Forum - Summer 24

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27 September 6pm-11.30pm


Hilton Hotel Newcastle Gateshead

Our gala awards dinner is a fabulous evening of entertainment where leading figures within the North East business community come together to celebrate entrepreneurs who stand out from the crowd, lead dynamic, innovative businesses and are making a genuine change to our region. Awards include One to Watch, Impact, Scale-up, Champion, Entrepreneur of the Year and Lifetime Achievement.

Individual ticket £120+VAT

Table of 10


13 November CONFERENCE

Together We Can Take on the World Hilton Hotel Newcastle Gateshead

Join us for a day packed with inspirational speakers and networking opportunities. Be the first to hear about the speaker line up by following us on LinkedIn.

Book your early bird tickets now.

Member early bird offer (for all tickets purchased by 4 October)

Individual Day Pass £120+VAT

Individual Day Pass plus Guest £200+VAT

summer 24 cover story Nagma Ebanks-Beni MBE

In a recent conversation with forum, Nagma Ebanks-Beni MBE shares how her ability to adapt, curiosity, and motivation to succeed have paved the way for her success.

Nagma is the Co-CEO of Prima Cheese, one of the country’s largest cheese processors and a leading brand within the food service industry. Established in 1996, Prima Cheese has a strong family heritage which has been the backbone of its business since day one. And still, in 2024, this family focus remains the same with Nagma and her brother Nima continuing their parents’ legacy as Co-CEO’s.

Nagma’s path to leadership was not a direct route and after pursuing her education away from home, she ventured into entrepreneurship in London. Through sheer determination, she carved out a distinguished career, has earned accolades, including an MBE for contributions to international trade, and is the current Vice President of the North East Chamber of Commerce, as well as being entrusted with spearheading its Race, Ethnicity and Discrimination Commission.

Having done a fashion design and marketing degree in Manchester and later on, opening the ‘Angel of the North’ restaurant in London, joining the family business seemed like a natural progression for Nagma as it offered her both purpose and a career alongside the demands of being a new mum. “Initially, I saw it as a temporary arrangement,” she explains. “But the more I became familiar with the intricacies of the business, the more I recognised

opportunities for growth and innovation.”

Drawing from her experiences in London, Nagma brought a fresh perspective to Prima Cheese, challenging outdated practices and envisioning new possibilities. “I was very business minded and could see ways we could better utilise resources. I didn’t want to overstep what my parents had done, which was an amazing job running the business, but I knew there were ways we could improve,” she says. In 2005, as Nagma returned to work following the birth of her son, she made a pivotal decision to intensify her focus on the family business. With her family complete and her passion for entrepreneurship reignited, she sought to expand the horizons of Prima Cheese. Recognising the need for a trusted partner, she reached out to her brother, Nima. Despite initial reservations, Nima eventually gave in to family persuasion, joining the business in 2007.

During those early years without her brother's involvement, Nagma took charge of the sales side of the business, implementing systems and processes where none existed before. “I realised the importance of accountability and responsibility. Previously, my father managed and was responsible for everything. To create a culture of accountability, I emphasised the need for managers to act as such, taking ownership of their departments,” she explains.

As well as streamlining processes and boosting sales, Nagma utilised her marketing expertise to create a brand identity: “We embarked on a branding initiative creating the Prima Cheese brand as you know it today. We made our presence known through our packaging, marketing, vehicle signage, uniforms, and more. This not only enhanced our external image but also instilled a sense of pride among employees, reinforcing their belief in the brand.

“I also improved internal processes, expanded my department's scope to include operations, and addressed issues like product quality and delivery to maintain customer satisfaction.

“We have 200 people in the company and any one of them will tell you that I love complaints. I love hearing about things going wrong. I don’t want to hear about the things we’re doing right because we have nailed that. What I want to know is what we’re not doing well. Those are the areas we need to be addressing,” she explains. In 2010, Nagma assumed the role of Commercial Director, marking the beginning of Prima Cheese’s export activities.

“The idea to internationalise Prima Cheese stemmed from a conversation with a customer in late 2009. At that point, our market presence spanned from Scotland to the south coast of the UK, with our operations steadily expanding,” Nagma explains.

“It was a conversation with a

customer enquiring about the absence of certain cheese varieties in our product range that sparked the idea of diversification. This evolved into an evaluation and feasibility study for me, and then onto my lightbulb moment and conclusion – why not keep the product the same, but diversify the customer base – sell Prima to the world!”

This realisation marked a turning point for Prima Cheese. By focusing on clear, streamlined approaches, they successfully navigated the complexities of international expansion.

Nagma’s journey into internationalising Prima Cheese began with a strategic choice: Dubai. Drawing from her cultural understanding and market insights, she recognised the region's potential as a thriving hub for business.

“Dubai was an upcoming hotspot for the hospitality industry,” Nagma recalls. “With its rapid development and influx of international visitors, it seemed like the perfect entry point for Prima Cheese.”

In October 2010, Nagma displayed Prima Cheese at a global food exhibition. Despite facing stiff competition from renowned brands, she secured two international accounts by the year’s end, laying the foundation for its expansion. By 2016, its global footprint had expanded significantly, with international sales comprising a notable portion of its revenue.

Nagma’s approach to international

The more I became familiar with the intricacies of the business, the more I recognised opportunities for growth and innovation.

expansion wasn't solely guided by market potential. She evaluated economic, political, and cultural factors, ensuring each new venture aligned with Prima Cheese's longterm goals.

“As we gained experience, we realised the importance of adapting our approach to different countries.

Every country presents unique opportunities and challenges,”

Nagma explains, before adding, "Some countries, due to their size and diversity, require multiple partnerships to effectively penetrate the market.”

Beyond geographical factors, Nagma evaluates economic and political landscapes to identify viable opportunities. For instance, Dubai’s ambitious goals of becoming a global hospitality scene made it an attractive destination for Prima Cheese’s expansion efforts whereas markets like China were a little more difficult as they presented unique challenges due to dietary preferences and regulatory hurdles.

Looking ahead, Nagma sets her

sights on further developing business in South East Asia as well as established markets within the Middle East, drawn to its rapidly growing middle class and cultural openness to international influences.

Over the years, Prima Cheese has not only expanded significantly, creating hundreds of jobs, but it has also scooped up a variety of awards and accolades including the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Export and being listed on the London Stock Exchange 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain list. As well as this, Nagma was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to international trade in 2020.

Shortly after, Mr and Mrs Beni took a step back and Nagma and Nima officially took over the day-to-day operations of the business as Co-CEOs. With years of shared leadership and strategic vision, the transition to Co-CEO with her brother was a natural progression for Nagma.

“Our journey to Co-CEO status was more of a formality than a dramatic shift,” Nagma reflects. “We’d been

steering the company's direction for years, long before our official titles caught up.

“Our respective roles naturally lent themselves to shared leadership. Nima oversees operations while I handle commercial aspects, forming a dynamic partnership.”

However, balancing family and work life remains a challenge, particularly in a family-owned business where boundaries often blur.

“Being a mother as well as Co-CEO, the line between personal and professional life is difficult,” Nagma admits. “Growing up, business discussions dominated family interactions, and that’s something both Nima and I want to avoid.

But finding that balance is an ongoing journey.”

“I've always been determined to prioritise my family without compromising my dedication to the business, and as many working mothers will know, it is not as

easy as it sounds,” she adds. Looking ahead, Nagma envisions a future where Prima Cheese thrives under a structured group framework, positioning Prima Cheese as the central entity, with subsidiary businesses feeding into its growth and diversification. Nagma sees this setup as an opportunity to pursue new avenues that align with hers and her family’s personal interests.

One notable expansion is the establishment of Prima Cheese’s London office, a strategic move to enhance the company's commercial offerings both nationally and globally.

“We opened up the London office at the start of this year, signalling our commitment to growth and expansion. It's an extension of our efforts to serve customers on a broader scale,” Nagma shares with excitement.

Before our inspiring conversation comes to an end, Nagma has the pleasure of informing us that she has recently been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sunderland in Business Administration - another accolade to recognise the hard work and dedication she has poured into Prima Cheese.

Reflecting on her achievements, Nagma emphasises that she would not be where she is today if it weren’t for her childhood, the adaptive mentality she has always had within her, her curiosity, and her own early experience of running a business.

“My journey so far has been both productive and enjoyable, where I have learned, travelled, developed, and met many people along the way.

“I have grown personally and professionally, expanding my knowledge, broadening my horizons, and refining my skills in the international business arena.”

As we say our goodbyes, brimming with insights into the remarkable journey of Nagma and Prima Cheese, we eagerly anticipate the future that holds boundless opportunities for the continued growth of this family business.

xxx summer 24

Durham Business Growth will help you to achieve your productivity and growth aspirations through our dedicated team of experts who are here to help you unlock the full potential of your business with:

Productivity & Growth Support

Specialists will help develop actionable plans to improve productivity, reduce carbon emissions and generate growth.

Decarbonisation Support

The programme will fund external technical experts to deliver energy audits and decarbonisation plans.

Revenue Grants

Available between £1k and £10k for costs associated with engaging external experts, software and small items of equipment.

Capital & Hybrid Grants

Available between £10k and £200k for costs associated with plant, machinery, equipment, premises and fit-out works.


We welcome businesses of all sizes and across a diverse array of sectors who are trading in or planning to move to County Durham.

forum partner Blu Sky

Reflecting on my first year as CEO
Blu Sky’s Jon Dudgeon looks back on his first year as CEO and shares what he’s learnt.

Last year Blu Sky restructured and I stepped into the CEO role. It was a re-structure we’d prepared for and our amazing team were fully onboard. The full team co-created a business strategy. As everyone was involved, we were able to encourage innovation, new ideas, accountability, and responsibility.

Over the last year we’ve grown so much as a business. We’ve spent more time working with inspiring scale-ups across the UK, learning new skills, focusing on ESG, working towards B Corp certification, and embracing new technology including AI.

I wanted my role as CEO to be an evolution, and over a year into the

role, I’ve taken some time to pause and reflect.

I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt from my journey so far in the hope that it resonates with other entrepreneurs, and hopefully helps any aspiring CEOs, too.

I’ll start by saying, you really have to take it day by day. No two days are the same and you need to be someone who enjoys that challenge. I realised early on that I couldn’t do this alone. I was drowning in admin, and I needed to bring in an executive assistant who could support me to apply more discipline and structure to my diary so I could work efficiently.

I now have real clarity over my diary, support in getting the basics right

and not only extra time to focus on taking the business to the next level, but help and empathy every step of the way.

I’m either working on the business and with the directors, working with the team and supporting their growth as individuals, or sharing knowledge and learning, whilst nurturing and building relationships.

We foster a learning culture at Blu Sky, so it’s important I spend time with the team to hear their ideas, try new things and learn.

Being CEO is exciting and challenging in equal measures. You need to bring consistency and calmness to everything you do.

Don’t get carried away with the highs or too down with the lows. It can feel like a lot, juggling the demands of running a business, especially if you have a young family. Make time for self-care, there’s a human underneath your role as CEO.

The key is not just communicating well but listening well too. The value in listening, asking for people’s opinions and recognising people as individuals is not to be underestimated.

But remember, not everyone will hear you in the same way. Your message will be interpreted in many different ways, so you’ll need to be mindful of this, prepared to change your communication style and repeat yourself a lot.

Ultimately as CEO you’re a huge influence on your business’s culture, attitude, and approach. You need to lead by example.

You need to be self-aware and willing to admit that you’re not an expert at everything. Bring in people to do things you’re not so great at, as they’ll do them far better.

Ultimately as CEO you’re a huge influence on your business’s culture, attitude, and approach. You need to lead by example and demonstrate the values and behaviours you want to see your team live by. It filters down and will help you shape the culture you want to create.

Take it one day at a time, surround yourself with good people, trust the process and enjoy it. The ups and downs will help you become a better leader.

My next steps as CEO are bringing the office back to life, completing our B Corp certification and repositioning our brand as the go to accountants for scale ups.

conference Fortune Favours the Brave summer 24

In May we hosted our spring conference ‘Fortune Favours the Brave’ at Hardwick Hall Hotel. Our audience of entrepreneurs enjoyed a day full of inspiration from our lineup of speakers including Rosie Brown (COOK), Mark Scott (Bella & Duke), Irene Graham OBE (ScaleUp Institute), Ammar Mirza CBE (Asian Business Connexions), Julia Hoggett (London Stock Exchange), rock musician Mark Deeks and disabled adventurer Darren Edwards.

Julia Hoggett, Gill Hunter, Shah Yaseen Ali and Ammar Mirza CBE
James Robson MBE, Pamela Petty, Ian Brown, Linda Lowther and Robert Smith
Jonathan Gold, Dan Martin, Herb Kim and Alfie Joey
Elaine Stroud, Ian Brown, Michael Dixon, Svenja Nagel-Esen and Paul Card
Lee Durham, Richard Lane, Elaine Stroud and Vic Morgan
Stephen Irish, Chris Jones
Darren Edwards Ian Fraser, Michael Knowles and Graeme Tennick
Mark Deeks
Julian Leighton, Sarah Callender and Laura Weaving
Rosie Brown
Mark Scott
Alfie Joey
Natasha Boulding and Herb Kim
Ian Fraser and Olga Bell
Bianca Robinson
Maureen Brown and Vikki Jackson-Smith

centre stage Rob Law MBE summer 24

We had the opportunity to speak to Rob Law MBE, the founder of Trunkithe innovative children’s luggage product - about his inspiring entrepreneurial journey.

From winning a University design prize that set him on the road to becoming the creator of one of the most recognised travel brands in the world, to losing a challenging court battle, Rob’s journey has been filled with highs and lows. What remains throughout, though, is his steadfast commitment to his vision to bring something unique to the market.  While studying design at Northumbria University in the late 90s, students were tasked with the challenge of designing luggage. Rob found inspiration in the most unexpected place, a toy shop, which helped to influence his unique design based on fun animal-based characters. The prototype, christened then as the ‘Rodeo,’ won the University design prize, and laid the groundwork for the globally renowned Trunki suitcase - a rideable suitcase that children could not only fill with their belongings but could ride on too.

“The design competition got me thinking about luggage, and I realised ‘There’s something in this. It seems unique’,” comments Rob, before adding, “It was amazing to come up with an idea that to me seemed commercial.”

Rob’s initial venture into entrepreneurship wasn't fuelled by a desire to run his own business, however.

“My dad ran a business. He was a retailer, interior designer and was a workaholic. I decided I wasn't going to work super long hours as I saw

more to life and that put me off.”

Nevertheless, Rob’s experience freelancing for design agencies started to sow the seed of setting up his own business. He explains:

“Initially I was freelancing as a product designer and I licensed the idea of Trunki to a toy company who didn't have much commercial success with it. So I decided I would have a stab at it myself.”

Then, a few weeks after he started trading in 2006, a pitch on national TV in Dragons' Den proved disastrous as the tow strap popped off from the Trunki suitcase and his request for £100,000 investment was rejected.

“Many people ask me why did I carry on after Dragon’s Den and the initial licensing set back? Because I still believed in my product and that was proven after the programme aired. The public championed Trunki and we could not keep up with demand for a few years! It does strike me that belief in your own product is often the thing that drives entrepreneurs forward.

“It was when Trunki failed with the initial licence that the door opened for me to have a play with business. “Giving up isn't really in my vocabulary. For me, it’s just a no-word. My approach is more ‘how can I get around this obstacle?’”

The ban on luggage on aircraft following the terrorist threats in 2006 - just weeks after Trunki had launched - proved another setback.

Fortunately, the ban was lifted within six weeks and it was at this turning point that Rob committed fully to bringing his innovative product to market.

“This was about trying to get my product to market and see it succeed. It wasn't about money at all. I thought, if this goes badly wrong, at least I'll have learnt something.”

This authenticity and passion form the core of Rob's entrepreneurial spirit, where the driving force was the desire to see his creation come to life, above all other motivations. Rob describes the evolving nature of entrepreneurship, stating: “It's just an ever-evolving wheel. There's another problem to solve… then another frontier to go after. 17 years on, we’ve

still never conquered the United States. We've had two stabs at it, and it didn't work.”

The US, despite many similarities such as language and culture, can prove problematic for new UK brands. Rob explains: “It has been the graveyard of many UK products. The challenges faced in entering the US market emphasise the importance of understanding cultural nuances and choosing the right partners.

“We licensed Trunki to a large manufacturer - a toy company. And they didn't really do marketing. Trunki needed some marketing spend behind it to drive awareness. They managed to get the product on shelves in retail stores, but as no one knew what it was or the benefits

Trunki provides, sales didn’t follow.”

Other international markets expanded, though. Trunki's international success was not accidental but a result of strategic moves. Leveraging design blogs, international trade shows and government support programmes, Rob expanded Trunki’s footprint globally. The brand grew consistently, with Trunki sold today in more than 100 countries worldwide.

But with Trunki gaining popularity, copycats soon started appearing, leading to legal battles over intellectual property. Protecting Trunki’s design rights was an arduous battle. Rob stressed the importance of having intellectual property safeguards while cautioning against excessive legal fights. He explains:

“The hardest challenge was probably the IP legal case in 2015.

“Patents didn't really apply to the overall concept because it wasn't a patentable product which requires technical innovation. So, for instance, the catches on the Trunki have patents because it was quite a

technical innovation to make it entirely out of plastic. But that really protects only the catches so anyone else can make a lot of suitcases without the same catches on them. My big legal case was all about the design rights and the shape of the product.”

The Court’s decision that the rival case design, the Kiddee Case, did not breach the Trunki’s community registered design rights was extremely tough for Rob and his company, effectively opening up the European market to a discount competitor.

“It was hard because the outcome meant there wasn't anything else I could do. We got some PR on the back of it, and it helped grow sales, but it wasn't really resolved.”

Another major obstacle, faced by many entrepreneurs and business leaders, was the COVID-19 pandemic. This spurred the difficult decision to find a new funding partner. Rob experienced the challenges of transitioning from a founder with control to a participant with influence.

He explains: “It’s not without significant challenges and frustrations, but you have to go into this with eyes wide open. It’s not your business anymore, and you shouldn't expect it to run as it used to. It’s someone else’s and you must figure out how you can work within a new organisation.”

Rob highlights the essential qualities that define successful entrepreneurs — resilience, adaptability, and focus. His advice to future entrepreneurs is insightful: “Adapting to change is vital; it's never going to work out how you think it is. So, you just have to adapt. I think the biggest thing on the horizon at the moment is AI and how we all adapt to that.”

Beyond the entrepreneurial journey, Rob reflects on the importance of appreciating life and finding balance. His experiences as a father and overcoming the challenges of cystic

fibrosis illustrate every entrepreneur has personal challenges to their journey as well as more businesscentred ones.

“For 30 years I thought I couldn’t be a father so I wasn't thinking about the future very often because that was a pretty grim space to think about. Then when I became a dad, that became a really valuable thing for me that I really appreciated. Watching my kids using the products I’ve invented probably tops the list for me of things I’m most proud of.”

Rob’s experiences serve as an inspiring story for the next generation of business leaders, urging them to embrace challenges, adapt to change, and remain focused on their entrepreneurial visions. You can read more about his journey and life lessons in his book: 65 Roses and a Trunki - Defying the Odds in Life and Business.

summer 24

mentoring for growth

In this issue of forum, we’re following up with three of our recent mentees, Oliver Wentworth, Bradley Johnson, and Paul Jenkins on valuable insights they gained from their mentor Mike Racz, founder of Racz Group.

In the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship, navigating the challenges of business growth can be daunting. Recognising the need for guidance and support, the Entrepreneurs’ Forum offers a unique opportunity for members through the regular mentoring drop-in sessions. These confidential one-to-one sessions provide dedicated time to seek advice and discuss the ins-andouts of business with other experienced entrepreneurs.

Mike Racz’s business, Racz Group was founded in 2006 and now operates across 11 different business sectors with over 100 premises throughout England and Northern Ireland. Headquartered in the North East, the group’s primarily franchised businesses, which include Domino’s,

Costa Coffee and Anytime Fitness, collectively employ more than 2,000 people.

“When I was first asked about mentoring, I was unsure about what I had to offer people to be completely honest with you,” Mike begins to explain.

“In the early stages of business I made so many mistakes, wasted so much money, so if I can help people to avoid making the same mistakes that I did, then why not?” he adds.

For Oliver Wentworth, the founder of Wentworth Security & Fire Protection, his mentoring session with Mike provided invaluable insights into obtaining funding for growth. With a vision to expand his business, Oliver was eager to seek out guidance from someone who had successfully scaled theirs.

“I began as a sole trader in 2017. In 2021, I identified a market gap and formed a limited company. Since then, we've achieved top industry accreditations, won six awards, and are experiencing growth amid a decarbonisation initiative. It's an exciting phase but it does come with its fair share of challenges,” Oliver explains.

“We’re in a position where we're looking to obtain funding for growth. I had a valuable discussion with Mike which prompted me to consider our next steps in making the business funding-ready. His insights helped me identify key areas to address before

approaching lenders. I'm thankful for his guidance which has equipped us to appear more investable,” he adds.

Following the session, Oliver took his own ideas, merged them with Mike’s advice, and successfully submitted applications to lenders to obtain the funding they need. Due to a successful application, North Yorkshire Council has come forward with a grant for Wentworth Security & Fire Protection, which for Oliver is everything he hoped to achieve following his mentoring session with Mike.

“It’s great to know that you’ve helped someone. I think sometimes we don’t ask people for help because we presume they’re too busy. Everyone is busy but we can make time for a conversation and if people can learn something from me, then I’m happy to help,” Mike added.

With over 13 years of experience in the marketing industry and a recent merger completed, Bradley Johnson, Managing Director of Yellow Box Marketing, sought guidance on how to navigate expansion and create team alignment within his growing agency.

"When I spoke to Mike, I wanted to understand how he’s managed to grow so quickly. We’ve recently undergone a merger with a smaller

agency who will be able to add to our full-service offering,” Bradley reflects, adding, “As the sole director of Yellow Box Marketing, I lacked a day-to-day sounding board to discuss ideas with and the main thing I wanted to get from the session with Mike was about how to get your team on board with the vision, values and mission I have for the business.”

The merger has grown the team to 13 and introducing a Commercial Director into the fold has reshaped Bradley's approach.

"The addition of our new Commercial Director shifted dynamics but Mike's wisdom remained invaluable," Bradley explains.

"Mike took the time to understand more about Yellow Box, and what we’re trying to achieve but also asked me questions about my own goals and experiences. He also detailed how he and the Racz Group crafted their vision, mission, and values, fostering team cohesion and talent attraction.

“I’d like to thank Mike for giving up his time and say that being able to have that opportunity to pick the brains of someone who's in a position where you'd love to get to was invaluable and motivating,”

Bradley adds.

Following the session with Mike,

Bradley Johnson
Paul Jenkins
Mike Racz

Bradley has implemented a strategy and within three months, has brought the new agency on board. Together with his team, they've rebranded, refined services, streamlined processes and united core values with a clear vision.

“I love the saying ‘shy bairns get nowt’. If you’ve got the opportunity to get out there and speak to someone who’s achieved success, then do it. It’s all about taking advantage of the opportunities in front of you,” says Bradley.

For Paul Jenkins, the founder of North IT - a company specialising in cyber security - Mike’s guidance has been invaluable, empowering Paul to confidently pursue new ideas.

Established in 2012, Paul’s team of certified pen-testers and security auditors help businesses improve their cyber security posture through ethical hacking and testing of their infrastructure, networks, websites and mobile applications.

“We’re fairly niche and I've been managing the business as a sole director on my own for most of my time in business. It was great to meet with Mike and get his opinions on things,” Paul explains.

“With being a niche business, I’ve always done things a certain way and never had anyone to bounce ideas off. It was great to hear an outsider's perspective and hear some fresh ideas. I had very particular views and Mike has helped me to be more open-minded.”

Following the session with Mike, North IT has implemented a new website, refocusing its approach

to a wider audience, using accessible and straightforward language. The aim? To branch out and reach the people who perhaps don’t realise they need the service that North IT offers.

“I couldn’t recommend the drop-in sessions more. If you’re looking to grow or improve, then go for it. You don't have to take their advice on board if it doesn't fit with your values, but it can't hurt to hear someone's opinions,” says Paul.

When asked why he was willing to help other entrepreneurs, Mike’s answer is simple: “Because if you can, you should.

“Having accumulated a wealth of knowledge over the years, I came to recognise the value of my experiences to others, so I signed up to be a mentor for the Forum.

I don’t know if people take my advice on board, but I’ll provide support and guidance wherever I can,” he adds.

Providing invaluable wisdom, expert advice, and acting as a sounding board to bounce ideas off, Mike has successfully helped three entrepreneurs take the next step in their business journey.

“If other entrepreneurs are in a situation where they feel like they can use their expertise to help others then just do it. Like myself, we’ve all made mistakes, I wasn’t great at first. I didn’t have the knowledge. Now, if I see others struggling or seeking guidance, I’m happy to step in. I don’t like to see people go about things the hard way when there could be an easier solution.”

forum favourites

From motivational reads, insightful documentaries and podcasts, forum picks out a selection of inspiring media…


Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals – Oliver Burkeman

This is a thought-provoking exploration of how best we can use our time on earth, roughly four thousand weeks. Burkeman challenges conventional productivity wisdom and the modern obsession with ‘getting everything done’, advocating for a more mindful approach to time allocation. Through insightful anecdotes and practical advice, he encourages readers to embrace the limitations of time and focus on what truly matters. His candid reflections make this book a refreshing and enlightening read, offering a new perspective on the pursuit of a meaningful life in a world filled with distractions.


Live to 100 – Secrets of the Blue Zones – Netflix

In this Netflix documentary series, Dan Buettner travels to five unique communities where people live extraordinary long and vibrant lives. He investigates the diets and lifestyles of those living the longest on the planet. From Okinawa in Japan to Nicoya in Costa Rica, we hear the stories of the people and learn the secrets of living for longer from the healthiest places on earth.


Influenced. Helen Lewis Has Left the Chat – BBC Sounds

Hosted by journalist Helen Lewis, each episode of this podcast delves into the world of instant messaging and how it has taken over our lives. From WhatsApp leaks to group chat nightmares and the theory that this seemingly harmless way of communicating helped to bring down three Conservative prime ministers in a row, Helen’s commentary and conversations with guests highlight the pivotal role that instant messaging plays in our personal and work lives and the political world.

Oliver Wentworth

addressing the issue navigating the finance maze summer 24

In the dynamic landscape of business, scaling up is often considered the pinnacle of success. However, for businesses in the North East, accessing the necessary finance to fuel growth can be a formidable challenge.

The 2023 Annual Review produced by the ScaleUp Institute, an independent not-for-profit organisation which promotes and supports the scaling of high-growth businesses across the country, found 53 per cent of all UK scaling companies have insufficient capital to meet their growth ambitions. This statistic is mirrored in Forum membership with the same number (53 per cent) stating they have plans to raise external finance in order to meet their businesses’ growth ambitions (as of February 2024). Accessing finance poses significant challenges for SMEs across the UK but these hurdles are particularly pronounced for business owners in the North East. The ScaleUp Institute’s annual review found 59 per cent of scaling companies perceive it's easier to secure funding in London and the South East compared to other regions.

This sentiment finds its basis in reality with a 2023 British Business Bank report revealing that over half of equity finance deals were allocated to businesses based in London. The same report also found that the majority of investors have offices located within a two-hour radius of the businesses they invest in with more than half situated within an hour.   This geographical proximity may

explain why only one per cent of equity investment across the UK was directed towards North East businesses in 2023 and why many North East entrepreneurs have grappled with the challenge of seeking investment.

Lisa Eaton, for example, an accomplished entrepreneur with two successful marketing businesses under her belt, is just one North East entrepreneur who has encountered this issue first-hand.

After launching Fabric Academy, the world's first dedicated learning platform for marketers in 2021, Lisa sought finance to scale her innovative venture.

“When I started my fundraise, I had no network in the investment space, which proved really challenging. One of the most time-consuming aspects of my raise was identifying and building the right connections.

“At first it seemed there was little in the way of support and capital here in the North East, but in fact it’s all here, the support systems, the community of angel investors and the regional funds, however visibility and signposting is very poor. Without clear pathways, it makes it far more difficult for those seeking finance than it needs to be. If we could improve this as a region, with better education around raising finance, it would be a huge step forwards.”

Similarly, when Charlotte Staerck sought investment for her business, The Handbag Clinic, she encountered similar challenges.

For Charlotte, the advantages of being an entrepreneur in London compared to the North East, where access to investment and networking opportunities often seemed more abundant, was glaringly clear.

“Not being from London was a really big hurdle for me in my industry. I didn’t know the right people. The women I was trying to go shoulder-toshoulder with would stand at the school gates in Notting Hill in London next to investment bankers and know all of these people whereas I was going in fresh.”

In 2023, the Handbag Clinic successfully raised investment from the North East Venture Fund (NEVF), supported by the European Regional Development Fund and managed by Mercia Ventures, as well as a private investor.

But on reflection of her finance

journey, Charlotte’s personal experiences of raising capital, particularly in those early days, are peppered with an overarching feeling of disappointment.

“I would have liked to have had more training available to me in the North East about how to raise money,”

Charlotte continues, “I would have liked to understand how to pitch better. I would have really liked somebody to tell me that I deserved to be confident and that I could do it as the investors are investing in the person as well as the business.”

Lisa and Charlotte’s experiences are typical of the challenges faced by many North East entrepreneurs looking to access financial support.   For some, the process of seeking investment partners consumes invaluable time and resources, diverting attention from core business operations. As a result, promising ventures wither into obscurity, unable to meet their full potential due to limited access to funding.

iPac Packaging, Tanfield Site

And yet, when investor relations align, it has the potential to unlock remarkable opportunities.

Based in Gateshead, iPac Packaging Innovations received funding in 2019 to support investment in state-of-theart equipment. Subsequently, its revenues tripled, and in 2022, it obtained an additional £2.2 million in funding to expand its manufacturing capabilities and workforce.

Then, earlier this year, iPac secured a third round of investment, facilitating the launch of a second site in County Durham, allowing it to scale further in the coming years.

But investor relations are just one part of the puzzle. Another is the cost of borrowing.

Debt finance stands as the predominant source of external funding for small businesses yet with the surge in interest rates in recent years – with some loan interest rates significantly surpassing the rates set by the Bank of England at double-digits – it has become increasingly expensive to borrow money.

As higher interest rates establish a new standard, the expense of borrowing is anticipated to remain at elevated levels. This presents a challenge for SMEs and could potentially dissuade entrepreneurs from pursuing financing or compel

them to explore alternative avenues such as maximising trade payables (money owed by a business to its suppliers) which causes friction across the markets.

Here, policy can play a pivotal role in addressing these challenges. For instance, initiatives like the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) provide avenues for accessing capital while benefitting investors.

These schemes offer income tax relief to investors with EIS even providing loss relief in the event of business failure. Both schemes are available to businesses which have been operating for seven years or under.

However, the ScaleUp Institute is advocating for an extension of these schemes which could significantly bolster support for entrepreneurship and innovation across a broader spectrum of business stages.

For CEO of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, Elaine Stroud, a significant factor contributing to the challenges in accessing finance is the lack of adequate education on the matter.

“Existing education tends to focus heavily on early-stage entrepreneurs seeking seed capital, overlooking the needs of entrepreneurs further along in their journey,” she said.

“More education is needed on venture and growth capital as well

as personal wealth management strategies.”

To address this gap, Elaine references the Entrepreneurs’ Forum finance educational programme which launches in autumn 2024. The programme, open to all North East entrepreneurs, will provide a platform for entrepreneurs to come together, share knowledge and learn from each other's experiences.

“Another challenge is facilitating relationships between entrepreneurs and investment partners,” Elaine adds, commenting, “Finding the right finance partner for your ambitions is critical but often it’s a question of where to start.”

Here, Elaine highlights the pivotal roles of the Forum’s partners, LDC, which backs ambitious businesses with finance of £10m+, and the North East Growth Hub, which links entrepreneurs with suitable finance partners through a listing of over 50 potential funding sources for

established businesses.

She also references the Northern Investor Hub, managed by Innovation Super Network, which boasts a network of 200 angel investors dedicated to supporting over 2,000 businesses across the North East.

Elaine continues: “The newly relaunched Northern Investor Hub has the potential to be a pivotal resource for entrepreneurs, bridging a crucial gap by facilitating direct connections with angel investors.

“Through speaking to our members, we know that the path to unlocking finance for North East entrepreneurs demands a collaborative effort from stakeholders across the ecosystem.

“It’s then, only by addressing systemic barriers, supporting financial education and facilitating strategic connections, can we truly pave the way for a vibrant landscape where entrepreneurial ventures can thrive and flourish.”

Our business advisory Killer Coffee sessions are a free 30-minute consultation where we look at the three biggest pain points in your business and start the process of making improvements. (All in the time it takes to have a coffee!)

We’ve seen it all before. Let us help you regain control. Book your Killer Coffee session here and come away with a business improvement action plan:

Charlotte Staerck

out of office leading light summer 24

In this part of the magazine, we take a look at what our Forum members get up to during their out of office hours and what after-work passions lead their lives. Sharing her experience in Scout leading is Maureen Brown, founder of Sullivan Brown HR Recruitment and MI-Say, a starter and leaver interview specialist company.

Business leader during office hours and Scout leader in her free time, Maureen Brown has been in the people business for over a decade. A career path that came about rather unexpectedly after her initial plan to join the police force fell through, Maureen has never looked back and the success of her two companies proves that she is right where she belongs. Much like falling into recruitment, she fell into becoming a Beaver Scout leader in 2017, where she runs a weekly club for up to 20 children from ages six to eight, organising adventures and teaching them vital new skills.

Why did you decide to become a Scout leader?

My daughter had already joined the Scouts, and then my son, who is on the spectrum, joined our local Beavers group. There were a lot of things that he was finding difficult at school and becoming a Beaver Scout was very beneficial to him. However, there was a point when there was a shortage of volunteers to run the groups. Both of my children were benefiting greatly from the supportive and friendly environment and I simply could not let it close. I thought about

the 20 children that would be left without sessions and, although I’m not naturally a confident person, and

it was slightly out of my comfort zone, I decided to take on the role.

I think it’s highly important to show young people what their opportunities could be. If we don’t invest in children, if we don’t give them the skills and open their eyes to things outside their home environment, how do they know what’s possible for them? I like to feel that I’m part of something important.

What experiences do the children get to participate in?

There are so many of them but we mainly teach them how to work as a team and we help them to develop their social skills. At Beaver Scouts, we believe it’s important to teach children about seeing plans through

from start to finish, and so we do a lot to encourage commitment and following through on their ideas. Some other activities include cookery, tying shoelaces, reading rhymes, following a compass and many others. We also do camps, where children will come away for a night and on those days they do activities they might not otherwise get to experience such as wild swimming, building campfires, sailing and wall climbing.

For children of this young age, even going away for a night teaches them how to be away from their parents, how to pack their own bag, tidy their dorm room, and put up a tent, all of which contribute to their understanding of independence. All of the skills the children are learning through these activities help massively with their own confidence and I truly believe that Beaver Scouts is giving children more employability and life skills that will prove to be very useful later in life.

Running two businesses, how do you make time for your role as a Scout leader?

To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure how I do it! It’s weekly sessions, but I do have assistant leaders who make the job easier for me if work gets too much or if I’ve got work events.

It’s not easy to make time for it, I think I’m no different to any other entrepreneur when I say that my business is on my mind 24/7. There’s never a time when I’m not thinking about it in one way or another. But I do a lot of planning over the weekend and in the evenings so I will sit in front of the TV and order Beaver badges or do inventory.

I wouldn’t say I have a good formula on how to make time for it, in fact, I sometimes struggle with it, but

sessions happen and the children survive, so I must be doing something right!

What positive impact has being a Scout leader had on you?

I think being a Scout leader has built my self-esteem as an adult. I’m naturally introverted which I think is unusual for entrepreneurs and so this pushes me to put myself in situations in which I normally wouldn’t be. I find myself standing in front of campfires, leading groups of children singing because they have to do it for their badges and it challenges me.

I get a sense of satisfaction from volunteering. I feel like I’m doing the right thing and there’s a lot to be said for doing the right thing, both in business and in life.

One thing that I love is the Remembrance Day parade. I’m out there parading with children and local residents turn up and they’re applauding them as they go past and

you can’t help but feel so proud of them and proud of being a part of something like that.

There’s a social aspect to it too, I’ve met some lovely people in my journey as a Scout leader.

Finally, what are some of the skills that you have learnt while being a Scout leader that you utilise in your work life?

There’s this stigma that entrepreneurs are the ones who open doors for themselves and give themselves opportunities. Being quite shy, I wasn’t brilliant at that, I found it very difficult to walk into a room and just start talking to people. As a Scout leader, I have to put myself on the front foot and deal with children and their parents which has given me more confidence to do the same in business environments.

Other great things that I have learnt are attention to detail and organisational skills. When I have to

look after 20 children, I have to do risk assessments and I have to keep them safe, have all the paperwork in order and it’s not something that comes naturally to me. But I have learned to pay more attention, I’ve improved my time management and that certainly reflects in my work.

What would you recommend to other entrepreneurs who are thinking of getting involved in their community?

I would highly recommend for any entrepreneur to get involved in their community. From a personal perspective, the benefits can be huge and it’s great to have a sense of purpose for something other than business, which can be all-consuming if we let it!

The time to focus on something else, develop new skills and make a difference, all have a positive impact on personal wellbeing and growth. The community benefits from the skills that entrepreneurs bring, and we get a chance to reach communities that may not interact with us in a business setting, making lives better and making a difference.

As customers become more interested in the Corporate Social Responsibility and community impact of businesses they buy from, it can also have a positive commercial impact.

Time is one of the most valuable resources an entrepreneur has, and giving some of that to a community outside of work is rewarding in many ways.

survey results summer 24

Business confidence remains high.

The latest Entrepreneurs’ Forum pulse survey, which was undertaken by Explain Market Research, has revealed business optimism amongst North East entrepreneurs is at its highest level since the surveys were launched in 2022. Of the 111 business owners who responded to the latest survey (approximately one third of the Forum’s overall membership), 88% expressed confidence in their business prospects, with most feeling optimistic or even very optimistic about the year ahead

How are you feeling about your business’s prospects for 2023?

The majority of members share the same reasons for increased business confidence: the economy seems to be stabilising, with inflation and interest rates falling and customer orders and pipelines strengthening. Previous concerns about the lengthening of the sales cycle have eased this quarter.

Key findings

Nearly one fifth (18%) are planning to make acquisitions this year, with 25% expecting to raise external finance within 12 months.

For 44% of members, the biggest challenge is people and finding and retaining good people is an ongoing issue. As a result, growth ambitions for some are being limited due to a lack of staff capacity.

We've been doing a lot of work on our business strategy recently, have a good team in place, and have had more new business opportunities in the last few months than the previous few.”

Female entrepreneur in marketing sector

Interest rates have peaked, supply chain disruption easing, company valuations beginning to stabilise, opportunities to grow in our target market which is underserved.”

Male entrepreneur in the finance sector

Growth predictions remain strong with the majority (83%) of members expecting turnover growth this year. Growth is predominately expected from expansion in existing markets. It’s reassuring to see over half (56%) of members are innovating and have plans to introduce new products/ services this year.

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behind the boardroom summer 24

We catch up with John Devitt, one of the founders of Gatesheadbased specialist corporate healthcare provider Recovery4Life who has recently welcomed his first independent non-executive director, James Ramsbotham CBE, to help bolster his boardroom and bring new insight to the leadership team.

As one of the architects of Recovery4Life, John Devitt has always been clear on his goals and ambitions for the future - and it’s all about hitting 30 by 30.

It’s a plan which has been in place since founding the company and the latest stage of his strategy has been welcoming the first independent director and Chair, James Ramsbotham CBE, to the team.

Recovery4Life offers traditional occupational health services combined with specialist mental health and complex needs interventions. These can range from running drug and alcohol testing programmes and offering clinically informed HR advice to other complex needs such as home-based alcohol detoxes or private prescribing for ADHD.

“We offer services to clients across all sectors throughout the UK from our base in Gateshead. Operating on a client site in Newton Aycliffe, we also have people in South Yorkshire and the West Midlands and we’re looking at setting up a site in Teesside too,” explained John.

“The company was founded by myself and my son Alex, who is now our Chief Operating Officer. Our background was running complex needs treatment services for the public sector across Sunderland, Stockton and London. Alex had been working there with me and we began working on models for private companies in 2014 before stepping out of the public sector and focusing on private clients in 2016.”

Becoming the first firm to introduce COVID-19 testing to private clients, the innovative team continued to grow and explore new opportunities. They were invited to visit the USA to look at ways to assist in the opioid crisis, while John continued to forge ahead with his own expansion plans.

And a big part of his strategy was always to introduce experienced independent non-executive directors.

“We’d talked about it from the outset,” he reveals. “We take a different approach to traditional occupational health – as we don’t just assess and identify issues, we work with our clients to sort the issues out through an integrated model.

“We offer direct treatment programmes for mental health and substance misuse – including complex mental health or detoxes –applying specialist clinical skills to the workplace, which are not common in traditional occupational health.

“It proved to be a popular approach, but right from day one we knew that for us to get to where we want to be, we needed additional skills and experience.

“Back in 2014 we wanted to prove the model worked and then launch Recovery4Life as a national player - and we knew we definitely needed to bring in those strategic and other skill sets which we didn’t have.”

Enter James Ramsbotham CBE, an experienced independent director who has held a number of appointments including Chair of Newcastle Building Society, ProChancellor of Sunderland University and Vice Chair of the Foundation of Light and the previous Chief Executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce.

John had met James many years earlier when they were both speaking on a leadership experience programme and had instantly clicked.

“We built a strong relationship very quickly and over the years we started doing more and more things together. James also started acting as Alex’s mentor and it just all seemed to happen at the right time.

“James was stepping down from the

Before you do anything, work out what you want to be, map out when you want to reach that and how you're going to get there.

Chamber and I took the opportunity and asked what his plan was, and here we are. It was a huge compliment that he wanted to work with us.

“James made a difference immediately, he’s really helped us. He does have an incredible black book and lots of contacts but what we really value is his strategic insight and guidance on how to get to where we want to be. The strategic and leadership skills he has are the real driver for us, he’s incredibly good at what he does.”

James’ induction into the company has been over a few months, with monthly meetings with the team and will continue as an ongoing process in a firm which is moving forward rapidly in an ever-changing arena.

“Bringing in James was always planned. We realised from the outset that while we're a small company, we have big plans and need external guidance and scrutiny to achieve our plans.”

John believes there are numerous benefits to having someone not tied into the business on the board, which currently meets twice a year.

“It’s really important when you have a business where reputation is all, to have great governance to underpin delivery.

“We also have a brilliant medical director, Dr Martin Weatherhead, who

I’ve worked with since 2009 and the overarching experience he brings at board level is invaluable, particularly around the integrated governance model we operate.

“It’s taken eight years to develop and refine our models in order to disrupt the corporate healthcare sector. Our focus now is how to get from under a £1 million turnover to £30 million by 2030 - 30 by 30.

“It may sound like a large leap but we don’t think it is. Everything we’ve done to this point has pretty much been through referral and we’ve not done any formal marketing - in fact this article is the nearest we’ve ever come to that in a long time.”

So what advice would John offer any small business looking to introduce a non-executive director?

“Before you do anything, work out what you want to be, map out when you want to reach that and how you’re going to get there and what your true values are. That will then dictate who you need to bring onto your board.

“I think an external sounding board is vital for business success and organisations like the Entrepreneurs’ Forum are there to help – linking those with ambition to very experienced people who are generous with their time and want to support other people’s success and make a real difference.”

summer 24

360 Growth Partners

From Vision to Victory: Turning Strategy into Measurable Results

When it comes to growing your business, having a clear vision is essential—but it’s only the beginning. The real challenge lies in translating that vision into strategic objectives with tangible, measurable results to drive the growth and success you are looking for. For business owners and senior leaders, the ability to execute strategy effectively is the difference between aspiration and achievement. In this article, we explore some of the key activities that can help you turn your vision and strategy into measurable results.

Implementing your strategy

A well-crafted strategy is worthless unless it can be translated into action, so the first step is to ensure it is concise and visible within your business. Next, break down your strategic goals into functional ‘pillars’ with some headline objectives. The challenge with lots of strategic thinking and plans is they never become reality. A simple roadmap that clearly outlines what needs to be done, by whom, and when will serve as a guide, keeping everyone aligned and accountable.

Navigating your way

Roadmaps are indispensable tools for turning your strategy into reality. Outlining the specific tasks, timelines, and resources required, a comprehensive roadmap ensures

that everyone in your organisation understands their role in executing the strategy. Individuals can then be assigned certain responsibilities for the delivery of the overall roadmap with 121s and regular management meetings becoming the place for collaboration and debate. We know that the ‘only certainty is uncertainty’ so regularly revisit and refine your roadmap so you can continually adapt to changing circumstances and emerging opportunities.

Measuring Success

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are a great way to track your progress and performance against both your vision and strategic objectives. Establish clear, relevant KPIs and work to the principle of ‘less is more’. None of us can manage and focus on

multiple KPI’s at the same time. Creating concise and meaningful reportable data is business critical so take the time to ensure you have a 360 view of all aspects of your business and not just financial metrics.

Adjusting accordingly

Flexibility is crucial in the pursuit of measurable results. Use the insights gained from your KPI analysis to make informed adjustments to your strategy. Identify what’s working well and what needs improvement. Be willing to pivot or reallocate resources to optimise outcomes. Your ability to adapt based on real-time data is key to staying agile and responsive in a competitive landscape.

Collaboration is key

Successful strategy execution often requires more than just a plan—it requires people. Invest in coaching and mentoring programs to develop leadership capabilities within your organisation. Empower your teams to take ownership of their roles in driving strategic outcomes. Fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement, where individuals are encouraged to innovate and contribute to the company's success.

Investing in your team

Ultimately, the goal is to build internal capabilities that enable sustained growth and innovation. Equip your teams with the resources, skills, and

tools they need to thrive independently. Develop talent from within, nurturing future leaders who can champion your strategic vision. By cultivating internal expertise, you reduce reliance on external consultants and become more self-sufficient in driving business results.

Have the difficult conversations

The right culture will build trust, and creating a safe space to be vulnerable is part of it. If individuals know the business is genuinely interested in their wellbeing and personal growth then difficult conversations are just the ‘bumps in the road’ to delivering great results that will drive the business forward over the long term. It isn’t easy but successful companies make ‘culture’ a cornerstone of the organisation with a clear focus on time spent with team members to realise their full potential. Turning your business strategy into measurable results requires a blend of strategic thinking, disciplined execution, and a commitment to continuous improvement. Remember, the journey from strategy to success is not linear - it’s dynamic, requiring agility and perseverance. Embrace the process, stay focused on your goals, and celebrate milestones along the way. With dedication and the right strategies in place, your business can achieve sustainable growth and realise its vision for the future.

Andrew Silver, 360 Growth Partners

new members

who’s joined recently

Shane Parkins

Climb & Conquer

Johnny Harrison

Corporate Personal


Joe Wood

Country Style Foods

Julian Leighton

Dynamic Path


Richard Garland

George F White

Ben Wilkes Metrik Systems

Keith Lawson Metrik Systems

Veronica Swindale


Philip Inegbedion


Nicola Bath Parnell Plus

Joanna Williams Parnell Plus

Cassie Moyse

Portfolio North

Nagma Ebanks-Beni


Prima Cheese

Pete Wilkinson


Alex Devitt


Tania Cooper

Steel Benders (UK)

Vic Morgan Venture Stream

Cassie Moyse

Portfolio North

Tell us about yourself

I have been in the PR, Marketing and Publishing industry for almost 15 years, working for agencies and in-house before becoming a business owner in 2022. Portfolio North magazine was initially set up as a client project in 2017, and has since grown into an independent publishing and media business with bi-monthly publications in both the North East and Yorkshire, daily news shared digitally via its website, app, e-newsletters and social media platforms as well as the Portfolio North PR Hub. Portfolio North creates and shares content which celebrates the businesses and the people behind them from across the North East and Yorkshire and has over 140,000 views every month across its print and digital platforms.

I am also a keen fundraiser and have generated £365,000 worth of fundraising via an annual festive fundraiser for North East charities including: NE Youth, Bravehearts of the North East, Great North Children’s Hospital and Heel and Toe.

Why did you decide to join the Forum?

Running a business is a constant learning experience, it's sometimes challenging but also very rewarding. It’s so important to learn from others and I knew the Entrepreneurs’ Forum would provide a fantastic network and great events that would help support the right mindset for growth.

If you weren’t running your business, what would you be doing now?

I honestly don’t think I could imagine myself doing anything else. I absolutely love running Portfolio North, supporting my clients and thinking about creative ways for us to grow the business. Ask me again in 20 years and I might have a different answer, though!

Nicola Bath Parnell Plus

Tell us about yourself

I'm the Managing Director of Parnell Plus, a mobility product manufacturer and supplier of our very own market leading product, the Parnell Premier Bed Rail. We are a family business and I am very lucky to work alongside my sister Jo. I am 45, married with a young son and fox red Labrador. I love travelling with my family, both visiting new places overseas and campervanning in and around beautiful Northumberland. I also love music and sport and taking my son to watch NUFC at St. James’ Park!

Why did you decide to join the Forum?

Another member recommended the Forum to me and I soon realised it was exactly what I needed to connect with and learn from likeminded entrepreneurs. I am excited by the opportunities and events the Forum offers.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I have always had a passion for the sea and love being in it, on it or under it! Before taking the plunge into the world of business I served with Northumbria Police’s Marine Unit and was the only female police diver in the force.

Veronica Swindale nesma

Tell us about yourself

I‘m the founder and Managing Director of nesma. Nesma is one of the leading centres for marketing and communications training, including Chartered Institute of Marketing and Chartered Institute of Public Relations professional programmes.

Why did you decide to join the Forum?

I decided to join the Forum on the strength of the events and the fact that I know and can meet so many people who belong to the Forum.

What are you most proud of?

Personally I am very proud of the fact that nesma has genuinely changed people’s lives by creating opportunities for them to learn and gain skills and professional qualifications throughout their working careers. The better qualified people are, the more choices they have in life. At nesma, we're strong advocates of lifelong learning.

summer 24 forum partner RBC Brewin Dolphin

It can be easy to neglect your own finances when you’re focused on growing and nurturing your business. But creating a solid plan, where both your business and personal finances are working for you, could give you more confidence that your hard work will be worth it.

Here are five financial planning tips for business owners.

1. Make the most of pensions

Some entrepreneurs see their company as their pension, but this is a risky mentality to adopt. It is easy to assume that you will sell your business when you want to retire. But what if it takes longer than planned to sell your business, or it isn’t worth enough to fund your lifestyle?

Making contributions into a pension could help you build a more secure

retirement, and it is also a taxefficient way to save. As the owner of your company, you can make your own tax-efficient savings into your pension, and you can also make employer contributions which are then deductible against corporation tax.

2. Protect against risks

You’re probably well-versed in insurance for your business. But have you thought about insurance for what is arguably your most valuable asset – your people? As a business owner, you are your business. If you were to die or suffer an illness that meant you couldn’t work, your business could struggle. Protection against death and illness could be crucial for entrepreneurs. You might also want to consider protection for the other key people in

your business. Key person protection and shareholder protection are just some of the solutions that could help your business stay afloat should the worst happen to one of your key members of staff or shareholders. It could also be worth getting legal advice on setting up a cross- option agreement. This gives the surviving shareholders the option to buy back the shares of the unwell/deceased shareholder, thereby helping to minimise business disruption.

3. Plan your exit in advance

Exiting your business may seem a long way off, but thinking about your exit early on could reap rewards further down the line. If you want to sell your business in the future, then it pays to work out your ‘magic number’. That’s how much you would need from a sale in order to achieve the lifestyle you want. We can help you work out how much your future lifestyle might cost, and whether the potential proceeds are likely to be sufficient. We can also work with you to allow you to undertake new projects or invest in other ventures.

4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Your focus may be on making your business the best it can be, but it’s

important to think about your overall investment strategy. Depending on your business’s cashflow, it could be worth investing some of the excess profits to give it the opportunity for long-term growth.

We can help you build a diversified portfolio that suits your individual needs and objectives, and adapt your portfolio as your needs change over time.

5. Surround yourself with experts

There’s a lot more to being a successful entrepreneur than just having a good idea. Your business needs to be built on solid financial foundations so it can grow to be a success. That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with a team of experts from day one.

At RBC Brewin Dolphin, we can introduce you to the right people at the right stage of your journey –whether that’s venture capital firms, lawyers, or accountants.

We’ve worked with thousands of business owners, helping them to gain clarity over their financial future and supporting them in making the right decisions. With us at your side, you can concentrate on what you enjoy the most and look forward to the future with confidence.

bounceback Kimberley Cattin

Kimberley Cattin is the owner of SB1 Group - the company responsible for successfully penetrating the beauty market with innovative products and getting them in the hands of celebrities such as Zendaya and Beyoncé. What is now blossoming into a resounding success started as a turbulent journey. In this issue’s Bounceback series, Kimberley shares her experience of restructuring West Barn Co and the lessons learned along the way.

In today’s society, there’s a lot of pressure to only show our best side. Shouting about our successes and hiding our setbacks has become ingrained in us, and sadly, in turn, has led to a great deal of pressure to overachieve. But not for Kimberley Cattin. Instead of shying away and seeing her setbacks as failures, she uses her experience as lessons learned, and by sharing her journey, hopes to inspire others to break away from the stigma of ‘failure’.

Where it all began

“I’ve always been very entrepreneurial. I’ve worked in all areas of the make-up artist profession and eventually ended up in TV and film, all at the same time as being a nurse. It was then that the idea came to me about West Barn Co. I was

working on set and didn’t have the product I needed and thought ‘why has no one created this yet?’. My mum was experienced in product formulation so I went to her with the idea and we created the very first soap brow product.”

The success of West Barn Co

“It’s been a whirlwind. We were the first people to bring this type of product to market. There were a lot of colour cosmetics and brow filling products but nothing to style or tame the brows. Launching the product propelled us quite quickly into this massive industry. We ended up competing against the likes of L’Oréal.

We had a great organic response to a product that was missing.”

The challenge

“We grew and scaled quickly. After COVID-19 more people started shopping in stores again because they had the freedom to do so. We had decided to only stock in high-end stores like Liberty London and Harrods, but people wanted us to be stocked in the likes of Boots and Superdrug. This meant we were competing with huge brands who were easily accessible and we noticed our website sales began to drop.

“We tried extremely hard for a year to try and keep things the way they were

but we just couldn’t keep up with the bigger brands. I personally became burned out and very detached from everything. It was a good business and we were making sales but the way the business had been set up wasn’t sustainable. We sought expert advice and were sadly told we should start again. It was petrifying but the best advice we received.”

Navigating difficult decisions

“We had a lot of customers who wanted to keep buying West Barn Co. But we needed to shift to a more B2B focus. We recognised we needed to dedicate our focus on introducing a sales team and account managers rather than just focus on the consumer. Sadly, the restructure did mean we had to make some redundancies which was a difficult decision.

“A lot of our staff have been with us since the beginning and losing those members was truly awful. Keeping morale high within the rest of the team wasn’t easy but they all showed total resilience.”

Lessons learned

“I accepted that things were going to get harder before getting better. I tried to do things that I knew would benefit my mental health, such as walking, exercise and spending time

with my family. I think one of the biggest things I had to work on, was to try and not take this as a personal failure. I opened myself up to a lot of feedback and scrutiny. I needed to know what mistakes I’d made. What could I have done better? This wasn’t a failure, it was a learning opportunity and that’s part and parcel of owning a business.

“I always put the people before the business needs but ultimately, when times get tough and things are hard, that doesn’t work, and you have to give yourself room to put the business first. Some people aren’t going to agree with that or like it, but unfortunately, that’s just how it is.

“You have to accept the journey. Be resilient, see it as a lesson, use it, learn from it and think about what’s next. That’s just part of being an entrepreneur. You’ve got to pick yourself up, have that resilience and say, right, we’re learning and we’re moving forward.”

Changing direction

“We overhauled West Barn Co entirely. We had been heavily focused on direct-to-consumer sales and realised the need to shift towards B2B. So, we established a B2B infrastructure. It was quite a whirlwind. After that transition, we rebranded as SB1 Group. Now, West Barn Co is part of SB1 Group, focusing mainly on beauty, cosmetics, and skincare.

“We're truly looking forward to the future of SB1 Group as we collaborate with some remarkable clients. The diversity of our work is refreshing, I don't think anyone else out there is doing what we do. If you'd have talked to me about this eight months ago, I wouldn't have been able to say that.”

summer 24 join us

Become a member of the Entrepreneurs' Forum and you'll be joining the largest network of entrepreneurs in the North East. We're here to inspire, energise and give you that boost to drive your business forward.

The benefits

How to join

Joining is easy:

1. Head to our website to find out more about our membership packages

2. Choose the membership package that's right for you and your business

3. Complete the online application form

4. We'll be in touch to finalise your membership Access to over 50 inspirational events each year including our conferences and workshops. Join a peer group of supportive business leaders and make invaluable connections through our network.

If you’d like to discuss the different options in more detail or for any other membership enquiries, please contact Michael Dixon:

The Entrepreneurs’ Forum is a huge part of my business life! Being a member is a source of constant inspiration and collaboration, providing an invaluable network where innovative ideas seamlessly converge. The Forum fosters a dynamic environment that fuels my passion for entrepreneurship, offering a platform where knowledge-sharing and collective expertise propel both personal and professional growth.

For me, the best thing about the Entrepreneurs' Forum is the quality and openness of the membership. Learning from and sharing knowledge with successful business leaders who have been there and done it in the region and beyond is incredibly valuable to us.

Henry Coggin Vida Creative

Our Space, Your Style

Our private dining room is a restaurant-within-a-restaurant: spacious, comfortable and completely customisable, it’s the ideal space for private entertaining and corporate presentations. We offer a versatile floor plan that can be adjusted to create an intimate ambience for a small dinner or a spacious setting for a large presentation. Whether you're celebrating the signing of a contract or presenting this year's reports, the room can be seamlessly tailored to your needs. With switchable glass and adjustable window blinds, you can control the level of privacy to your preference. Additionally, a screen discreetly recessed into the panelled walls is perfect for presentations, videos, or images. High-speed internet and a high-quality speaker system are also at your disposal.

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