Making the vital connections

Making the vital connections

The Enterprise M3 Growth Hub sets an example to the whole region with its own high levels of collaboration. One of its lead partners is Business South, which connects business leaders and champions the area. Chief executive Sally Thompson talks about the organisation and its role.

The ‘patch’ for Business South is certainly impressive. Based in Southampton, the regional business centre of the South coast, it operates in Hampshire, Dorset, Isle of Wight, Surrey and Sussex, working with four Local Enterprise Partnerships including Enterprise M3, dozens of local authorities, ten Universities and many of the top business brands in the UK.

Covering sectors from aerospace and marine to digital and construction, it is a connecter of businesses as well as providing a unique brokering service between the public and private sectors. Chief executive Sally Thompson knows that the bottom line is where the focus has to be, so the organisation’s events and activities are all selected to earn revenue for the region and its companies.

“We are an engagement organisation connecting business leaders to drive economic prosperity in the region and support social wellbeing,” said Sally. “We were established as a not-for-profit group called Business Southampton ten years ago, and have developed a mechanism called the Champion Programme which connects the private and public and the third sector to influence positive change, overcome challenges and realise opportunities.

“As partners with the Enterprise M3 Growth Hub we are able to support high growth through innovation working with growing companies and being able to support them through our vast network through mentoring and specialist services. Working in collaboration makes the whole model stronger to the benefit of the region.”

Making its members and partners Champions reveals a key theme of how Business South operates. This is not a static networking group, but rather an interacting team of business leaders who sign up to champion the region and make a specific difference in their own sectors.

“We work in collaboration and want to collectively influence change for the region. It is not a membership organisation, but works as partners to champion the region which helps shape and influence the future of the whole economy around here,” explained Sally. “I think that once people understand the benefits of being a Champion then they work with us for many years and we end up being part of their team and their resource, as well as being a catalyst for their growth and the region’s growth. Collectively those Champions employ more than 100,000 staff and turn over more than £4 billion, which makes them a highly influential and growing team.

“Our three priorities are around people, place and prosperity so if we have the right talent in the area then we can promote the region for its sector strengths. Similarly, if the area is prosperous then it is a place people will want to invest in, trade in, live in and work in. Everything is like a big jigsaw that we are putting together and it is all about working with employers who are responsible leaders who want to make a difference.

“Increasingly young people want to work with those forward-thinking companies that have shown corporate responsibility and care about how they treat their employees. We realise it is about the bottom line as well, so it is about championing the region for the greater good as well as for the business’s own benefit.

Sally Thompson Team

“Being a Champion helps to raise their profile, their reputation and the recognition of what they are doing, and facilitates great connections through working with us. A recent Business South survey revealed 85% of Champions did business with other Champions or made valuable connections, as a result of being a Champion. It is a win-win for all of us.”

The Champions themselves obviously agree. Drawn from every sector and every geographical area, they have been quick to back Business South and what impact it can have in their region with Mel Rankine, commercial director at University Hospital Southampton saying the pride the Champions have is important: “University Hospital Southampton is proud to be a member of Business South. As one of the largest organisations in Southampton it is important that we maintain close contact with the local business community and Business South provides that vital link. The Trust has formed some excellent relationships with local companies.”

Working with so many local authorities is also paying off with Chris Shephard, head of economic development & sustainability at Bournemouth Borough Council saying: “Business South creates an ideal coming together of leading businesses, education and the public sector that encourages proactive and positive activity to happen which drives economic growth across the region.”  

And over at Surrey, Mark Pearson, director of business growth at the county council added: “Developing new ways of having conversations with business is important, the Business Champion programme in Surrey widens those opportunities.”

Sally added: “We are constantly connecting people at peer level, making introductions between the region’s business leaders at our events. It is a model that worked in Southampton, which is why we were able to scale it across the South.

“As a pro-active organisation that is business-demand led and market-driven, we will give them business intelligence and news about what is going on in the area as well as access to commercial opportunities and into the supply chain.

“We also work with more than 40 local authorities to make sure we are constantly evolving the model and developing collaborations. We have a very positive relationship with the LAs, working with many of them in partnership with different events, initiatives and projects. For them, it is a route to business engagement and a bridge between the public and private sector where Business South is a neutral broker to facilitate those relationships.

“We typically have more than 50 events each year, all of them purposeful for businesses around the region, and there are things like Thought Leadership debates and round-tables and we celebrate the success of our Champions.

“The region generally is a fantastic place to live and work, with a lifestyle that is second to none, with the mix of coast, city and countryside. There is so much going on and lots of opportunities for career development in innovative and dynamic companies.

“But we also recognise there are areas of deprivation around the coasts, and that is why the Champions programme is designed to engage employers in their own environment so that we can drive productivity and a stronger economic outcome and help raise aspirations and attainment levels.” A region like this will always be changing, and businesses are the key driver of that change. In all her years working for the region, Sally has seen it grow and mature, along with her own organisation.

“We have recently merged with Enterprise First, which specialises in start-ups and SME growth through their enterprise centres, and together we have an offer that covers the whole of the market which is perfect for supply chain development and collaboration.

“The cities of Portsmouth and Southampton have seen quite considerable regeneration and investment and there has been change around technology and sectors like digital, so the future talent agenda is particularly important.

“So we work closely with all the universities and most of the FE colleges and next February we have a big convention called Opportunity Meets Talent where we will be bringing together the universities colleges and businesses, who will, have actual jobs to offer on the day for more than 1,000 FE students who will be there.”

There is that bottom line again - networking that has to lead to action to put actual jobs
on the table and find recordable success and future prosperity.

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