Forum - Spring 24

Page 1

A dogged determination

Rez Gachcar

A champion of change

Jo Chidley

Dedication to a cause

Chris Peacock

spring 24
The podcast where we talk about EVERYTHING but law.
Sharing the stories of those fearless, extraordinary individuals who dare to challenge the status quo and help to transform the world around us. They’ve made a positive impact on us and we think they will on you too. Watch on:

spring 24 welcome

Welcome to our Spring edition of Forum which is a celebration of innovation.

Our cover story features serial entrepreneur, Rez Gachcar. I’ve met Rez on several occasions and he has an uncanny ability to leave everyone in his presence completely enthused by his latest business venture. He is the epitome of an entrepreneuroptimistic and 100% passionate about bringing his ideas to commercial light.

In our Centre Stage interview on page 14 we hear from another innovator, Jo Chidley, who spoke passionately at our last conference

about the circular economy and how she uses her expertise to influence her entire industry.

We also celebrate the passing of the baton of our own leadership from James Robson MBE, to our new Chair, Brendon Hayward. You can see all the photos from our recent Chairman’s Dinner on page 16 and read about how our Board operates in “Behind our Boardroom” on page 22.

4 plan ahead

6 business bulletin

the latest news from our members

8 cover story

Rez Gachcar on running with your dream


10 mentoring for growth entrepreneurs discuss what they give and what they gain

11 forum favourites read watch listen

The Entrepreneurs’ Forum’s purpose is to bring together and inspire North East entrepreneurs. Our membership continues to grow and if you’d like to get involved or know someone who’d benefit from being part of our network please get in touch. Details of how to join are on page 30. NEWCASTLE


14 centre stage

Jo Chidley on connecting the circular economy

16 chairman's dinner a look back at our 2024 chairman's dinner

18 addressing the issue talking up the North East

20 out of office

Chris Peacock on his role as charity Chair

22 behind our boardroom driving the Forum forward

24 new members

28 bounceback

Rob Mathieson on embracing failure and learning

30 how to join


Sally Cowling

David Bootle

Amy Mason

Contributors: Caroline Dask, Nicole Wood


Debi Coldwell


inside All contents copyright © Allies Group Ltd. All rights reserved. While every effort is made to ensure accuracy, no responsibility can be accepted for inaccuracies, howsoever caused. No liability can be accepted for illustrations, photographs, artwork or advertising materials while in transmission or with the publisher or their agents. All content marked 'advertorial' is paid for advertising. All information is correct at time of going to print, March 2024. ISSN 2753-796X Forum is published by Allies Group Ltd Allies Group Ltd, Enterprise House, Kingsway, Team Valley Trading Estate, Gateshead, NE11
to be partnered with we're stronger together

spring 24 plan ahead

14 March 9:30am-12:30pm


Social Media in 2024

Vertu Motors Arena, Newcastle FREE for entrepreneur members, partners and guests

23 April 1:30pm-4pm



Egger, Hexham FREE for entrepreneur members

10 May 12:30pm-2:30pm


SIX, Sunderland

For entrepreneur members. Costs payable on the day.

19 March 6pm-10pm

FOCUS DINNER with Ammar Mirza CBE

21, Newcastle £75+VAT for entrepreneur members

25 April 8:30am-11am


What Happens Next?

Close House, Heddon-on-the-Wall FREE for entrepreneur members

16 May 1:30pm-4pm


People-First Culture

Opencast, Newcastle FREE for entrepreneur members

To view all upcoming events, and to book, visit:

16 April 5:30pm-7:30pm


Visionaries Shaping Tomorrow's World

Flok, Middlesbrough

FREE for entrepreneur members, partners and guests

8 May 9am-12:30pm


The Inclusive Advantage (Building an Inclusive Culture and Network)

UMi, Durham

FREE for entrepreneur members, partners and guests

17 May 9:30am-11:30am


Northern Design Centre, Gateshead FREE for entrepreneurs operating ecommerce stores

22/23 May


Fortune Favours the Brave Hardwick Hall, Sedgefield

Join us for a day packed with incredible speakers including Mark Scott (Bella & Duke), Rosie Brown (COOK), Irene Graham OBE (Scaleup Institute), Darren Edwards (Adventurer) and Julia Hoggett (London Stock Exchange). And, new for 2024, our exclusive Entrepreneurs' Dinner is an opportunity to meet some of our speakers the evening before the conference.

Take advantage of our early bird offer available for all tickets purchased by 28 March.

23 May


Individual Day Pass £120+VAT

Individual Day Pass plus Guest £200+VAT

22 and 23 May


Entrepreneurs' Dinner and Individual Day Pass £219+VAT

Entrepreneurs' Dinner and Individual Day Pass plus Guest £299+VAT

25 June

Marketing ROI

Agilico, Team Valley, Gateshead FREE for entrepreneur members

4 June

Prima Cheese

Prima Cheese, Seaham FREE for entrepreneur members

13 June

UMi, Durham

FREE for entrepreneur members, partners and guests



Greencroft Estate, Stanley FREE for entrepreneur members

11 June

Johnathan Bulmer, Cleveland Group

The Coach House, Middleton Lodge £75+VAT for entrepreneur members

19 June

RBC Brewin Dolphin, Newcastle FREE for entrepreneur members, partners and guests

Four Ball

Beginners Golf Experience 11:30am-5pm

Close House, Heddon-on-the-Wall FREE for entrepreneur members

6pm-10pm FOCUS DINNER with
5:30pm-7:30pm MEMBER EVENT
Sustainability in
June 9:30am-12:30pm ON-SITE VISIT
10 July
1:30pm-4pm ROUND TABLE
9:30am-12:30pm WORKSHOP
Burn Out, Stand Out
10:30am-1pm ON-SITE VISIT

spring 24 business bulletin

Bringing you the latest developments, breaking news and exclusive updates from Entrepreneurs' Forum members.

Northstar Ventures launches EIS fund Northstar Ventures has launched its first EIS fund for individual investors, which is designed to drive prosperity in the North East. iPac Innovations receives further £1 million Maven investment Maven has led a £1 million investment in Gateshead-based iPac Packaging Innovations to launch its second site in County Durham. Reheat expands with new East Yorkshire office Low carbon heat company Reheat has expanded its biomass service and maintenance division with a new operational office located in East Yorkshire. Reheat’s new permanent location in Hull will help meet the needs of biomass owners in the area.
more member news and insights:
Guerilla secures prestigious role as strategic communications partner Newcastle digital marketing agency, Guerilla, has announced its appointment to strategic communications partner for the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & Healthcare (EDQM).
Cool Blue supports ‘rapid growth’ with new appointments Newcastle headquartered brand and communications agency, Cool Blue, has bolstered its team as part of plans to expand following a substantial number of new business wins.

J&B Recycling, part of the Urbaser Group, have announced their latest initiative, the branding of the upper tier advertising boards in the Brunel Stand at Hartlepool United Football Club. The sponsorship is a significant milestone in their longstanding partnership with the club and reinforces their shared commitment to community engagement and environmental sustainability.

North Yorkshire’s Middleton Lodge Estate has announced its achievements at the Michelin Awards for Great Britain and Ireland 2024. Jake Jones, head chef at Forge restaurant, earns Michelin’s Young Chef of the Year, and the estate secures the Michelin Green Star for its commitment to ethical and environmental standards.

BeaconHouse Events, a leading events agency in Newcastle upon Tyne, has launched the first of its Sustainability Supply Chain roundtables, bringing together key regional events industry suppliers to discuss how the sector can work together to reduce event carbon, meet sustainability targets, and drive sector-wide change.

Recovery4Life announces new Chair Gateshead-based multi-award-winning health and wellbeing company Recovery4Life has announced the appointment of respected business leader James Ramsbotham CBE as their new Chair. Roar Digital Marketing kickstarts recruitment drive Newcastle agency, Roar Digital Marketing, ended 2023 with its busiest month in its eight-year history - kickstarting a recruitment drive which will see the company double in size. J&B Recycling announces Hartlepool United Football Club sponsorship Middleton Lodge celebrates Michelin awards Ryecroft Glenton partners with Newcastle Eagles Ryecroft Glenton, the North East based business advisory firm, has announced a new commercial partnership with the region’s most successful basketball team, the Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles, for the 23/24 season. Sustainability roundtable challenges event management supply chain to hit net zero by 2030

spring 24 cover story Rez Gachcar

Rez Gachcar’s life is one of inspiration... and some incredibly innovative ideas.

What has set him apart has been his ability to bring many of those ideas to life. Forum had the opportunity to catch up with Rez to discuss his inspiration and what makes him continue striving to innovate in the world of business.

Winner of the Emerging Talent title at the Forum’s 2020 Entrepreneurial Awards, it is clear to see why Rez Gachcar achieved such an accolade. This is a man who exudes energy, epitomising the key ingredients of entrepreneurship - an inquisitive nature and the desire to solve problems and challenges. The founder of Mud Daddy has now been recognised on a national scale too, after becoming the North East’s first ever winner of The Spectator’s Innovator of the Year award. Our formative years are often the most important in forging our outlook and mindset, whether on a personal or business level. From an early age, inspired by the work ethic of his father, Rez was focused on finding work and making money. He explains: “As a teenager in Iran I was influenced by my father who

Every time I've failed, I've rolled my sleeves and got back on with it. Put your head down and run with it, run with your dream.

had businesses. I saw the hard work he put in to make his business successful.

“I was introduced to the fast moving consumer goods and food industry early on through the process of making pickled gherkins - which was a very good process for me to start to understand business. It was great for me as a child. It really grew and I was making more money than my parents,” he recollects.

“And that's how I supported myself to buy the ticket to get my visa for the UK.”

The pace of his transition to becoming a successful entrepreneur really started to take shape in 2002 when he arrived in the North East from Iran, armed with dreams of pursuing education.

He had heard the North East was a place that had a very good academic infrastructure particularly around learning English as a foreign language; as well as it being a place with lots of history, charm and friendly people.

After his arrival, language barriers proved challenging, leading him to Newcastle College to improve his English. Odd jobs like dishwashing gave him the basic means to live.

Rez's reflection on those early days smacks of nostalgia: “I was about 20 when I came here in 2002.

I came to the North East as a young man with the dream to study.

“It slowly became clear that studying was not the way I wanted to go forward though. I enjoyed the world of business. I grew up in a business environment. We were always involved in buying and selling to make a living since I was little.”

And Newcastle itself (the place, the people and the infrastructure) became a catalyst, offering Rez an ecosystem to flourish. This was a

place where Rez felt at home and comfortable and able to tap into the inspiration of the business community. He explains: “When I came to Newcastle, I fell in love first of all with the city. It just felt like I’d been here before. And I just started an exciting journey.

“I went to university for a couple of months. With the cost and the fees, it was a struggle. I wasn't from a rich family.”

His time in academia was brief, deciding to leave university for the business world with a determination that would define his success.

Rez's journey involved various business ventures, each contributing to improving his understanding of business and innovation - of product, design, sales and customer service. Initially he worked in the hospitality world. He adds: “I started to buy empty pubs that had closed down, renovating them and then selling them on. The same with the restaurants and takeaways. I did it for the first three to four years here. It's good for a startup, but not for the longer term.”

The transition from purchasing closed-down pubs to venturing into the cheese market reflects his adaptability. Rez explained: “It is often the people you meet and their ideas that sparks a business venture. Through a meeting with a Polish woman I travelled to Poland to look at cheese production. I felt I could contribute something novel to this industry.

“So I started importing cheese, shredding and packing, branding and selling it to restaurants and the takeaway industry around the North East first and then the rest of the UK. It was called Prime Cheese.

“But I realised very fast that the bank wouldn't lend me any money.

I needed at least £750k to a million pounds to really scale. The competition was fierce, with some very big multinational players. Our packaging wasn't good enough. And I was struggling just to make a normal living. I decided if I cannot raise money, I cannot invest in it, then it's a long game without any result.”

The key turning point in Rez's entrepreneurial journey came with a personal challenge – cleaning his dog after walks in the woods near Newcastle. “I’m a dog lover - always have been. I’d come back from walks and my dog was covered in horse mess and mud,” he laughs. “The car would get filthy. It was so frustrating and there was nothing like a portable dog shower or portable dog washing device. I Googled it and Googled it!” This challenge led to Mud Daddy, a revolutionary portable dog shower. Rez explains: “We were at the right place and right time. We love dogs here in the UK and in Europe.

“In the first year my vision was to sell 2,000 pieces, and we sold over 25,000 pieces,” Rez exclaims. We had to chat to Amazon to ask them to include the search term, ‛portable dog shower’ on their site as Mud Daddy created an entirely new category. Once this was in place, our growth just accelerated.”

Mud Daddy became a testament to Rez's problem-solving prowess. He adds: “It's just in my blood. I understand the problem, find a solution, and make it work as fast and as cheap as possible. This is my strong point.”

Mud Daddy developed into a multi-million pound business - the simple but innovative design flying off the shelves. But Rez encountered another challenge, leading to another business innovation. He explains: “In many ways GoNokNok has emerged from Mud Daddy and one of the challenges we were facing.”

GoNokNok is a smart parcel box

system born out of Rez's frustration with the challenges of conventional parcel delivery. “I decided to spend some of this cash from Mud Daddy to invest in GoNokNok,” Rez shares.

GoNokNok is a smart delivery ecosystem with a physical device being installed at premises with an integrated app and location-based coding system.

“Traditional delivery systems pose lots of problems and I experienced it with sending Mud Daddy units.

People end up spending valuable time and fuel costs going to delivery centres to pick up parcels or have to wait weeks for a re-delivery.

GoNokNok is smart, reliable, secure and direct to the premises.”

With the success of Mud Daddy and the promising trajectory of GoNokNok, Rez has expanded his team and operations: “We have 11 team members now and just hired a Chief Operating Officer.”

When it comes to the challenges of balancing work and life and keeping a healthy mindset, Rez is candid. “We built this business on customer service and I love my work. But it’s important for me to wind down. I like a shot or two of whiskey, a visit to the gym, or a leisurely walk with my dog.”

Looking ahead, Rez envisions GoNokNok becoming as popular as Mud Daddy, addressing a global need for a smarter, more efficient parcel delivery system.

“The potential is actually bigger than Mud Daddy,” he comments.

On his positive mindset Rez is ebullient.

“Every time I’ve failed, I’ve rolled up my sleeves and got back on with it. I keep the negative noise out. Put your head down and run with it, run with your dream,” he says, his voice becoming emotional as his eyes light up with excitement. Possibly another business idea is being envisaged as he speaks…

mentoring for growth spring 24

Connecting members to help them progress their business is one clear aim of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum mentoring programme. In this edition of Forum we speak to Craig Huntingdon, portfolio director and serial entrepreneur, and Amy Mooney, the visionary co-founder of Gas Angel Heating. Together, their relationship has had a transformative impact.

Craig Huntingdon and Amy Mooney are two professionals with busy lives - but making time to collaborate on business ideas as part of the Forum’s mentoring programme has supported their own personal growth and development.

As the business has grown, Amy recognised the need for a mentor who could guide her through a variety of complex areas. Her initial ideas of requiring guidance on raising capital and strategic decision-making evolved and developed during the meetings with the mentoring ending up being so much more than she originally thought. Seeking a mentor through the Entrepreneurs’ Forum mentoring programme, Amy was matched with Craig.

His diverse portfolio of experience and clear track record of helping others grow their businesses, acknowledged by his award from the Entrepreneurs’ Forum as Mentor of the Year in 2022, made him an ideal choice. Amy felt Craig would be the perfect person to explore the intricacies of equity investment and business strategy with.

She explains: “I heard that Craig would be a good fit. He is an entrepreneur who has scaled and sold businesses, an angel investor and he’d just won the Entrepreneurs’ Forum Mentor of the Year award. Alongside his private work he was also providing consultancy through RTC North, so had his hands full.

“I thought if I went through the Entrepreneurs’ Forum I might have a better chance of bagging him! So I contacted Michael Dixon, Membership and Mentoring Manager, and he reached out to Craig on my behalf. Craig came back promptly.”

Reflecting on her initial thoughts she said: “When I first met Craig, I wanted to bring about a major change in my business and needed someone to bounce around key ideas before my head exploded! My focus was on the electrification of heat through heat pumps, but I had a nagging feeling there was untapped potential in our Software as a Service (SaaS) cover plan subscription. Keeping an open mind, I decided to chat it through with Craig.

“Our meetings were open and informal and we tested ideas through conversations that moved from some of the initial areas of focus. It was around our third meeting that

everything clicked into place - Craig actively challenged my views, and his analytical and strategic mindset complemented my more creative vision. Even though I had a Minimum Viable Product that was working, I was second-guessing myself before teaming up with Craig.

“It was the right time to delve deeper into the areas of scale and investment. Finding the right mentor was like flipping a switch for clarity in my journey.”

Amy had a strong sense that Craig was the right person to help her with her entrepreneurial vision.

The mentoring has had interesting results. From their discussions Amy has developed a new business idea – something which was definitely not part of her original plans.

Amy explained: “The plan was to evolve an idea I'd been toying with, but instead, I’ve developed a new business concept that now seems strangely obvious. That's the thing about mentoring, you don't quite know where it's going to take you.”

‘Muthacuva’ is the name of Amy’s new climate-tech venture, set to launch soon (watch this space). The low touch Muthacuva platform will help homeowners and landlords get heat pump-ready, while avoiding the worry and expense of unexpected heating breakdowns.

Amy explains that the company is focused on developing a climate-tech platform SaaS offer. She says: “The

government has recently announced it is investing £6 billion to improve home energy efficiency. We also noticed a gap in the market between the early adopters, who have already chosen heat pumps, and those who are still figuring things out, which is the majority. We see this as a chance to help."

Amy's keen insights in the heating sector and strong marketing background, coupled with Craig's mentorship, will help position Muthacuva strategically in this space. Craig's engagement with the Entrepreneurs’ Forum extends as far back as 2011 and his subsequent involvement in the Scaleup North East programme highlighted the transformative impact mentors can have on businesses.

When emphasising the diverse challenges entrepreneurs encounter, Craig discusses his route into the world of mentoring. He said:

“Following a decade in a corporate role at Aldi, I bought and scaled businesses. As I developed a portfolio of varied interests, primarily based in the North East, I knew that becoming connected to a group of local business owners would be advantageous. Being able to connect with people who, from their own experience, could help me navigate some challenges I was facing for the first time.

“Whilst that proved to be very powerful, I quickly came to realise that I had a lot of skills and experience I could put to good use, supporting other Forum members.

“This initial spark was ignited in 2018 when I joined RTC North to help deliver the Scaleup North East programme. Helping support fast growing businesses through this programme grows your awareness of the challenges faced, the needs of scale ups and the opportunities to

accelerate growth. Being involved in this has helped develop my mentoring abilities.”

Responding to the question of what mentors gain, Craig emphasises the benefits: “I must have gained ten times more insight and knowledge than I have imparted. It’s difficult not to when working with so many different businesses facing such varied and complex situations.”

Craig's impact on the mentor-mentee relationship extends beyond strategic advice. Amy emphasises: “Craig is helpful in getting under the skin, anticipating economic and government change. The biggest thing I didn't have, and needed, was a robust financial model. Craig has helped me with this — forecast, sales engine, P&L, cash flow, and balance sheets that work dynamically, allowing me to test against different scenarios and the achievement of various SaaS metrics.”

Under Craig's guidance, the focus has shifted to turning ideas into actionable data, anticipating change, and preparing for investment at various stages. Amy explains: "Craig's sweet spot is turning the idea into

Mentoring Drop-In

data, shaping it, and crucially, determining at what stages we will need investment.”

Craig adds: “I’ve worked hard with Amy to get clarity on the metrics — how do we measure the impact of the proposed new business venture? How do we demonstrate to investors the business potential for a future sale?

“The right mentor can use their experience, perspective and insight to provide support in a unique way. It’s much more holistic than any support that would normally be provided from team members and leaders you work with daily.

“With the transition to net zero and growing appetite for change we are working on a model that positions Amy’s business perfectly for future social, environmental and economic necessities.”

Looking ahead, the collaboration is setting a longer-term trajectory for Muthacuva. Amy anticipates a continued partnership with Craig, tapping into his expertise in financeraising and commercial strategy. She remarks: "I feel like we're just at the very beginning of the journey.”

Our mentoring drop-in sessions are confidential one-to-one sessions, giving you a rare chance to talk through business challenges with other experienced entrepreneurs.

For details of the mentors and to book a space, check out our website.

18 April 1pm – 4pm

RBC Brewin Dolphin, Newcastle

For Entrepreneur Members only.

forum favourites

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


And Away… Bob Mortimer The Autobiography

From a seemingly normal childhood growing up in Middlesbrough, Bob Mortimer’s early life was tinged by the loss of his Dad and his own misdemeanours including burning down the family home. As an adult, he moved away from the North to train as a solicitor and his life then took an unexpected turn in the 1980’s with a chance encounter with the comedian, Vic Reeves, in a London pub. His career as a comedian took off but was stopped in its tracks in 2015 when he was diagnosed with a heart condition; an episode which forced him to reflect on his life so far. His reflections are captured in this moving and funny memoir of the Middlesbrough legend.


Nyad – Netflix

Oscar nominated Nyad is a remarkable true story of endurance, determination and friendship which follows world-class athlete, Diana Nyad as she sets out to achieve a lifelong ambition: a 110 mile open ocean swim from Cuba to Florida. Starring Annette Benning as Diana Nyad and Jodie Foster as her best friend and coach, the film follows their journey as Diana, at the age of 60 becomes obsessed with completing the epic swim which always eluded her.


The Demon Charmers Podcast –Simon R Hartley

Demon charming… it’s like snake charming for the demons in our heads. We all have demons and if you’ve ever fancied taming yours, this podcast is for you. Including a special live recording from The North East Skinny Dip about why people dive naked into the freezing cold North Sea, each episode explores a topic and digs deep into the minds of the guests as they share their experiences on subjects as varied as fear of trying, procrastination and happiness.


spring 24

360 Growth Partners

How to create sustainable growth

“Be the change you want to see in the world”- Mahatma Gandhi

Create a clear, visible and wellfunded growth plan

‘A vision without a plan is just a dream.’ Take the time to collaboratively create your plan with the team that are going to make it happen. McKinsey state that one of the top traits of high performing teams is ‘aligned direction’, where the team know the why, what, and how, and the role they play as individuals.

For over 30 years, I have been involved in people and business growth, working for both large companies, PE backed SMEs and smaller startups in the UK, as well organisations based in Europe and the US.

Now, I run 360 Growth Partners, where we work closely with SMEs in the North East to help them achieve their growth goals. Over this time I’ve identified several key factors that lead to accelerated business growth and long-term success which you’ll find below. I hope these insights inspire you to reflect and

encourage you to contemplate your own growth journey.

Growth requires new learning

If we solely rely on our own experiences and journey, we are likely to fall short. Make an honest assessment about what you do and don’t know and start to build a team (internally and externally) that can help you fulfil your potential. In my experience, the best entrepreneurs and visionaries have made that assessment and developed the right talent to help realise their vision.

Develop a robust performance management culture

Successful teams have a shared vision, understand their collective and individual roles and responsibilities. They have worked out their style of play (core values and behaviours) and have clear measures for success. Celebrate the small wins on the way and put in a performance management structure that holds everyone to account, starting with the leaders!

Know where you make your money and where you lose it

Growth in turnover and profit is a good start but understanding what or who is creating it provides the stimulus for accelerated growth in the future. Create the right financial and KPI reporting to help you analyse what is and isn’t working. It has never ceased to amaze me how many businesses are working in the dark when it comes to understanding the ‘dials’ to turn to make more money.

Leaders should be leading not doing

Leaders need time to lead and reflect – it is where change happens. Get outside the comfort of your own business and network with other business leaders who have other experiences. The Entrepreneurs' Forum is a great place to start. Create the structure and environment for delegated decision making. As the saying goes, know when to ‘get off the pitch and let the team play.’

Build the capability of your team

Having worked for Virgin twice in my career Richard Branson’s focus on ‘people’ has stayed with me. Reflect on how your people are growing, as individuals and as teams. Where the next leaders are coming from. Are they ready? Grasp the nettle early where it isn’t working but always do it fairly and with respect for the individual. The capability of your team needs to match the ambitions of your company.

Be bold and build your resilience

Sometimes you must go with your gut. The only certainty is uncertainty and perfection doesn’t exist in the world of work. Identify how you can be the best version of yourself and try to be that person every day. That will mean understanding yourself - when to rest, when to work, who to talk to for support, and looking after your own mental and physical health. Without this you can’t do the rest.

If you would like to know more about 360 Growth Partners and how we can help you take the next step towards unlocking your potential, head to our website and find out more.

Andrew Silver, 360 Growth Partners

centre stage Jo Chidley spring 24

Changing the face of the beauty industry is a bundle of energy
- Jo Chidley.
Founder of Beauty Kitchen, Jo has spent over a decade disrupting norms and proving that her company is not just a skincare brand but a force for change. An advocate for greener practices, she has made it her life’s mission to be a trailblazer when it comes to sustainability…

In a world surrounded by big corporations, Jo Chidley is a small fish making big waves. Her company, Beauty Kitchen, is a pioneer of sustainable beauty products, one that not only provides great results with natural ingredients but also works tirelessly to build a responsible future.

And Jo herself has become a leading light in the world of sustainable beauty, featuring on the ‘Who’s Who in Natural Beauty’ list multiple times

and winning the Royal Bank of Scotland’s ‘Scale Up Entrepreneur of the Year’ award – accolades she could never have imagined when first starting her career.

“I studied chemistry and then I fell into HR. I worked for some large organisations, including Avon Cosmetics, and I still felt part of the beauty industry even though my role was head of HR. Plus, I have been a beauty junkie for as long as I can remember.

“It was around 2010 that I started thinking I should take matters into my own hands, and the timing for it seemed right. Back then, there was a massive divide between science-based products and the beauty industry.

“There was also this stereotype floating around that you had to be this ultimate scientist to be able to create skincare and because of that, I felt that the industry had lost its fun and its accessibility. I wanted to fix that.”

With her husband Stuart, Jo launched Beauty Kitchen in 2014, marking the first step in creating the most sustainable beauty brand in the world.

Fast forward ten years and Beauty Kitchen is a treasure trove of sustainable beauty products — think vitamins, haircare, skincare and body care — each of which is ethically sourced, sustainably packaged and made with natural, organic and vegan ingredients.

“To become a Beauty Kitchen product, it has to do three things: first, it has to really work - because at the end of the day, that’s what we all want. Second, it has to get those great results with only natural ingredients. And third, it has be sustainable, both inside and out.

Every product in our range ticks all three of these boxes

and that’s our promise."

From day one, Beauty Kitchen has set in stone its purpose to make a difference in the world of beauty. This has led to the early adoption of frameworks including B Corp and Cradle to Cradle. The latter is the world’s most advanced, sciencebased measure that recognises safer, more sustainable products made for the circular economy. To get this certification, businesses must (amongst other environmental factors) ensure their products are made using raw materials and are suitable for cycles of use and reuse. Paving the way for circular

product development, 32 products within Beauty Kitchen’s range are Cradle to Cradle certified.

Jo continues: “From the very beginning, I have wanted to do the right thing, which I think has really helped me in the long run.

“Now, while other companies are trying to fit into the mould of frameworks, such as B Corp and Cradle to Cradle, and delivering promises to be more sustainable by the year 2030, Beauty Kitchen has been there from the start."

And Jo’s commitment has certainly paid off - as of 2024, Beauty Kitchen is the highest-scoring B Corp beauty

From the very beginning, I have wanted to do the right thing, which I think has really helped me in the long run.

brand in Europe and one of the top scoring personal care B Corps in the world.

“Being B Corp is still quite niche in the business world. The reason for that is the fact that almost all businesses are driven by profit first and sustainable practices later.

I never wanted that to be the case for Beauty Kitchen. I think if you look after the people and you look after the planet, the profit will look after itself.

“It was scary at first, putting sustainability over profit, but by being B Corp in the early stages of the company and choosing to pay our employees 10% above the living wage, this helped them overcome some challenging and unforeseen times such as COVID-19. This is just one example of how doing business in a different way can help you be one step ahead."

While Beauty Kitchen produces

natural and sustainable skincare, this is only one piece of the sustainability puzzle - another is to minimise waste entering landfill and to reduce the energy used in recycling bottles and containers.

“I remember going to a big retailer and seeing so many beauty and personal care products, mostly in plastic packaging, but some in glass and aluminium and I just thought ‘these are ready for reuse, so why are we not doing that?’

“I noticed back then that most people were recycling products in the kitchen but weren’t thinking about personal care products in the same way.

“At the end of the day, you don’t need to be a scientist to know that if you take a glass jar, crush it down and build it back up, that is going to use more energy than washing it and putting it back out. It’s that concept of trying to get people to realise the

value of the products they have,” she says.

Jo’s latest initiative, Reposit, addresses these issues by offering a returnable packaging service. And it’s already making waves with some of the biggest retailers out there, M&S and Lush, to name a few.

The concept of Reposit is simple yet revolutionary: after buying a sustainable product, the customer uses it and as soon as it has finished, the empty packaging is then returned to one of the 25 M&S stores for their products or through a Freepost system for other products, where it will be repurposed for its next use.

“The idea of Reposit is that a brand would never own the product's packaging. Our service leases the packaging to the brands and retailers for a fee that is the same price as the single-use plastic alternative.

“If you think of it as the milkman service, it’s basically the same concept. You use something, you return it, and we wash it and get the packaging back into the system. It’s as simple as that!"

Introducing Reposit has empowered Jo to play the role of David in a sector with many Goliaths, frequently collaborating with prominent brands and guiding them through incremental steps where meaningful change can be achieved.

“There are and will be tough days when I think ‘I can’t do this on my own’, ‘I’m trying to fix someone else's problem’, and ‘I’m a small business in a world of big names’, but the key is to understand that I am the expert in the room.

“It can be scary approaching big corporations but just because they are big doesn’t mean that they have the expertise. But I do and that gives me a lift in times of weakness. As a small business, I have the power and the freedom to approach them and offer a different point of view, a real plan of action of how change can be made.”

For Jo, collaboration is the key to unlocking a sustainable future.

While on stage at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum conference ‘Together We Can Take on the World’, Jo references Rachel Carson, the American marine biologist, writer and conservationist, whose 1962 book ‘Silent Spring’ advanced the global environmental movement.

On the surface, their stories are quite different - Rachel took on the chemical industry and exposed its harm to bird populations while Jo is taking active steps in changing the beauty industry from within. But together, both Rachel and Jo have made significant contributions towards change.

“No change can happen without support and collaboration. Rachel would not have been able to progress with her mission without fellow field researchers and the academic community helping her just as I would not have been able to introduce Reposit without the support of the networks and communities around me.”

A role model to others, Jo Chidley is a beacon of change in the beauty industry, championing a future where sustainability, responsibility, and transparency are not mere buzzwords but guiding principles.

“At the end of the day, it's up to businesses to pave a path towards sustainability and lead the consumer on that journey.

“As a business owner, if you can provide access to being more environmentally conscious, then people will follow and use it to better the future. People are good at heart and they want to do good, they just need to have access to do that.”

Her journey is marked by fearless innovation and active collaboration, emphasising that looking after people and the planet leads to success where profitability and sustainability can coexist harmoniously.

“It’s not just for our sake, but it’s for the sake of the planet.”

If this is where Jo is at now, we can’t wait to see the strides she makes in the next few years. Watch out!


chairman's dinner spring 24

New, key appointment is unveiled at annual Chairman's Dinner...

On Thursday 25th January, 70 North East entrepreneurs gathered at The Biscuit Factory for the Forum’s annual Chairman's Dinner. The event, which featured Sir Graham Wylie CBE (co-founder of Sage) as a guest speaker, marked a significant moment with the appointment of Brendon Hayward, as the new Chair of the Entrepreneurs' Forum.

Brendon is best known for co-founding Northumberland-based engineering firm Osbit which specialises in the design and build of equipment for offshore renewable energy production.

Commenting on his appointment, Brendon said: “I’m immensely proud and inspired by what the North East has achieved and its rich history of innovation. We have an amazing region, with equally amazing people, but still a lot of untapped potential.

“Being able to support entrepreneurs and help realise our true capability by becoming Chair of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum is an honour.

“I will be standing on the shoulders of giants, both in previous Chairmen of the Forum, as well as the great leaders and innovators who left their mark on the world from right here in the North East.”

Daniel Gibson (Harvest Foods) and Nick Gianfreda (Wriggle Marketing) Elaine Stroud, James Robson MBE, Sir Graham Wylie CBE, Brendon Hayward, Yvonne Bell Toby Bailey (Red Engineering) and Simon Dronfield (Fuse Telecom) David Nicholson (Nicholson Group), Zara Lane (LDC) and Paul Card (Paul Card Recruitment) Mike O'Brien, Emma Gaudern (EMG Solicitors) and Daniel Gibson (Harvest Foods) Sir Graham Wylie CBE Richard Hogg (Jackson Hogg), Tom Solly (RBC Brewin Dolphin), Michael Hall (eQuality Solutions Group), Pete Lilley (Double A Side Consulting) Jamie Mableson (Fuse Media), Michael Downey (Parker Knights) and Paul Card (Paul Card Recruitment) Samantha Vassallo (Horizon Works), Chris March (Allies Group) and Brendon Hayward (Osbit)
Nigel Mills CBE Jessica Williams (Just Williams), Alasdair Greig (Northstar Ventures), Rob Mathieson (ION), Gill Courtney MBE (Stonelea Business Development) and Zara Lane (LDC) Linda Lowther (Advice4Business), Damien Charlton (Ward Hadaway), Simon Honeywood (Readysalted) and Claire Parry (Week2Week) Sam Spoors (Talentheads), Louise Kennedy (Oculus HR), Julia Smith (People Science Consulting), John Devitt (Recovery4Life) and Samantha Vassallo (Horizon Works) Yvonne Bell and Sir Graham Wylie CBE Julia Smith (People Science Consulting), Mo Brown (Sullivan Brown) and Paul Edwards (Edwards Commercial Cleaning)

spring 24

addressing the issue talking up the North East

The perception of the North East, as a driving force for industrial development, is shifting as the region fast becomes a nexus of emerging industries - from green energy and robotics to games development and financial technology.

As the first North East Mayoral election gets underway, with the formation of a new combined authority (the North East Mayoral Combined Authority, or NEMCA) taking place later this year, the future of entrepreneurship in the North East, specifically how it compares to other regions, has become a hot topic for discussion.

But with over 12,000 start-ups launched in the North East last year, it can be said that the region is carving out a reputation as a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, home to a flourishing start-up community and some of the country’s brightest businesses.

Among them is Opencast, one of the fastest growing technology consultancies in the UK, of which serial entrepreneur Charlie Hoult is co-founder.

"We have all sorts of physical geographical positives but it's the people that makes the North East a great place to live and work,” comments Charlie, whose long list of entrepreneurial achievements include growing his family’s property business HyHubs as Managing Director; co-founding Byker-based Opencast, one of the region’s fastest

growing technology firms; and launching Dynamo – an organisation with a mission of boosting the North East’s technology economy through collaboration, innovation and skills.

Charlie continues: “It's the culture of helping everyone out, being superfriendly and co-operation. Because we’re a small region, you have to compete and co-operate. Plus, we have five or six universities helping people to pursue bright pathways.”

Born in Gosforth, Charlie left the region early in his career to launch his own marketing company in London but an opportunity to lead the family business saw him return to the region — and he’s stayed ever since. Today, all but one of Charlie’s businesses are based in the North East.

It’s a similar story for Ammar Mirza CBE, an entrepreneur who, after moving to London to pursue a career in the civil service, returned to the region to be closer to his family and the 'positive, passionate and proud people that live here'.

Since then, his business (SME Centre for Excellence which was founded in 2018) has played a pivotal role in supporting over 12,000 businesses through a range of accelerator, scale,

investor and innovation programmes, while his role as Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership Business Growth Board has seen him create opportunities for North East businesses at strategic local government level.

“What we have to do in the North East is raise ambitions,” comments Ammar, “It’s what I’ve aimed to do with SME Centre for Excellence and what we need to do through broader networks too. Good quality support is absolutely critical.”

A strong support system is something which CEO of Teesside-based media agency Wander, and a recipient of the Forbes 30 Under 30 title, Chloë Clover (Clover hereafter) says was key in deciding where to launch and grow her business six years ago.

“When we were coming through in

business there was always a lot of funding and support available to us. I always felt a benefit of being born in this region and for the business to be based in the region too.”

Despite launching Wander in Australia, Clover and partner Lou decided to return to the North East to grow it.

“We knew that if we were going to really make something special happen then we needed to come back home. I think we just felt that we could really grow our business in the North East.”

Today, Wander is a multi-awardwinning media agency working with the likes of Riot Games, Atlas and Thirteen Group, and employing a team of over 20.

While growing a business in the North East hasn’t been without its

I always felt a benefit of being born in this region and for the business to be based in the region too.
Ammar Mirza CBE Charlie Hoult

challenges – Clover references skill shortages and lack of investment in transport infrastructure as her main ones – Clover, and partner Lou, have no plans of relocating Wander elsewhere, cemented by their recent investment in a state-of-the-art workspace on Middlesbrough’s Albert Road.

What holds the region back, Ammar, Clover and Charlie agree, is a clear voice ‘talking up’ the region, a role which the new North East Mayor and the Tees Valley Mayor, currently Ben Houchen, will be equally responsible for.

“The important thing is to look at what we do well as a region,” comments Charlie, “We need to be cheerleading, explaining and talking up the North East.”

And crucially, comparisons to other regions don’t help the North East, they only hinder it.

“Comparison is the thief of joy,” Charlie adds, “We shouldn’t compare ourselves to London,

which is often the case. We should compare ourselves to places like Bristol or Stockholm which are comparable sizes.”

But that’s only one part of a complicated puzzle.

Another part is realising that, regardless of where you’ve decided to set up your business, you will always encounter challenges when growing your business.

In fact, it’s the resilience, determination and optimism of entrepreneurs which sets them apart and proves that your location should never harm your ambition.

“If you're in Truro, you have a whole load of challenges. If you're in Swansea, you have a whole load of challenges,” comments Charlie, who affirms entrepreneurs bash through challenges, “We kick through walls to make things, to make our own world, and to try and find a livelihood in that world.”

A region brimming with charm and potential, it's impossible not to

acknowledge the wealth of positives that define the North East.

From the resilient communities to the thriving entrepreneurial landscape, there's an energy that permeates the air, driving a spirit of progress. For our region’s entrepreneurs, the North East is not just a place; it's a canvas awaiting the strokes of innovation and opportunity; it’s, as Charlie explains, ‛Goldilocks’ — that is, not too big and not too small.

For our region’s entrepreneurs, the upcoming Mayoral election and formation of NEMCA represents more than just a devolution deal, it represents a new dawn for the North East and its businesses. It marks the beginning of a new era for the region and a shift towards a more positive portrait of the North East.

“The North East has got loads of positives”, adds Charlie, “So let's get cracking.”

19 Unlock the full potential of your team with Motivational Maps™. 3x Faster Growth 27% More Profitable 31% Reduced Staff Turnover 50% Increased Profit Growth BUSINESS ADVISORS Tel: 0191 281 8191 Email: Book a free 15 minute chat with us to learn more about how to elevate your team. How Does Employee Motivation Enhance Business Performance? This article is based on views shared during an upcoming season two episode of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum podcast, ‘A Cast of Entrepreneurs’. To catch-up on all episodes of the podcast, and to listen to new ones as they’re released, visit
Chloë Clover

spring 24 out of office dedication to a cause

Forum sits down with Chris Peacock, owner of Peacocks Medical Group and Chair of Children’s Cancer North, to discuss his passion for helping others in his time out of the office…

Chris Peacock is a prime example of someone who truly cares about others. His professional and personal journeys overlap, intertwining a dedication to driving forward a major national medical business, Peacocks Medical Group, with a profound commitment to supporting families affected by childhood cancer through his voluntary leadership role at Children’s Cancer North.

Chris' connection to the charity goes back to the early 80s when he was diagnosed with cancer. His parents were founding trustees of the charity and whilst he was undergoing treatment, his friends at King's School in Tynemouth rallied around, ultimately leading to the Children’s Cancer Run being set up.

He and his family have remained involved in raising awareness and fundraising for Children’s Cancer North (formerly North of England Children’s Cancer Research), for decades since, with the charity raising over £40m for childhood cancer research and supporting parents and families on the paediatric oncology wards at the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle.

Chris explains: “I had a Wilms Tumour on my kidney when I was three years old, which led to a group of parents, including my own, setting up the charity. Fast forward a few decades and when the previous Chair announced he was stepping down, it was an opportunity for me to become even more involved in a cause which is very close to my heart.”

Chris has held the position of Chair for 12 years, leading the organisation through significant changes, including the merger with another charity and driving its growth and expansion.

“I feel very passionate about continuing to grow our fundraising every year to fund the revolutionary research which is taking place right

here in the region and provide the support needed for children and their families impacted by childhood cancer.

“In my role as Chair, I’m involved in all facets of the charity, from providing guidance to our Head of Charity, to setting the strategy with the Board of Trustees. As a board consisting of volunteers who all have other day jobs, our regular trustee meetings are critical to the smooth running of the charity. I lead these on a quarterly basis and typically we will use the time to review the financial position of the charity, including approving allocation of funds to specific projects on the ward or for research. The meetings are also an opportunity to check that we are achieving our strategic objectives and discuss any support the staff team require from the different board members. We’re all closely involved in the charity and with the diverse skills and experience we all have, ranging from finance to marketing and legal, we all contribute in different ways.

“I dedicate on average one day a week to the charity, but this can vary depending on the projects we are focusing on. For example, I also lead the stand-alone committee we have for the Children’s Cancer Run, ensuring the team have the support they need for our flagship event. So, March to May is often very busy.

The Children’s Cancer Run is just one of many ways the charity works towards raising awareness and vital funds for those in need. The run, which celebrated its 40th year last May, is a cornerstone event in Children’s Cancer North’s calendar, which stands as a testament to community engagement and solidarity. With around 10,000 participants and significant sponsorship from organisations like Greggs and MKM Building Supplies, the run not only raises substantial funds but also fosters a sense of pride for participants and volunteers alike.

Chris is also the main representative of the charity, liaising with external stakeholders, including those participants and volunteers.

“I’m privileged to be able to meet the children and families who we have

supported. As well as at our regular events, where either myself or one of the trustees will attend to support the staff team, we hold open evenings twice a year at the Research Centre where our supporters can meet the team and see for themselves the groundbreaking research. I’m always touched to hear first-hand the stories of our fundraisers and it’s these personal stories which really motivate me to keep building on Children’s Cancer North’s success so far.

“Being an ambassador is a hugely important part of what I do as Chair of the charity. I meet once a year with Newcastle University, beneficiaries of a research grant from Children’s Cancer North, where we discuss how our money is being allocated and any future requirements they have. It’s hugely rewarding to hear that the funds we have raised over the years have contributed to some big breakthroughs in childhood cancer research. And then, as part of our governance, every five years we invite leading children’s cancer researchers from across Europe to peer review the work which takes place at the Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre in Newcastle to get professional validation that our funds are being used appropriately. “I also play a key part in supporting the team to build and maintain the relationships we have with our corporate supporters – being well-established in the North East business community helps with this.”

Under Chris’s stewardship, it’s very evident that the charity has evolved into a beacon of hope, offering tangible assistance and raising awareness of childhood cancer. With the responsibility of running his own business you would have thought that in his spare time Chris would be looking at more restful pursuits. Nothing could be further from the truth and the Cancer Run isn’t the only event that Chris gets involved in during the year. You’ll also see him on the start line of the Great North Run, along with the 400 other runners who participate on behalf of Children’s Cancer North.

“Taking part in the Great North Run alongside our charity runners is always very moving. We have a

runner’s breakfast where I meet and greet everyone and there’s a great sense of camaraderie with those wearing our orange and white t-shirts. It’s an emotional day with people participating for personal reasons but it’s also very rewarding to reunite with our runners at the end and see their sense of achievement, not just for finishing the race but also for raising funds for our charity.”

Navigating the dual responsibilities of running a successful business and leading a major charity means Chris has to rely on the talented charity team and the board of trustees. He explains: “When it comes to Peacocks, I've spent a long time getting a world-class group of directors together. And similarly, in the charity, we've got excellent people who continue to deliver far more than you would imagine for a very small team.

“And that makes for effective

delegation. I think there's always going to be pinch points where something is not going right. There will be times where you feel overloaded.

“Sometimes it feels like I can’t give my all to each of the organisations, but this is where effective delegation allows me to be able to step back and allow these fantastic people to do what they do best.”

Chris’ story serves as an inspiration not just for entrepreneurs but also for aspiring voluntary trustees. He adds: “This charity has personal significance but aside from that it is such a great cause and truly inspiring to be part of something that has such a positive impact."

He concludes: “For entrepreneurs thinking about becoming a trustee, I'd say find something that you’re passionate about and look to charities within that field to offer your services. It’s ultimately very rewarding.”


spring 24 behind our boardroom

When Sir Peter Vardy and Lorna Moran OBE founded the Entrepreneurs’ Forum in 2002, they did so with the intention of building a network that would ‛ignite business minds’ and ‛shorten the business distance travelled from start to success’ by providing inspiration, connections and a helping hand.

Over twenty years later and that mission remains at the core of what has become the North East’s largest entrepreneurial network.

Hosting over 50 inspirational events per year, a mentoring programme and its Scale-up Leaders’ Academy, the Entrepreneurs’ Forum represents over 340 entrepreneur members and counting, plus an additional thirteen corporate and business support partners.

Throughout its history, the Forum has supported over 1,500 North East

entrepreneurs, received over 30,000 delegates to its events, and raised over £500,000 for national and local charities.

Behind the scenes, making it happen, is an executive team led by CEO Elaine Stroud, and a board of directors, all united by a passion for supporting entrepreneurship in the North East.

A not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee, the Forum is required to be governed by a board of between four and thirteen directors. Over 45 of

the most influential entrepreneurs in the region have taken the responsibility of directorship of the Forum since its inception, with an additional six entrepreneurs taking the position as Chair.

Brendon Hayward is the newly appointed Chair of the Forum. A co-founder and joint managing director of engineering company Osbit, he joined the Forum as a director in 2015 before taking the reins as Chair in January 2024.

For Brendon, the Forum is playing a vital role in helping not only North East entrepreneurs to achieve their ambitions, but also in supporting the region to fulfil its potential and build upon its rich heritage.

“We have an amazing region, with equally amazing people, but still a lot of untapped potential.

“We have a board consisting of eight non-executive directors, all of whom are entrepreneurs themselves and come from diverse sectors including robotics, marketing, technology and digital consultancy. In parallel with our great diversity is our shared drive to support, empower and energise the entrepreneurial community within the North East.

“As a board, we naturally uphold the governance of the organisation, formally meeting six times a year to review our progress, financial sustainability, and to ensure we have the best processes and operations behind our functions. Additionally, we use this precious time as a collective in bringing together our shared diversity to influence the strategy for the future and critically discuss how we can do more, do it better and do it quicker.

“We have an amazing team at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum but it is incredibly small for everything we deliver. Ensuring Elaine and the team are supported and have the appropriate resource is key to our continued success and to achieve the Forum’s mission in making the North East an exceptional place to be an entrepreneur.

"Twice a year, the board also hosts a dinner for our corporate partners where we share our insights about the state of entrepreneurialism in the region, especially focusing on the

challenges and opportunities our members are facing. We also gather their input into what support they can provide to help our members.”

Brendon, the youngest Chair in the Forum’s 22-year history, joins a long list of established entrepreneurs who have served in the position.

These include Sir Peter Vardy (Chair of Vardy Group of Companies), Nigel Mills CBE (founder of Mills Group and The Lakes Distillery), Paul Walker (CEO of Sage), Tom Maxfield (founder of Tom’s Companies), and most recently, James Robson MBE (founder of Exwold), who held the position from 2018 to 2023.

“As Chair, my goal is to build upon the work of the great entrepreneurs who’ve led the Forum before me.

“And as a board, the wide range of knowledge and skills means that we can draw upon our experiences as business owners to pay it forward, ensuring the Forum offers inspiration to entrepreneurs at all stages of their journeys.

“The board meetings also serve as a brilliant reminder of why we do what we do – speaking to other business owners, I’m constantly energised

from hearing others’ stories. Being in business always has its challenges however you cannot underestimate the power of hearing others’ journeys particularly if you’re having a challenging day/week/month!”

Through his role at Osbit, and as Chair of the Northbourne Street Youth Initiative (a charity which supports the development of young people in the West End), Brendon has a wealth of experience in providing direction and oversight to businesses.

By transferring the skills and experiences learned in other parts of his career, Brendon is guiding the board through a new wave of change. His appointment marks the start of a new era for the organisation, its members and its board.

“I have always believed in inverted leadership. Leaders are there to form

and communicate strategy. This comes from taking guidance and advice from the team who are doing the doing every day.

“The board can then set the course for the future but are there to serve the team in their endeavours – to support, empower, and bring firepower as the team require it. In my experience, the more you embed this, the stronger the team’s ambition, energy and hunger becomes and the more they discover their own firepower.”

Having been appointed as Chair in January this year, it’s still early days but, with great ambitions for the region, a strong commitment to Forum members and a supportive team and board, Brendon’s journey towards making the North East an exceptional place for entrepreneurs is well underway.

Brendon Hayward, Elaine Stroud, Mike O'Brien, Toby Bridges, Kari Owers, Yvonne Bell, Gill Courtney MBE, James Robson MBE

spring 24 new members

who’s joined recently

Beverley Brown

CBPS Property Services

Bianca Robinson

CEO Sleepout

Tom Baker

Certax Teesside

Nicola Crowther

Crowther Mediation

Cathal Doocey CPD Bodies

Sally Hart

George F. White

Hamish Adamson

Harlyn Solutions

Alasdair Greig

Northstar Ventures

Sasha Warr

Outsourced HR

Laurence Beck

Parkers Chauffeurs

Suzie Martin

Smart-in Mortgages

Paul Harbord

Steadfast Security Group

Christopher Garvey

Wolf Instinct Mindset

Beverley Brown CPBS Property Services

Tell us about yourself

I have been married for 39 years. I have two amazing children and we are embarking on a new property business. I am also putting the term “mature student” to the test, having completed a four-year law degree at Durham University. I continued at Northumbria University as I look to complete the bar course and a master in law this

Laurence Beck

Parkers Chauffeurs

Tell us about yourself

year. I have had a varied career, from successful international IT to building an equestrian centre of excellence including breeding internationally recognised sports horses and ponies that have gone on to represent Great Britain at the European Championships.

Why did you decide to join the Forum?

The Forum is a unique environment across all platforms, whether reading an article on business performance or sharing someone's success or engaging in networking events. You can rarely be in a room with so many like-minded individuals and feel the atmospheric buzz that lights the spark of innovation. Forum events have this uniqueness, a unique vibrational wavelength, and it's contagious.

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

I was selected for a ballet scholarship as a child for the Royal Academy of Dance. I love dance of any kind, but ballet is emotive, an expression through body movement, something understood without words. I suppose this is why I love working with animals, especially horses, as it is essentially two hearts working as one.

I’m 43, a husband, father of four and co-founder with my wife of three businesses, Croft Business Services (School Transport Services), Parkers Services Ltd (Chauffeurs Services and Event Management) and Parkers Global USA LLC (Global Concierge Services and Event Management) in America.

Why did you decide to join the Forum?

I wanted the opportunity to work with, share knowledge and learn from some of the best entrepreneurs in the region.

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

I enjoy the fact that you’re responsible for your own destiny and have the opportunity to change things for the better, for both clients and employees.

Paul Harbord

Tell us about yourself

I’m the recently appointed MD of the Steadfast Security Group, located in Peterlee. We’re a family run security business. Steadfast was

founded by my Dad, Michael Harbord, in 1991 and then we partnered with Dave Watson in 2006 to form the Steadfast Group, who now employ 140 people. When I’m not in work mode, I love to go running, keep fit and spend time with my amazing wife and three beautiful children.

Why did you decide to join the Forum?

I decided to join the Forum after spending one evening at a Member Event about succession planning for family businesses. The Q&As were brilliant but looking around the room, I was surrounded by like-minded business owners who were all welcoming and couldn’t be more helpful.

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

Passed down from many generations, my love for Sunderland AFC is strong. Enough said on that one.

Hamish Adamson Harlyn Solutions

Tell us about yourself

I am a Naval Architect originally from the South Coast but have been working in

Nicola Crowther Crowther Mediation

Tell us about yourself

the North East since I was at university here. As with all engineers, I enjoy problem-solving and taking on challenges. I started my company in January 2020 and have loved those challenges. In my spare time I enjoy cooking, playing hockey, snowboarding and going up to the Northumberland Coast.

Why did you decide to join the Forum?

To try to improve my connections of people going through similar experiences. It’s a unique place to start a company and discussing this with other people will be great, especially hearing about their own experiences.

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

I am dyslexic (just Googled the spelling), which I am sure has helped me in more areas than it has hindered me.

Following a career in law, I retrained as a mediator 14 years ago and established Crowther Mediation in 2014. Crowther Mediation is now the largest independent mediation practice in the North of England as well as being the first UK mediation practice in Dubai. We are also an approved training provider for Civil, Commercial and Work Place Mediation, teaching throughout the UK and internationally. In my spare time I enjoy playing golf with my husband and our two daughters.

Why did you decide to join the Forum?

I’d heard lots of great things about the Forum from various sources. I do lots of networking in Dubai and was looking for some of that real positive energy here in the North East. I am hoping to be surrounded by like-minded people, sharing experiences and genuinely encouraging each other to reach our goals.

What sparked your decision to start your own business?

Passion. I absolutely love what I do. I believe in it and I know I make a real difference in people’s lives. Mediation wasn’t really happening in the North East when I first trained. So I thought, ‘I’m going to have to set up on my own and start shouting really loudly!’ I would never have believed we’d come this far...


spring 24

Sunderland Empire

Putting local businesses in the spotlight Fondly known as the ‘West End of the North East’, Sunderland Empire has hosted a vibrant array of West End spectacular musicals, one-night concerts, comedy, ballet, opera and more since its opening as a Music Hall in 1907.

The iconic Grade 2 listed theatre, designed by W and TR Milburn, welcomes a highly engaged audience from across the region spanning from Northumberland to Teesside, with an excess of 300,000 visitors on an annual basis.

Sunderland Empire has always been incredibly proud of its Wearside and cultural heritage, and is committed to developing long-standing and mutually beneficial partnerships with businesses across the North East, leading to the formation of The 1907 Corporate Club.

The membership scheme was created to offer businesses a unique way of reaching potential customers while entertaining clients or treating staff to first-class experiences at a dazzling array of shows!

Theatre is a powerful tool which has the ability to create lasting memories

and immersive experiences. By increasing Sunderland Empire’s B2B opportunities the theatre is able to support businesses by using the power of theatre to enhance corporate relationships through a range of bespoke options.

Local businesses can unlock many benefits by joining The 1907 Corporate Club as members put the wow factor into client entertaining and staff perks, with bespoke packages tailored to their businesses needs including the best seats in the house, dedicated hospitality packages and private pre-show reception spaces.

The 1907 Corporate Club has welcomed a fabulous line-up of businesses over the past year including Ocado, Creo Comms and Uber Eats to name just a few. These brands have enjoyed putting their

name in front of the theatre’s captive audiences through an array of in venue, print and digital options, whether it be a seasonal sponsorship or a flexible annual advertising package.

Jenna Walmsley, Uber Eats said: “Here at Uber Eats, we are proud to be partnered with such a historic and fabulous venue such as Sunderland Empire. They offer such a huge variety of shows in the most stunning building. Our Restaurant Partners have hugely beneffited from having their brands showcased within the theatre and have loved the perks that come with the

corporate membership.”

With huge West End productions programmed for the upcoming year ahead including Disney’s Aladdin, Pretty Woman, Only Fools and Horses, plus the return of Wicked and War Horse with further productions to be announced, it is the perfect time for local businesses to get involved and showcase their support for live theatre through exciting sponsorship opportunities that align brands with an industry leader.

Another unique way to get involved in the historic theatre and engage in CSR is by contributing to Sunderland Empire’s award-winning Creative Learning team which is dedicated to involving and empowering local people no matter their age, ability, gender, race, or background with the aim of increasing access to performing arts.

The team, supported by registered charity, the Sunderland Empire Theatre Trust, has been providing a range of engaging projects and groups with national recognition. Creative Learning’s work and passion continues to grow with the help of fundraising and grants.

This not-for-profit department are committed to delivering excellence in all aspects of community and educational engagement reaching those most in need by providing dedicated classes, services and experiences tailored to diverse groups, individuals and schools in the region. With the support of local businesses, they can continue to provide enriching and unforgettable experiences for our local community and audiences.

If you would like to know more about The 1907 Corporate Club or Creative Learning’s work, please contact


spring 24


As founder of ION, Rob Mathieson heads up a successful company providing cloud-based financial solutions to businesses. While ION is thriving in the current climate, Rob’s time as a business leader hasn’t always been plain sailing. Back in 2007, he set up a business called AYO Digital and six years later, the company had to be wound down and roughly 30 staff were let go. In our new Bounceback series, Rob shares his experience, key takeaways and the lessons learned…

For Rob, failure wasn't easy, but it was an important part of his entrepreneurial experience. A series of setbacks - bad timing, nonpayments from customers, and shareholder conflicts - led to the demise of AYO Digital. Yet, amidst the disappointment, Rob embraced the hard life lesson: things don’t always unfold as planned.

Reflecting on that pivotal moment in 2014, when he had to confront his team with the grim reality of closure, Rob acknowledges the bitter taste of failure.

"You did something and you failed at it, you sometimes have to acknowledge that," he reflects, "but ultimately, you always know that

something like this could happen."

Rob explains the lessons he’s learned.

Take responsibility for your actions

“AYO Digital gained significant traction, with multiple owners, including myself holding a 40% stake. We built a successful business with around 30 staff. However, various issues emerged simultaneously - a shareholder dispute, payment problems with some big customers leaving significant budget holes, and differing approaches to challenges.

“I saw the problem coming but failed to act. Eventually, I sought advice (with significant support from the Entrepreneurs’ Forum) and decided it

was best to close the business and move forward.

“The toughest part was facing the team and announcing the closure, but as a business owner I learned that excuses can't overshadow accountability. I am now committed to maintaining absolute control to ensure accountability rests with me alone.”

Commit to Decompressing

“After the company collapsed, I felt I needed to take time out for three months. Running AYO for six years took its toll. Suddenly stopping meant I had to sit alone in an empty office daily for nearly a month, managing the company administration and chasing customer payments, picking up the pieces of what was left of the company and tying the last knots.

“This can be mentally draining so I had to take time off, reflect on what had happened and figure out a plan on how to move forward.”

Embrace the lessons of failure

“If given the choice, I wouldn't erase the challenges I've faced. Despite being tough, running AYO Digital has taught me invaluable lessons. Without it, I wouldn't be here now.

“Even with ION now, there were some incredibly challenging times and, of course, we went through COVID-19, Brexit, the war in Ukraine, the great resignation, and cost of living crisis, each of these factors posing new obstacles.

“The journey hasn’t been easy. We have had to identify new opportunities, restructure our approach, and invest significantly in sales and marketing. Yet, despite the challenges, our perseverance is paying off. And this perseverance came from my experience with AYO Digital.

“Ultimately, failure isn't the end; it's a stepping stone if it is embraced and learned from. So, whilst the journey has been rough, I wouldn't trade it. It's taught me the importance of resilience, adaptability, and seizing opportunities.

“Accept that nothing lasts forever and in the words of Fight Club: ‛On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.’

“Even giants like Apple will one day meet their end. Accepting impermanence is key to taking responsibility for your actions in the entrepreneurial journey.

“The ultimate question is: how do you know when time's up? I think we, as entrepreneurs, need to accept that failure is always a possibility. My disappointment is that I wasn't prepared for it.”

Build a team who share your drive for success

“It's a massive frustration, despite where I am today, knowing I couldn't have reached this point without past setbacks. It feels like I'm a decade behind where I should be in life. It's my biggest motivation every morning.

“My drive is reflected in my expectations from my team. I demand a pace that's probably faster than most businesses would consider normal.

“Yet, amidst the drive for speed, I've learned that success isn't just about moving fast; it's about having a team of people who genuinely care. I'm fortunate to have a team of 28 individuals who deeply care about our business.”

Have an exit strategy

“My responsibility as a business owner is to pass the baton to someone who can carry the business forward. From the outset, I've been transparent with everyone - I aim to sell this business. That, to me, signifies success: when someone values your work enough to buy it.

“We've implemented a share option scheme for all employees, ensuring they're rewarded when we eventually transition the business. I see myself as a sort of guide, leading everyone through this journey.

“It all boils down to taking 100% responsibility and accountability. Having an exit strategy isn't just about knowing when to leave; it's about ensuring the entire team benefits from the journey's success.”

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