “We all leave stressful lives, we can get bogged down by the things we can’t impact on, it’s tough, but I can impact on the quality of our deliverables.”