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Five Prominent North East Entrepreneurs Have Shared Their Experience of Building Businesses in the Region As New Companies Are On The Up

ByKathryn Clapham

Jul 14, 2019 #Business

Five prominent North East entrepreneurs have spoken in a confessional style about the challenges of starting and growing successful businesses in the region as new data shows a rise in new companies.

Fresh data shows that 2018 was a strong year for entrepreneurialism in the North East as it brought a new record in the number of new companies registered in Tyne and Wear, with the 6,669 companies formed in the year eclipsing the previous best of 6,380 in 2016.

The figures from the Inform Direct Review of UK Company Formations show new company registration was strong across Tyne and Wear, with 2,097 new companies started in Newcastle upon Tyne, followed by 1,365 in Gateshead, 1,210 in Sunderland, 1,199 in North Tyneside and 787 in South Tyneside.

The North East has moved up the national league table to 25th place from 26th with London maintaining its lead with start-ups.

Managing Director Nick Johnson launched brand performance business Precept ten years ago at the age of 24. He also launched The Brand Society last year, an event and work space in St Peter’s Marina, aimed at supporting the local business community.

Founder Nick, who has offices in St Peter’s Marina and London and employs 18 staff, is committed to supporting and nurturing the development of the region’s entrepreneurs, their businesses and vitally, their brands to enable them to establish themselves and achieve growth in their key markets.

He and his team have brought together some of the region’s key business leaders under the banner Entrepreneurship – from Exit to Entry, providing the opportunity for inspirational insight and advice for local entrepreneurs on how to survive in business.

He said: “The data shows that the formation of new businesses in the North East continues to grow despite the challenges the current financial climate and Brexit bring.

“We are passionate about supporting and nurturing entrepreneurial talent. By bringing together local business leaders who are searingly honest about their own learning experiences, we hope to show that being brave enough to make mistakes and learning from them, is the real reason they have all enjoyed a high level of success and can help others with their candid revelations on their business journey.”

Michael Farnsworth and William Johnson, the pair behind multi-million pound success story Torro Cases, Simon Bourne of men’s style brand and social media sensation The Hand Dyed Shoe Co Limited, Rick McCordall serial entrepreneur turned investor and business start-up mentor at Northumbria University and Robert Cooper corporate financier at Newcastle head quartered UNW chartered accountants opened up about their experiences.

Rick McCordall has exited three businesses in his career, saying:

“Every time I exited a business it was a completely different experience. My first experience was at Newcastle-based Adessi, a successful PR and marketing consultancy, my second experience was different again, but by the time of my third exit at Cottages in Northumberland Ltd, everything went very smoothly.

“I’m convinced now that people need to be far more prepared when they exit a business, with management accounts, professional advice and mentoring. It’s no good selling a business or a stake in a business informally, it’s a serious, life changing and often complex transaction riven with pitfalls.”

Together with Rick’s commercial investments he now also works at Northumbria University – that this year topped the university rankings for UK start-ups by turnover -mentoring budding entrepreneurs.

“The energy of the young people is infectious and there is a lot of talent out there and it would be great if there were one or two mistakes I’ve made and learned from that I could help them to avoid.”

Simon Bourne, Michael Farnsworth and Billy Johnson all had a shared experience of walking away from well-paid careers whilst raising young families.

The Torro founders joined Northumbria Police together and worked their way up the ladder, only much later deciding to start their online leather goods style brand providing quality accessories for the mobile phone market.

Michael said: “The day I put my notice in was incredibly nerve racking but we had some momentum and it took off further once we fully committed and it has just grown from there.”

Their business is now thriving with a multi-million pound turnover and the duo are well on their way to achieving their aspirations for Torro to be a globally recognised men’s style brand.

Billy said: “There is never going to be a point where you can go on holiday and not worry about your own business. Nobody knows the ins and outs like we do. But I wouldn’t swap it. I get to pursue an opportunity that we identified and constantly refine it and do it exactly as we envisaged without having to compromise.”

Award winning Simon Bourne also has a young family and when he set up his business he walked away from a job at the local authority, borrowing a large sum in the process to get started.

He said: “I made so many mistakes at first, even spending thousands on stock I still have now because it wasn’t of the right quality. I look at these mistakes as my education and feel as long as you learn from them you can move forward, but it was terrifying at the time.

“I hope I am totally true to myself and go that extra mile for the customer, my shoes are individually crafted to order and take six weeks to manufacture, I never compromise on quality. It’s what my customers appreciate and its translated very effectively through social media.

“It’s been very hard at times but I make sure I talk about all my experiences good and bad across all channels and it’s amazing how supportive people have been.”

Newcastle based financier Robert Cooper said: “I became a corporate financier by accident, I just wondered what it would be like to be on the other side developing a business.

“I was quite surprised initially to discover a large part of my job is on the people side, you can often push people a little and if they react in the wrong way that is a huge indicator that things may not go smoothly later.”

The event Entrepreneurship – from Exit to Entry is the first in a series to take place at the Brand Society aimed at bringing the region’s businesses together from a range of sectors to discuss topical issues and share insight.