Mapping out a future for SMEs

Mapping out a future for SMEs

The Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership is at the heart of successful collaborative economic growth along the M3 corridor. Board member Andrew Lambert spoke to Mike Hughes to map out its work and its goals.

As the board member on the LEP’s Enterprise and Innovation group, Andrew Lambert seems the ideal person to sum up why there is so much going on in the region – and he has been the owner of his own SME for more than 20 years. He has certainly been a busy man in a very busy year for Enterprise M3, which has seen it delivering an array of projects funded by the £148m Local Growth Fund, £20m Growing Enterprise Fund and £50m European Structural and Investment Funding pot.

It has a set mission to encourage enterprising businesses to come here and grow, and from the beginning has committed itself to support the creation of 200 new high growth companies, 8,000 additional jobs and £2bn of new export markets from businesses in the Enterprise M3 area, with skills, infrastructure, housing and transport to keep pace.

The Enterprise and Innovation Group makes its strategy clear and deliverable, saying: “Our approach is to support targeted and integrated investments that capitalise on the area’s strengths, particularly within our priority and niche sectors.

“We are developing a smart specialisation approach, focused on bringing together research excellence with emerging business innovation strengths as well as new technologies to drive up productivity and high-value growth.

“An adequate supply of incubation space and sustainable business support services, is essential for high growth and innovative companies to succeed. We encourage businesses to shift towards a low carbon economy as part of our innovation led investment.”

Andrew says the work can be rewarding and certainly influential in how the strategy is rolled out across such a diverse area. “The group is tasked with looking at how the LEP can support businesses in that space and where it is necessary to make an intervention,” he explains. “We look at the projects being proposed, such as the 5G Innovation Centre, and give our opinions on why it is a good project to invest in.

“The fundamental challenge is to support businesses that are already successful at the same time as businesses that have clear potential and could do with some help. We don’t sit there and identify specific sectors, but we try to spot trends and see if they are in a sector where with a bit of help we could help move things along.

“A good example of that would be in the animal health sector, with the potential for this region to be a leading cluster, so we now have the new Veterinary Health Innovation Engine, or vHive, at the University of Surrey. This is a vet school in a new building and a collaboration with Pirbright and Defra has a big establishment in Wisley,  so with a bit of support these organisations could become a worldwide centre of excellence.

Andrew Lambert 02In addition, the Government are making a lot of datasets available on animal health and movements and they are looking for SMEs to pick that data up and generate new insights into how it can be analysed and what predictions could come out of it.

“We talked to Zoetis, who also sponsor the  vHive, and they said the support from Enterprise M3 was key to them investing, proving that the advantage of this LEP is that a little bit of money can unlock a large amount of private investment. We are looking for those businesses that can grow rapidly, generate a lot of jobs and improve the environment in which we all live.”

Another challenge facing LEPs like Enterprise M3 who have taken on the leading role in regenerating their areas is to tie together the many different strands of their work so that they become a coherent matrix that prospective newcomers will want to become a part of.

“When I got on to the board I was astounded at the breadth of activity in this region. As a business, you tend to get very focused on your own sector – I am in IT and telecoms so I think I have a good grasp of what is going on here - but I didn’t know there was a games cluster around Guildford and Aldershot, or animal health in Guildford or alternative energy down on the south coast. I knew we were strong on marine, but no more.

“The Satellite Catapult is down in Oxford, so everyone thinks of that region, but the Surrey Satellite Centre started their Low Earth Orbit satellite in the late 1970s.”

Andrew is perfectly placed to see both sides of the equation along, the M3 corridor with his place on the LEP board as well as his role as CEO at IT consultancy Electronic Media Services, where he has been since September 1995 and which provides a full suite of IT services, including  planning, application development, implementation, infrastructure and hosting.

Just to broaden the picture even more, he is also a non-exec at  the China Britain Business Council. So what has been his personal experience of working in the Enterprise M3 region? At Enterprise M3 we have found it is such a good environment to live in, with lots of green space and places to go walking although I travel to London two or three times a week, and we certainly have our challenges along the A3.

“There have also been issues with affordable housing, but we now have three quite significant developments - part of a three-site enterprise zone - at Longcross with 3,000 houses, and 3,000 more at Whitehill & Bordon, where our offices are, and then a big site down in Basingstoke. This is all to make sure there is social inclusion to keep young people in this area.”

What links that enterprise zone together is a digital theme focused on its location near to the Royal Holloway university, one of the leading cyber security centres in the country. There is incubator space with good broadband and lower business rates to attract smaller firms who will then move here with their staff and families, encouraged by the new housing plans.

“You have to keep growing and moving,” says Andrew, “because there is an element of the population that is nearer retirement age than even me!

“There is resistance to new housing, but we have to grow and keep attracting inward investment. Certainly my experience tells me the digital space of telecoms, electronics, computers and creativity is absolutely thriving.

“There is a very encouraging focus on SMEs, with three board members of the LEP who are SMEs themselves working alongside a representative from the FSB. One thing we are always looking for is good office space, and we believe that the developments around Whitehill & Bordon will help alleviate that issue.

“The LEP is a wonderful team of people which I joined because you are better off working inside an organisation where you can influence policy rather than outside complaining about it. It is the same with my role at the China Britain Business Council, which helps companies trade into China and Chinese companies coming here.

“Any organisation or club a business might join is only going to be as good as the effort you put in.”

The Enterprise M3 rallying call to ‘get involved’ is crucial to the region’s future success. A sense of collaboration is growing all the time, and not only because of the commonsense need to work inside and alongside a supply chain.

There is also a growing community that recognises the vast potential here and wants to be a part of its development rather than just sitting on the sidelines. That sense of unity and purpose could be just as powerful as the investment heading for the Enterprise M3 region.