Page 1

November 2015

And the winners are... A look back at this year’s Entrepreneurial Awards

Lifetime Achievement An insight into the success of Geoff Turnbull

Accessing Finance A round table debate

What’s on

Key dates for your diary

ENTREPRENEURS’ FORUM Together we can take on the world.

Together we can take on the world. In this issue...



Entrepreneurs are ready to help drive the region forward.

We pay tribute to the cream of the region’s business owners.





Landmark luxury hotel adds its support.

None of us got where we are today by ourselves.

A round table debate.

Upcoming events and key dates.




and the winners ARE

Benefits of MENTORING



In profile: Geoff Turnbull, GT Group.

News and views from the North East entrepreneurial community.

A Lifetime OF achievement






’m delighted to say that the last six months have been incredibly positive for the Entrepreneurs’ Forum.

We’ve seen more than 40 new members join and hosted 25 events with over 1,150 people coming along to be inspired, make new connections, learn from each other and share experience. Leadership, people, personal development, succession planning, ecommerce and inspiring the next generation have all been among the themes, which also included on-site visits to Ebac, The Lakes Distillery and Reece Group, as well as focus dinners with Paul Walker and Sage Group founder Graham Wylie. On page 12 you will hear from our latest corporate partner, the Crowne Plaza Newcastle – Stephenson Quarter. Set to become Newcastle’s most luxurious and contemporary hotel, the Crowne Plaza welcomed its first guests at the start of September and has already played host to our very own North East Entrepreneurial Awards ceremony (see page 6).

In return for electing a mayor, devolved powers could see our region’s combined authorities take control of areas such as housing and planning, transport, education and skills and employment. It is a unique opportunity and one that we have seen from our own research is wanted by the overwhelming majority of businesses in the region (see page 4). Now, we must ensure that we maximise its potential. It is vital business has a strong voice in influencing these key areas and there is a passion to be engaged and an enthusiasm to use this deal to make the North East a stronger, more prosperous region.

Gillian Marshall

Together we’re stronger. I look forward to seeing you at one of our events very soon. Best wishes,

Since the last edition of EF News we have also seen the announcement of plans for regional devolution in both the Tees Valley and North East regions.

Gillian Marshall, Chief Executive.

Nigel Mills, chairman



new survey conducted on behalf of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum reveals overwhelming business support for new regional powers and resources, with more than 70% of North East business owners saying devolution is necessary. Responses, broken down into the North East population, Entrepreneurs’ Forum members, and those across the whole of England, showed more than 70% support from each group (71%, 74%, 72% respectively) for England receiving the same devolved powers as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Businesses in the region, and among our membership, are largely very well informed on the devolution debate and what can be achieved by a forward-thinking transference of powers and resources. This is borne out by the low percentages that felt too uninformed to answer questions on the issue, compared with the national averages. The North East business community is ready for devolution and raring to play a major part in ensuring it achieves its potential.

Also in the survey, conducted by Public Knowledge, 62% of the North East population and 74% of Entrepreneurs’ Forum members felt the individual regions, specifically, should receive such powers.

Now the deal is in place, we must ensure that this agreement is utilised to its maximum potential and it is vital that business has a strong voice in influencing areas such as housing, planning, transport, employment, education and skills.

This survey shows real enthusiasm and engagement among the business community here in the North East and, specifically among our members, for devolved powers for the North East.

These are the key areas that business believes must benefit from this deal and there is a passion to be engaged and an enthusiasm to use this deal to make the North East a stronger, more prosperous region.

Businesses are ready for the detail of this deal and to be involved in debating and driving forward the use of these powers and resources for the economic benefit of the region. Respondents from the North East as a whole, and those from the Forum’s membership, both listed the same areas in their top four powers that the devolved administration should take control of: housing and planning, education and skills, transport and employment.

What Entrepreneurs’ really think DEVOLUTION 71% of NE entrepreneurs believe England should have the same devolved powers as Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland. … with 74% wanting the regions to be given more powers from Whitehall.

Nigel Mills, Chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum

CHAIRMAN’S DINNER Join Nigel and 100 of your peers to explore what makes a great leader and what our region needs going forward.

Tuesday, 26th January, 6.30pm – 11.30pm, Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle £99 +VAT Book your place at

ECONOMIC GROWTH 81% of NE entrepreneurs think devolution could improve opportunities for economic growth in the North East.

POWERS Powers entrepreneurs think should be devolved to regional administrations:

… with only 28% concerned it could potentially result in higher 69% Housing & Planning taxes or additional business costs.

ELECTED MAYORS 66% of NE entrepreneurs support the proposal to introduce directly elected mayors in return for combined authorities gaining additional powers.

69% Transport

improve 52% Significantly opportunities

64% Employment

29% Slightly improve opportunities 7%

Don’t know


Significantly impair opportunities


Slightly impair opportunities

50% Education & Skills


Have no effect on opportunities

Survey conducted by Public Knowledge & the Entrepreneurs’ Forum. Based on: UK Nationally Representative Sample (1,000), North East Representative Sample (201), North East Entrepreneurs (42).


Geoff Turnbull, GT Group Winner of the Emerging Talent Award, sponsored by United Carlton, was Alice Hall who started Pink Boutique in 2012 with only £90. Phenomenal growth has seen the company scale-up quickly and in three years the business now turns over more than £6 million and rising, ships its products around the world, selling more

Alice Hall, Pink Boutique

and the winners are... A gathering of 300 entrepreneurs celebrated the cream of the region’s business community at the prestigious North East Entrepreneurial Awards.


eld on Friday, 26th September, our annual awards have now been running for more than a decade, honouring those business people who lead dynamic, innovative companies that stand out from the crowd. Hosted by Julia Hartley-Brewer, the glittering entrepreneurial party saw a host of business leaders paying tribute to their peers and in the process raising money to support both the Olivia Mae Foundation and the North of England Children’s Cancer Research Fund. A special Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by Barclays, was presented to Geoff Turnbull, chairman of the Peterlee-based GT Group, who follows in the footsteps of past winners of the coveted accolade, including Sir John Hall and Sir Peter Vardy.


than 2,000 dresses a day and operating from a 30,000 sq. ft. site in Newcastle. The Entrepreneurs’ Forum highly commended talented entrepreneurs Richard Kirk, of PolyPhotonix, Ben Staerck, of the Furniture Clinic and Tom Riley of Whitewash Laboratories.

industry. The company now employs more than 1,300 people and supports thousands of businesses across the UK and Ireland. In one of the most competitive years on record, the other shortlisted entrepreneurs were John Reece MBE, of Reece Group and Tony Cleary, of Lanchester Wine Group. Mentor of the Year, sponsored by the Malhotra Group Plc, was presented to serial entrepreneur Alastair Waite. Alastair is perhaps best known for his involvement in building Onyx Group where he remains as the second largest shareholder. He left 18 months ago and embarked on two new ventures; he founded Altrelli Limited, a consulting company mentoring businesses and individuals to achieve their potential and is also Group CEO of Altec Engineering Limited which is the fastest growing precision engineering company in the North East. As a board member of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum and non-executive director of numerous organisations, Alastair continuously offers his time to altruistically support the growth of fellow entrepreneurs’ businesses through the development of strategy, business plans, fund raising, mergers and acquisitions and mentoring. Alastair was recognised

Once again, this was a fantastic occasion that celebrated the achievements of the entrepreneurs who drive our economy in the North East. Our congratulations go to all who were recognised, either as winners or shortlisted candidates for these awards, which really do reflect the cream of North East business.

Alastair Waite, Altrelli Limited

Networking and drinks sponsor for the evening was SGP Technology Group, with GrowthAccelerator supporting the awards programme and Carat Media and iProspect Newcastle sponsoring Perry McCarthy - the original Top Gear Stig – as the after dinner speaker.

In his citation for Mr Turnbull, Graham Robb, Forum board member and IoD North East chairman, said:

“This year we are going to make this award to somebody very special. A person who has no equal in his field in this region. He has innovated, pioneered and prospered and ensured that his considerable success has been wisely invested for the future.” In partnership with the North East LEP for the second year running, the awards were presented at a special ceremony taking place at the brand new Crowne Plaza Newcastle - Stephenson Quarter.

Geoff Thompson, Utilitywise The Ward Hadaway sponsored award for Entrepreneur of the Year was presented to Geoff Thompson, of Utilitywise. Geoff is a science graduate and holds an MBA from Newcastle University. He founded Utilitywise in 2006, having previously held senior posts in consultancy and in

earlier this year as one of the UK’s top 100 Entrepreneurs who give something back by investing in and mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Geoff Turnbull, GT Group

So how did you get into engineering? When I went to find an apprenticeship, I was offered a job with a tailor, a photographer or an engineering apprenticeship. I’ve got no idea why I chose engineering, but it’s worked out quite well! Did you always want your own business? Yes, I had a lot of responsibility at a young age. At 21, I was shift manager, at 23 I was works manager and at 25, I was director of a small engineering company, which was this business, which I ended up taking over. I always knew I’d have my own business. I was always very entrepreneurial. How necessary is it to take risks in business? You can’t do it unless you have an understanding wife. I met Sandra at Castrol when she was 15 and I was 16. We married at 19 and we’ve just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. She’s been there through it all. I mortgaged our house every other week. Sometimes I took massive risks but we’re now one of the fastest growing private companies in the country.

Geoff at Elwick Stud Farm How have you achieved that despite going through the latest recession? I’ve been through so many recessions I’ve lost count. You just have to batten down the hatches. I had a feeling that the 2007 crisis was coming, so we stopped all capital investment, but we never stopped research and development. We did go down to a three-day week and my staff volunteered to take a 10% reduction in salaries. That’s the kind of team I have around me. We’ve come through that very strongly, we reduced our bank overdrafts and we’re now in a position where we don’t owe anything. GT Group is renowned for being ahead of the curve. What products are you working on?



here are lots of parallels, he says. I always work five years ahead in business and the same is true with horses. You have to breed them, deliver the foal and train them for years before they can run their first race. The horseracing analogy is hardly surprising when you consider Geoff’s background. Behind his desk sit framed images of his County Durham miner father leading the last pit pony out of Horden Colliery, while his office walls are adorned with pictures of glossy racehorses he has bred, first as a hobby and now a new business. Geoff is following his lifelong passion in his latest venture. He bought his wife Sandra the family’s first racehorse 15 years ago, continued to breed thoroughbreds and has just bought Elwick Stud in Sheraton, Hartlepool, to take what was a hobby to the next level. On the day we meet at his Peterlee headquarters, sitting on the classic leather Chesterfields he bought in a house clearance, Geoff is preparing to fly to Canada to enter his five-year-old Mondialiste in the famous $1m Woodbine Mile.


But, even with such high stakes, Geoff is just as passionate about his core business, GT Group, which he founded in 1985. After starting as an apprentice with Castrol Oil’s engineering division in Hartlepool, he joined Precision Engineering in Peterlee before moving to Ralph Ciodan at Eaglescliffe as works manager. But, ambitious and entrepreneurial, Geoff always knew he would one day run his own business. GT Group is now an international engineering design and manufacturing organisation at the cutting-edge of low emissions technology. Was it ever expected that you would follow in your father’s footsteps by becoming a miner? Dad was a great guy, a fantastic fella, there was nothing he couldn’t do. There were thousands of pit ponies in the North East mines and he brought the last pit ponies to the surface. My brother was seriously injured in the mine. He spent two days trapped and two years in hospital so my father wouldn’t let me go down, not that I wanted to.

Our key business is the design and build of emissions systems for the automotive and off highway industries. We’re now probably the world leader in that. But we’re always looking to the needs of the future.

Tell us about that future growth:

We’ve created a coupling system which allows the safe shipto-ship transfer of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). The system is massive and we’ve built the best test house in the world here in the North East to show how it works. We’ve invested millions so far and the reaction from industry has been very good.

Our turnover forecast this year is £31.1m and that will grow by 60% to 70% next year, which is phenomenal. I see us going to a £100m turnover by 2020 and that’s just with orders on the books now. We’re vying for contracts potentially worth another £200m.

You advised John Major’s government while serving on the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment. Did that affect your own thinking?

What do you put that growth down to?

I realised then that legislation was going to be coming into place to force manufacturers to reduce the emissions levels in vehicles, and I realised there was an opportunity in the market. We were already working on emissions technology with some of our customers, but nothing compared to the level we’re at now.

Mondialiste, Geoff’s champion racehorse

Heavy investment in research and development. One of my ambitions was to make sure our name was known throughout the world. Now, we export to 60 countries. I always plan five years ahead. Short-termism is not for me and that’s why I don’t have any investors, who would want short-term returns. I went out with David Cameron to visit Russia a few years ago. It was a demanding visit but we won a £15m contract to help develop low emissions technology in Russia. It’s the same as London was 20 or 30 years ago. Japan, India and China are also so far behind. But that means there are lots of opportunities. They’re not the easiest places to do business but if it was easy, everyone would do it.

Geoff Turnbull received the Entrepreneurs’ Forum Lifetime Achievement award at the 2015 North East Entrepreneurial Awards in recognition of his huge commitment to business and the impact he has made to the regional economy over such a significant period of time.

To promote your business and share your latest news, simply forward your press releases and any accompanying photographs to


Blue Kangaroo


he North East-based creative agency working within the character licencing industry has reported a significant increase in its export sales over the past twelve months. From its offices in the Northern Design Centre, Gateshead, Blue Kangaroo has seen its client portfolio of companies based overseas grow by 70%, accounting for approximately £250,000 of the company’s revenue during the last financial year. Working extensively with clients in the US including Hit Entertainment, Mattel and other world renowned entertainment brands in San Francisco, Blue Kangaroo has seen demand for its services state-side soar. The talented team of designers and illustrators produce characterisations and brand identities primarily from feature films and television shows, transferring the iconic visuals into packaging, point of sale materials and print. The creative agency also works with its clients both in the UK and the US to create style guides, as well as product and character development. Recently, Blue Kangaroo was recognised for its expanding portfolio of export work at the North East Exporters Awards, sponsored by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). Nominated for an award through its involvement with UKTI’s ‘Passport to Export’ programme, earlier this month, the creative agency won the accolade of ‘North East New Exporter’, recognising Blue Kangaroo’s exceptional exporting achievements over the past year.


ewcastle based sales performance and training company durhamlane, has recently launched their revamped initiative focused on helping entrepreneurs realise and harness the benefits of graduate employees within their business. Located on Windsor Terrace, Jesmond, and known best for their ‘Selling at a Higher Level’ methodology, high impact sales training workshops and outsourced lead generation solutions, durhamlane is re-launching its Sales Graduate Programme. The programme put together by durhamlane owners - esteemed sales trainer Richard Lane and serial entrepreneur Lee Durham, is designed to seek out and attract top graduates aiming to gain employment in commercial environments. durhamlane then match these individuals with ambitious companies looking to scale, and support their journey with a 12 month training programme designed to rapidly develop sales skill and business understanding The programme’s unique offering now gives graduates unlimited access to all of durhamlane’s ‘Selling at a Higher Level’ sales training masterclasses, unlimited access to the durhamlane sales learning portal, as well as access to in-role telephone coaching support time from a durhamlane sales professional. To launch the programme, durhamlane have decided to offer Entrepreneurs’ Forum members a 20% reduction from the regular per graduate investment, something they are hoping will incentivise the Forum’s members to invest further into our region’s growing pool of talented ambitious graduates.



To read the full stories and many more, visit




orth East entrepreneur John Savage is growing his business and creating jobs in the region with the support of a Wearside-based business coach and consultant.


John, who set up Flame Heating Spares three years ago, at the age of 31, has opened his fourth branch of the heating merchants’ business in his home town of Sunderland.

The northeast business situated in the centre of Newcastle has been able to start their growth initiative early thanks to a series of notable account wins, including two projects within the digital healthcare sector.

The move came after John engaged Entrepreneurs’ Forum member David Cliff, managing director of Gedanken Ltd, to support his personal and business development. With David’s help, John identified South Shields as a town with a job creation need and also a position in the market in which his business could thrive, leading to the opening of the third branch at the end of 2013. David also helped John to refine his business model to ensure its potential to expand exponentially Having established the first Flame Heating Spares branch on Gateshead’s Team Valley Trading Estate, John and fellow director Gary Riseborough opened a second branch at Dragonville, in Durham, in 2013. The business now employs ten people and has a turnover of £1.4m.

ollowing a successful year, digital product company Gospelware are ahead of schedule in recruitment plans to hire 16 new members over a 12 month period.

In already hiring three new engineers, and a business development manager, Gospelware are preparing for what is already a busy fourth quarter and bright start to 2016. Over the next year, the planned increase in staff will see the company grow in size by 160%, the biggest series of growth the company has experienced since its founding in 2010. Following the move to their large city centre loft eight months ago, Gospelware have the space for accommodating a considerable expansion in team size and are looking forward to adding 12 new staff to their collection of creative and technical individuals. With a rebrand underway and set for release in 2016, this rapidly growing SME is also working with wearables and connected devices across a number of industries in using creative software solutions and design to bring technology to life.



rapidly expanding communications agency is plotting the next chapter in its story following a major rebrand. Sunderland-based Press Ahead, which underwent a management buyout led by MD Kieron Goldsborough in 2014, has rebranded as Narrative Integrated Communications. The rebrand is the next stage in the evolution of Narrative, which follows a period of sustained growth as a result of the company’s increased offering. Since taking ownership of the business, Mr Goldsborough has transformed the company with the addition of several new services including strategic marketing and a raft of new digital services. This progression has repositioned Narrative as a unique offer in the marketing marketplace and one of the North East’s only true fullservice, fully integrated agencies. Due to increased demand for new and existing service strands, which also include media buying, creative design and PR, the firm made the triple appointment of digital account manager Aimee Muirhead, senior PR account manager Jez Davison and senior designer Sharon Armstrong earlier this year. Mr Goldsborough said: “The new name reflects the ongoing transformation of the company into a full-service communications agency with an expansive digital offering.”



wo award-winning entrepreneurs are using their own headquarters to show other businesses the considerable financial and energy-saving benefits of solar panels. Gavin Richardson, MD of Opus Building Services, and Chris Cassells, MD of Opus Green, have fitted 80 panels to the Opus HQ at Boldon Business Park. Each panel is 1.7m long and about a metre wide, and were put up in less than two days and as Chris explained, will save a huge amount in energy bills: “The combined income and savings generated after the installation of solar PV in year one will be £3,335 which equates to 90 per cent of our 2014 bill. “The installation cost for the solar pv system – which will generate 15,540 units of electricity a year – was £20,352, paid for through an asset finance deal over a five-year term. Whilst there is a capital cost to the system, the reality is the income it will generate and the energy savings it will make over the five years will effectively make it self-funding.” After the initial five-year loan period the combination of income and energy savings will generate in excess of £50,000 for Opus or £3,750pa as a conservative estimate, for the remaining 15 years of a 20-year plan. This will help future proof the business against rising energy costs and slash the company’s carbon footprint. “Furthermore, we will receive £5,604 tax relief in year one as the expenditure is 100 per cent tax deductible,” explained Chris. “And then, of course, there will be an immediate carbon reduction – up to eight tonnes a year – and a cut of the company’s carbon footprint, which is of growing importance for many businesses given increasing taxation on carbon emissions,” he added.





Combined it will have 73 Parks, 1.8m customers, sell 400,000 holidays per year and employ 7,000 staff. Both head offices in Newcastle and Hemel Hempstead will be retained.

Originally designed for use within the Visualsoft office, Hive is a cloud-based software solution which measures employee engagement and has been developed to increase motivation and productivity in the workplace.

ohn Waterworth, currently chief executive of Parkdean, will be appointed, on completion of the merger, chief executive of the combined Parkdean/ Park Resorts which is subject only to clearance by the CMA and FCA.

John has led Parkdean since it’s foundation in November 1999 with the acquisition of Trecco Bay. Porthcawl, the UK’s largest holiday park and led its listing on AIM in 2002. Today Parkdean operates 24 parks with a turnover of £142m and EBITDA of £33.7m for the year ended 31 January 2015. The combined business will generate EBITDA of over £100m. David Boden, CEO of Park Resorts will retire from the business. John Waterworth said: “It is a privilege and an honour to be appointed to lead the combined group which will be the foremost holiday park company in the UK. I am excited about the future and working with both teams. There are really talented people that thrive on giving customers the best experience and they will have the benefit of opportunities created by the enlarged group. It’s 73 parks will span all points of the UK compass: from Scotland to the South Coast and from Norfolk to Cornwall and will be the first ever truly national business. “David has done a brilliant job in growing Park Resorts into the excellent business it is today and one that I will be proud to take on its next stage of its development.”

isualsoft, the award-winning North East eCommerce agency, has partnered with equity crowdfunding and co-investment platform, GrowthFunders to raise £150,000 for an exciting tech start-up.

After seeing a 30% improvement in the motivation and working culture within Visualsoft, following the implementation of Hive, the team decided to incubate the new business in their newly-formed Innovation Lab, which takes new business ideas, develops them and releases them to market. There’s a growing body of evidence which demonstrates that employee engagement translates into sustainable financial growth, improves productivity, helps attract and retain the best talent, and encourages creativity and innovation. Businesses focused on expansion and high growth need to build strong and engaged teams around them. Hive revolutionises measurement of employee engagement and helps to increase, motivation, happiness and productivity in the workplace. Instead of a large annual survey, Hive enables employees to submit anonymous feedback via weekly micro-surveys. The questions have been designed to draw measurable insight across a range of categories synonymous with engagement. Employees also have the opportunity to acknowledge, recognise, and celebrate their colleagues’ positive behaviour and performance.

Crowne Plaza, Newcastle



e are delighted to welcome the North East’s newest luxury hotel, Crowne Plaza Newcastle – Stephenson Quarter, to our list of renowned corporate partners. The hotel, which is behind Newcastle’s Central Station and welcomed its first guests at the start of September, has already shown its support for the region’s entrepreneurs, wowing 300 of our members and guests as the host venue for the North East Entrepreneurial Awards. As our latest corporate partner, the hotel is demonstrating a commitment to supporting the Forum’s membership and other entrepreneurial businesses to achieve their growth and job creation potential. Crowne Plaza Newcastle – Stephenson Quarter joins a host of other leading businesses as a corporate partner, including Utilitywise, Newcastle United Football Club, PwC, Teesside University, Northumbrian Water, Brewin Dolphin, Ward hadaway, Onyx Group, Port of Tyne, Gateshead College, The Lakes Distillery, Barclays, Elanders and hedley McEwan. The hotel is designed to pay homage to its historic Stephenson Quarter location, which was home to the Robert Stephenson and Co Locomotive Works, the crucible of the railway industry. The North East Entrepreneurial Awards were held in the twelve-sided Stephenson Suite, which seats and caters for up to 360 people. Gillian Marshall, chief executive of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, said: “The Entrepreneurs’ Forum exists to provide


a network of support to entrepreneurial businesses here in the North East. This comes through both the peer-to-peer support and mentoring, which takes place among the 300-plus membership, but also through the support of corporate partners, so to have a global organisation of Crowne Plaza’s repute on board is fantastic.” Andrew Fox, general manager at Crowne Plaza Newcastle – Stephenson Quarter, said: “We’re delighted to become partners with the Entrepreneurs’ Forum as we very much share its ethos; to support our region’s businesses and play our part in the economic growth of the area. “Newcastle and the wider North East region has a vibrant, collaborative and innovative business community and whether it’s providing event space, corporate hospitality or accommodation for business associates, we aim to deliver a high quality and luxury service that businesses can rely on. “We look forward to being a part of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum and working with them and our fellow members to encourage further growth and in turn have a positive impact on our local and regional economies.” Set to become Newcastle’s most luxurious and contemporary hotel, the Crowne Plaza is dedicated to making sure business owners and their guests get everything they need to succeed in business when traveling, so much so, they are delighted to offer Forum members an exclusive introductory rate of £110 per night, including breakfast and VAT. To book, simply email



entoring is increasingly recognised as one of the best ways to deliver peer-to-peer support and drive business growth here in the North East.

“In the early days, you have that feeling as an owner or CEO that you lack a bit of a peer group. You don’t have a 20-member board to bounce things off.

Often seen as something that happens within a company, with knowledge and experience passed down from managers to staff, this narrow perception is blindness to a world of opportunity.

“It’s really reassuring when you meet people who say ‘we had all those problems and more’.”

Across the North East, entrepreneurs are giving their time to others, free of charge, to help make their businesses and the region as a whole more prosperous. At the Entrepreneurs’ Forum we have an established and confidential matchmaking service which pairs individuals with mentors. Here we look at this relationship, with the help of one of our recent mentoring introductions. Stephen Purvis, Group CEO of SGP Technology Group, sees mentoring as a two-way process where, as a mentor to Taopix CEO James Gray, he receives back as much as he gives. His own experience with mentoring filled a support gap he felt was missing from his early days in business. Stephen says: “I’m from a military background and, having gone through that process, you find training and mentoring are different things. It is mentoring that is the difference between ‘good’ and ‘excellent’.” Stephen moved into business with SGP Technology Group straight from the Royal Navy, founding the company around six years ago.


He had previously tried engaging with a business support organisation that left him little further forward, due to the lack of real entrepreneurial experience among those involved. “If I am honest, I was completely unimpressed by it. It appeared to be staffed by ex-bank managers and jobbing consultants. I couldn’t talk to them about the situations I was coming across. There was a lack of corporate experience.” Even now, he feels that he has not had a mentor himself. “I’m not sure we, as a business, have ever had one, which is maybe why I am so passionate about the process. “The region needs to be really proud of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum and the unique assistance it provides North East-based businesses. We also operate in Bristol, Swindon and London, but our Newcastle base is the only one to have this type of support.” Stephen has been mentoring James Gray, CEO of Taopix, for around eight months.

Whatever stage of business you’re at, if you’re looking to make progress then ‘speak to the people who’ve done it all before’ is what all of the entrepreneurs we meet would say.

James does a lot of international trade and we don’t do a lot of that. I definitely get a lot out of the meetings as well. “I think it’s really important. There is internal mentoring and all good companies should have that, but if you are at ownership level there is great value in going off site to a neutral venue and having an open conversation about things.” For James, Stephen is the latest in a number of mentors to offer support to Taopix, which develops photobook technology to market-leading companies around the world. James said: “We, as a company, believe in mentors and external support, so we have had probably three different mentors in the business over the last few years, prior to Steve, and I have worked with one other mentor myself on a personal basis.

Steve Purvis, SGP Technology Group “His business is technology-based, so there is clearly a sector fit, however the mentoring relationship goes far beyond industry synergies enabling James to tap into a pool of accumulated experience and knowledge, which he can use to enhance the overall value of his business.” “It’s about knowing and passing on experience from the business owner’s perspective, about all the pitfalls and bear traps in an exit, things you will be told that aren’t true, all the things you can do to stop being beaten with a stick over value at the end. It’s about making sure he gets the right corporate finance, due diligence and advice. “I think, as a mentor, you get a lot out of it. It’s a peer relationship, which is something that is often misunderstood. I’m not more or less experienced than James. We have just done different things.”

“It’s about having the opportunity to meet other business owners or people who have been involved in running larger operations, with more and different experiences to that which we have. “We have built our business over the last eight years and a lot of what we have done has been learning as we go. We have done well, we are profitable and we are one of the best in our category. However, there are a lot of things you get through mentoring that helps you to see how other people run their business and solve problems and handle challenges. A lot of it is learning what not to do. “I have had a lot of great advice, ranging from little things to larger questions of whether we are doing things the right way.

“Mentoring started for me about three and a half years ago. We wanted to get out of the start-up mentality and form a more structured organisation, with board meetings and putting the right strategy together. “My previous mentor had been in his 60s and had been at the top of very large companies, managing hundreds of people, making sure other people in the business perform and manage their teams correctly. “Stephen is a very similar age to me and in a similar sector. We don’t compete and there is no conflict of interest. Our companies both develop software for other businesses to use. It has been great to get Steve’s ideas and understand how he has got through different challenges. “I’m considering being a mentor myself next year.” “There are some very radical ideas that I have taken out of mentoring but there are a lot of small changes that can have real, quick impact, that are simple but not obvious when you are so connected to the business.” “You are not going to walk into a meeting and come out feeling like you need to change everything. It’s about more specific problems and issues. “The biggest thing I get out of it is that it’s very easy to get locked into spending too much time in the business and not working on the business. A lot of people in business are too close to the issues and you don’t always look at the wider picture and see things in a different way.”

James Gray, Taopix “Steve and I meet up once or twice a month. It’s quite informal; I don’t give him an agenda and he doesn’t give me a large programme of work. It’s good to take a couple of challenges and get his opinions on things. “It is great for me to be able to spend time looking at our business with support from someone who doesn’t know it that well.” James, like Stephen, appreciates the twoway nature of mentoring relationships. “It’s definitely not a one-way relationship. There are times when I explain to Steve how we do something and he has found it interesting because he does things a different way. We have also commercialised the relationship. I feel more comfortable knowing that if I’m using someone else’s time, then there is a commercial benefit for them as well, because I appreciate how very busy people are.” Whatever stage of business you’re at, if you’re looking to make progress then ‘speak to the people who’ve done it all before’ is what all of the entrepreneurs we meet would say.

To find out more about our free, confidential and bespoke mentoring ‘match-making’ service, call Michael Dixon on 0191 500 7782 or email

Round Table Event Our chaired round table discussions are a great way to come together with like-minded entrepreneurs, learn more about a subject and share your knowledge and expertise.

Investment readiness – the result of planning and preparation by a company looking for a financial injection – is key to making the process work, said Norman Peterson. He said:

Accessing Finance

“The biggest thing with the companies that are wanting to raise the money is whether they are investment ready, getting everything in place to make them investable; the basics, forecasts, plans, having an investment memorandum that they can give out to folk.”

John Burns added: “What would be important to me is if they, the investor, could bring something to the business. That’s better than money. In the beginning, I used to mend photocopiers. I was an engineer, not a salesman, and over the years that’s where I’ve probably struggled. So I would see value in someone investing and bringing in that person to run a sales team.”

“They either haven’t got it, or they haven’t got the wherewithal to pay for it.”



ccess to finance is an issue that is faced by most businesses looking to grow. Since the start of the banking crisis, the availability of funds through traditional routes has reduced, but the market has adapted to find new ways of raising capital. The fourth Entrepreneurs’ Forum round table of 2015 looked at the experiences of a range of businesses and how they had dealt with the current financial environment. Hosted by GrowthCapitalVentures director Norman Peterson at his offices in Newton Aycliffe, the discussion was chaired by Forum chief executive Gillian Marshall. A key issue discussed was how the role of relationship managers within banks has changed in recent years. Gillian said: “I was at an event recently where the representative from a bank explained how they are training relationship managers to have an understanding of different sectors, and I think that’s important. It’s all about finding the right person who understands your business, because they will need to articulate what you do to the credit department and convince them that you are worth lending to. They also need to understand your sector, your competition, what you are aiming to achieve, and they need to have confidence in you.” Peter Broome, of Python Properties, said: “We have seen a big change in the relationship manager’s role. We have been with our bank for three or four years and had four relationship managers. The first one approached us and said ‘we want to work with you’, a local guy who knew us as a business, knew what we had done and sold the dream of us to the credit committee. And then, of course, he moves on and we end up in the real estate department - whatever that is - and they are based wherever.


“Now, it’s very much gone full circle and it’s the tail wagging the dog. Your relationship manager is not selling your product to the credit team, the credit team seem to be telling him what to do. And of course the credit committee are just faceless wonders; they don’t come out and look at property in our case, they don’t come out and look at the business.” Chris Lowery, of NWR Hygiene Group, concurred. He said:

“One of my banks is Barclays. The relationship manager is very good. If ever we’ve needed anything, it has always been there to a certain level.” “You will never get there without those people. I have a meeting with Barclays and he comes to see us every few months just to see what’s going on with the business. People talk about bank charges. I don’t mind bank charges, because I have got him and he costs money to help me and advise me. I don’t mind because he comes in and he knows about my business, so if I do need something, or I want some advice, I can pick the phone up and say ‘have you got five minutes?’ This is why the reputation of some banks is going up, rather than down, because those others haven’t got the people on the ground who know your business and want to help your business.” Michelle Cooper, of Northstar Ventures added: “It’s all about relationships. I have some great bankers in the network, who really go out of their way to help the companies get the early stage, higher risk stuff and are willing to try to push the boundaries and go to credit with an interesting story and a blend of finance and different support.”

Mark Easby, of Better, addressed a similar area of business planning for investment and growth. He said: “Part of the challenge now, for myself and Paul, who owns the business with me, is that we are the sales team, getting out there. We own the relationships with our key clients, so it’s putting that structure in behind us so we have the time to think about things like product development and going to get the finance, but we are knee deep in the day to day logistics still.” Michelle Cooper said there was often too-narrow a view of funding. She said: “We quite often talk in isolation, people talking about venture capital or banks or something else, but one of the things that actually works quite well with banks is doing a bundle of financing and that all too often gets overlooked. People think they have to go down a certain path where, actually, we would all like to share our risk and work together and structure a deal that works for everyone, even blending in a little grant financing through the Regional Growth Fund; that’s another opportunity. So, bank managers, or the relationship managers, will try to keep the door open and make the introductions to other parties that will make it possible for them to go to credit and try to structure a deal, but that’s down to individuals trying to be creative and not just black and white.” James Robson, of Alexander Jewitt & Co, said: “I agree with that totally and I would never have got Exwold off the ground without a multi-stream of investment, but very recently what I have found is that, by me getting involved as a non-exec or mentor and committing £5,000 of my money, it’s amazing what it will leverage in.” Additionally, people often miss the potential for an investor to bring more than money to a deal. James Robson said:

“There is expertise as well, the money shouldn’t come without that support as well.”

Michelle Cooper said: “It’s difficult because people often don’t want the support. They just want your cash and the minute they take your cash they don’t want you to appoint a director, which is one of the rights that the company has just agreed to by entering in to the investment agreement. Now, if you have got that kind of attitude where you don’t want someone to come in and add value to your business, you see it as somebody supervising on behalf of that investor, not adding value.” Other members talked of their own situation, in relation to accessing finance. Norman Peterson said:

“GrowthCapitalVentures is a spin-out of the first company we launched, Carlton & Co, which we started 14 years ago. Four of us each put in £25,000, we bought a site across the road and built four bungalows.” “We grew up to 85 direct employees, we had two funding lines of £15m from RBS and £15m from a commercial investment company and, going back to 2003 to 2005, we had no trouble at all raising capital. Then the market turned and it’s now gone absolutely full circle and it’s very hard to find finance for property deals, property investment.”

We host regular discussions throughout the year linked to topics effecting business growth. To find out more and join the conversation, visit


“It was in that transitional period that we looked at what we should do and realised we would have to find out how we could get access to the money and that led to the spin-out of GrowthCapitalVentures. It’s a platform where we can match investors to equity and, soon, debt, so I spent the last four to five months getting funding in place from suppliers, from specialist suppliers in London, including an investment bank.”

We host a wide range of events throughout the year, bringing together entrepreneurs to create opportunity, provide inspiration and make businesses and the North East stronger. Events come in all shapes and sizes, including in the coming months:

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“What we now have to do is to show them our loan management software systems and processes, so they know that when they lend to the deals that we have a system in place to manage that. That’s the journey we are on now. Once we have that, we can show them the processes and start the lending, from institutional lenders, so there is a bit more work to do.”

Tony Slimmings, of Prismatic Thinking, added: “We have spoken to a couple of people and, I think at this moment in time, it has been me who has stopped it going forward. I think the finance is there to access. I don’t at this moment just want money. I want to try to get the steps in place that we need to go through over the next 12 to 18 months.” Alan Fletcher, of Square One Law, said: “There is plenty of money around, still looking for homes mostly. We are not seeing a lot of larger scale venture capital deals coming out of the region, but you see a lot of venture capitalists, more than we have previously had in the North East, knocking on doors, trying to find opportunities. It’s just finding the right opportunity and finding the people who have an appetite for it.” Michael Rankin, of Brewin Dolphin, said: “Having seen the banks when they were on the edge and how close they came to failing, I can understand some of the big names would be reluctant to lend or not really willing to do so, and I think part of

it must be that when they had to rejig their balance sheets, they had to issue bonds where they had to pay the bond holder 12 or 13% a year. Now, if you get a chunk of money into your business and you think ‘what should I do with this?’ and you have bonds that you could probably buy for 70p or 80p in the pound that you are paying a 13% yield on, I think most banks would funnel as much as possible into getting their debt paid down and making a business loan with returns of maybe half that just wouldn’t have been of interest.”

“I think now we are finally coming out of the other end.” Norman Peterson concluded: “The biggest thing with the companies that are wanting to raise the money is whether they are investment ready, getting everything in place to make them investable; the basics, forecasts, plans, having an investment memorandum that they can give out to folk. It’s that. They either haven’t got it, or they haven’t got the wherewithal to pay for it.” “You go to the other end of the scale and we have the biggest fin-tech start-up in the UK, if not Europe, happening on our doorstep. Anthony Thompson raised £2.8m for Atom Bank from a few investors, and £17m from two investors who came in, and then they are raising £100m. That’s happening right on our doorstep because they are thinking huge with hopefully a very valuable business at the end of it. So, there are some exciting things going on but the smaller raisers have that difficulty of getting everything in place.”


FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BRAVE (Global Entrepreneurs Week Conference) Thursday, 19th November, 9am – 5pm Redworth Hall Hotel, County Durham £99 +VAT

A SHOPPING TALE & FESTIVE CHEER WITH STEVE COCHRANE, PSYCHE Thursday, 26th November, 6pm – 9pm Psyche, Middlesbrough FREE MENTORING SURGERY Friday, 27th November, 1.30pm – 4.30pm NCT Office, Peterlee FREE

CHRISTMAS DRINKS Thursday, 10th December, 4.30pm – 7.30pm Entrepreneurs’ Forum Office, Baltimore House, Gateshead FREE

CHAIRMAN’S DINNER Tuesday, 26th January, 6.30pm – 11.30pm Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle £99 +VAT

FOCUS DINNER WITH IAN WATSON, HADRIAN HEALTHCARE Thursday, 11th February, 6.30pm – 10.30pm The Cherry Tree, Jesmond £75 +VAT


TOGETHER WE CAN TAKE ON THE WORLD Spring entrepreneurs’ conference, Thursday, 12th May, 9am – 5pm Crowne Plaza Newcastle – Stephenson Quarter £99 +VAT

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creative communication

Issue 4, November 2015

another creative communication by Hedley McEwan

EF News Magazine (November 2015)  

Find out the latest news and entrepreneurial updates from the Entrepreneur's Forum.

EF News Magazine (November 2015)  

Find out the latest news and entrepreneurial updates from the Entrepreneur's Forum.