A dedicated network club for ambitious entrepreneurs is needed in the West Midlands, to bridge the ‘knowledge gap’ and help small businesses grow.
That was one of the leading outcomes of ‘Entrepreneurship in the 21st century’, an event hosted by Barclays at its premises in Snow Hill, Birmingham in July. More than 40 entrepreneurs listened to top speakers and a panel of business experts, debating the opportunities and challenges facing high growth businesses across the region.
James Villarreal, the co-founder and chief executive of Glide Utilities, which has grown from launch in 2006 to an expected £17m turnover in the next 12 months, said his success was an example of "how not to do it" because his business initially lacked the knowledge and connections.
Glide, based in Birmingham, which has 69 full-time equivalent staff and more than 40,000 customers, allows tenants in shared houses to split utility bills with individual itemised bills, and provides landlords with one bill covering all their properties.
But James said: "We’ve had all the pain! When I look back, I think if only I’d known then what I’ve now learned, we could be a £50m business!" He said "not having the right people around you" was the challenge for entrepreneurs and added: "We’re dealing with people now who we initially didn’t know we could have access to, and growth is becoming easier because of that.
"But it’s crucial to bridge that knowledge gap and create a support network for new companies. It’s really important to bring people together to learn from each other, using and exploiting all that knowledge."
Denys Shortt, the chairman and chief executive of DCS Group, which sells and distributes health, beauty and household brands, suggested that banks like Barclays could help make this happen. Denys, whose company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, has more than doubled annual revenues in the last five years to £185m, said: "Barclays could set up a ‘connections’ network, find out what people want to help with, then find out who needs that help.
"Mentoring is part of my business plan, but then you need a mechanism to run it. A Company like Barclays can provide that glue." Rob Hallmark, an entrepreneur who owns and runs fragrance company Gruhme UK Ltd, suggested: "Why don’t Barclays launch a business award, or a ‘Birmingham Fast 50’ network club? This would open doors for entrepreneurs."
Panel experts included Professor Mark Hart, of Aston Business School, and Sandra Garlick, managing director of De Marco Business Advisors. They also discussed other challenges facing high growth businesses, such as the skills gap, and agreed that getting entrepreneurs into schools and the subject onto the curriculum could help.
Richard Heggie, Barclays’ head of proposition and delivery for entrepreneurs, chaired the expert panel and said: "It’s key that we engage and listen carefully to the challenges inspirational local entrepreneurs are facing in building high growth businesses so that we can identify the right ways to help and add value."
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