Growing the region’s entrepreneurial community

Posted on the 9 February 2018

Growing the region’s  entrepreneurial community

James Robson is very much looking to the future as he starts his tenure as chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum.

The Teesside-based business owner, investor and mentor is very proud of the companies he has set up and those he has helped to grow in the region and believes that more can be done to encourage others to do the same:

Establishing and scaling-up a business is a wonderful achievement for any entrepreneur and it is the role of the Forum to support those who have the potential and those who are already on the journey towards delivering fast-growth in their companies.

Scale-ups are vital to the success of the North East and wider UK economies and the Entrepreneurs’ Forum is working exceptionally hard to help businesses achieve their growth ambitions.

In particular the Scale-Up Leader’s Academy we have established, which was launched last year, has proven to be a successful initiative and something we will definitely be developing moving forward.”

The Academy, which included 12 North East business-owners in its inaugural programme, has been designed to help entrepreneurs who are running high-growth companies and want to scale-up at a faster rate. Delivering practical advice in an easy to understand way, it explores what it means to scale-up, helping business leaders to build actionable plans through workshops, coaching, mentoring and inspirational events.

Mentoring has proven to be a key part of James’ business career, which he has been able to develop a passion for following the success of his company, Exwold Technology.

Having established the company in Billingham in 1992 James has grown it to a business operating from four sites in the Tees Valley, employing more than 120 people with a turnover exceeding £10m.

He remains a non-executive director of the company, providing James with the opportunity to focus on mentoring.

A former Entrepreneurs’ Forum Mentor of the Year (2016), James has worked closely with several growing SMEs and has become an accredited business coach providing services through his consultancy company, Alexander Jewitt & Co:

The value of mentoring cannot be underestimated. No entrepreneur is an island and there are resources out there for business owners to call on.

Among the companies James has supported is Micropore Technologies, a university spin-out company which provides specialist particles and emulsion manufacturing services.

When I first got involved, Micropore Technologies was based in the Midlands because it was a born out of Loughborough University.

“I knew that if the company was to succeed, it needed to relocate to an area with a cluster of chemical and pharma companies, with adequate lab space, and a business environment where it could raise capital. This prompted a move to the Tees Valley, specifically The Wilton Centre, where the company has flourished.”

Mentoring, according to James, should be encouraged and businesses should turn to networks like the Entrepreneurs’ Forum for support:

The biggest strength of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum is its members, and their experiences are an invaluable resource for business owners.

“The events the Forum holds, from its small and intimate focus dinner through to its major conferences, all provide a key opportunity for members to find out about other companies, which often sparks ideas and strategies.

“Hearing about other entrepreneurs’ successes, failures and the real issues they’ve faced is not only interesting, but can help influence the decisions people make in their businesses. The Forum’s Round Table discussion events are particularly good for this.”

James suggests that 2018 presents a great opportunity for businesses in the North East following the announcement that the new North East Fund, also known as JERMIE 2, should go live this year. It will offer a range of equity investments and loans to drive local growth and job creation in the North East LEP area:

“We are lucky in this region to have access to a range of funding options, including the new £120m JEREMIE 2 fund, which will be online soon and be very exciting.

“The south of the region, in the Tees Valley, also has the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, and as I sit on the board of NEL, I can see the opportunity accessing the right funding can bring to North East businesses to help them scale-up through investment-driven growth and acquisition.”

James is also a big advocate of skills development and raising the awareness of the opportunities entrepreneurship can offer young people:

“It’s really important we keep entrepreneurial talent in the region, and that starts with schools.

“There remains a disconnect between education and business, which we have to overcome. Many teachers have not worked in a commercial environment so need the support of entrepreneurs to provide first-hand experience to the students.

“It also presents the chance to explain to young people the opportunities available to them here in the North East.

“This is a great region to live, work, and bring up a family, but the draw of big cities in the UK and abroad can tempt our talent away. But there are so many members of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum who can extol the virtues of running a business here in the North East.”

James is enthusiastic about becoming chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum and is confident the organisation will continue to have a key role in the development and promotion of the North East economy:

“The Forum has a robust and diverse network, which represents the strength of the region’s economy. 

“It is important that we continue to showcase the entrepreneurial endeavours of this region and the wide and varied economic and social benefits businesses bring to the North East. 

“If we grow the network by increasing our membership, we will have the opportunity to help more businesses be part of this continuing success story.”