It occurs to me as I drive up to the Gentoo offices that I've been here before, a few years ago, and was impressed with the warm welcome I received. It's great to see that sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same; at 9am on a Monday morning there are lots of smiling faces and help offered at every step when I rolled up to the wrong building.
Heartening, then, that the man who made this company what it is has become the driving force behind a unified voice for the North East of England. You can tell that the detail, the little things really matter here.
Earlier this year, following conversations with both of the local enterprise partnerships and inspired by the passion shown in the Scottish referendum, Peter and his team set about understanding how the North East could best find its voice, by listening to the voices of the business community.
Amid talks of a Northern Powerhouse and a complicated set of conversations about devolution, the region didn’t feel like one region, standing up and competing with the well established – and more generously funded – areas like Greater Manchester and Birmingham. “We spend a lot of time talking about political governance structures,” Peter remarked, “but what else should we be discussing?”
The general consensus is that the North East business community is better and stronger together. From the Scottish borders to Teesside, a united business community is critical in helping shape the region’s future. We have a range of membership organisations talking to a core audience, but still most businesses aren’t part of any kind of movement; and so the North East Business Voice began.
North East Business Voice is a movement to give a voice to the business base across the region, to produce a unified message about the vision of growth the North East has. Exactly what form that will take largely remains to be seen, because it’s vitally important that the businesses that it represents have a say in how it works, and that’s a work in progress that’s been coming together all year.
“It’s not a competition for us,” says Peter, asserting the position that the only decision that’s been made so far is that this will not spawn another membership organisation. “We’re suggesting that we want the business community to come together, and be behind the strategic plans for the region. I think there’s an umbrella proposition which could help to excite people; if you haven’t engaged, then engage now.”
Their current priority is to engage with the next generation; the younger entrepreneurs in the region who tend not to be particularly well represented as it stands. There was a strong feeling that an entrepreneurial ‘generation gap’ was in danger of opening in the region. If they aren’t already, then these are definitely the business leaders of the future, and they have a lot to offer. “They must care about making their business succeed – even if they’re rampantly entrepreneurial, they must care about what’s happening on their doorsteps.”
Finding out how to engage with this group, how to use their passion, energy and enthusiasm for the collective good of the region, is the top priority of the North East Top 100 Young Entrepreneurs event, taking place at Hoults Yard on October 1st.
Facilitated by Caroline Theobald, and supported by a band of Entrepreneurial ‘Jedi’ including Sir John Hall, Charlie Hoult and Sir Peter Vardy, the evening will see the ambitious group challenged to come up with some ideas of how they can get more involved in this groundswell movement to stand up for, and alongside, others in the region. They’ll be looking at what they need the North East to provide them with to make their business grow, and what responsibility they feel they have to contribute to this.
“We’re hoping that everyone will be able to learn from each other; their experience and how they do things,” adds Sharon Appleby, who has been central in arranging the young entrepreneur’s event. “People are telling us that they really want to be here. And whatever the outcome, we know the night will be interesting!”
BQ Magazine is proud to be a media partner for this event, which is also supported by Accenture, Brewin Dolphin, British Army, Eighteen79, Gentoo Group, Siemens, Square One Law, Tait Walker, The Works and UK Trade & Investment.
“It’s not rocket science,” Peter enthuses, and he’s right.” You go where the energy is. We just need to harness, and maximise, the region’s corporate energy.”
You can join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #nestrongertogether.