Opportunities are being created and the fight back is being led by entrepreneurs who are playing a significant and sustainable role in helping to rejuvenate the UK economy.
Entrepreneurship is critically important. Whether they are vocational or accidental entrepreneurs, the people who take risks create jobs and wealth not only for themselves but importantly for their community.
As chairman of the North East Entrepreneurs' Forum I can share numerous stories of success and examples of thriving businesses started from nothing but an idea fuelled by ambition, passion and drive.
The Forum's founding principle of encouraging entrepreneurship through sharing knowledge and experience has never been more relevant today as we foster growth in the North East.
Directors have the IoD, SMEs the Chamber of Commerce and large corporations have the CBI. We are here for entrepreneurs. From the youngest innovators to elder statesmen,our entrepreneurial community has depth and diversity. And it is thriving.
The Forum's own Entrepreneur of the Year (who more recently went on to take the Ernst & Young Business Products and Services title for the North), Bill Scott, has founded and grown an incredible engineering, fabrication and project management business. Teesside based Wilton Group employs more than 700 and is projecting turnover of £84 million. Bill is a great example of a North East entrepreneur someone with immense energy and talent but getting on with building a world class business quietly and modestly.
Ambition and innovation are embedded in our regional culture. But what sets us apart today is a firmly established support system for entrepreneurs looking to start, grow or relocate a business in County Durham, Teesside, Tyneside, Wearside or Northumberland.
The Entrepreneurs' Forum is not for profit and was established ten years ago by Sir Peter Vardy, who ran Europe's most profitable motor retail company, and Lorna Moran CBE, founder of Northern Recruitment Group. Their idea, based on Scotland's Entrepreneurial Exchange, was a forum that would draw on the region's best resource for supporting businesses the people who'd already been there and done it. Rather than always reinventing the wheel, those who had taken the risks, overcome the barriers and faced the challenges would share what they knew.
By bringing together successful entrepreneurs to exchange ideas, share expertise and make connections we would bring real competitive advantage to existing businesses and inspire others to start thereby creatingwealth, jobs and contributing to a sustainable and prosperous regional economy.
Sir Richard Branson joined us at our launch in Newcastle more than a decade ago. Our membership has grown to:
- More than 400 entrepreneurs leading high growth businesses of at least £250,000 annual turnover, employing 34,000 people with a combined turnover of £7bn
- Exchange members, medium to large organisations who bring senior managers to our events to inspire a more entrepreneurial mindset among their teams
- Corporate partners including TSG, Sage plc, PwC, Eversheds and Yorkshire Bank, who are as passionate about entrepreneurship as we are.
It makes us the biggest organisation of our kind in England. It's not surprising therefore that we are the envy of many other regions not only for being so firmly established but also for providing a stimulating environment for entrepreneurs to openly share their ideas and experiences in a non-competitive, collaborative way.
Markets commentator Justin Urquhart-Stewart, now an honorary member of the Forum, said: "If the Entrepreneurs' Forum could be copied throughout the UK we would have a stunning economy. What a dynamic group."
Our board, who give their time altruistically, is cross-sector and, as well as Sir Peter Vardy and Lorna Moran, includes former Sage CEO Paul Walker; Steven Bell, who sold Bells Stores to Sainsbury's; Brian Jobling, founder of Gateshead-based Eutechnyx, the worldÊ¼s biggest independent driving games developer; Graham Robb, Recognition PR and Marketing; Alastair Waite, of Onyx Group; John Hays, founder of £450m turnover Hays Travel; John Waterworth, chief executive of Parkdean Holidays; Julie Drummond, of creative agency Drummond Central; Keith Miller, of Miller International; Lisa Hart Shepherd, of Acritas; and Tom Maxfield, Tom's Companies.
Speaking recently at the Kauffman Foundation conference, Lord Heseltine unknowingly endorsed what we do when he spoke of the need for iconic figures for aspiring business owners to look up to, and mentors who can support you along the way. ItÊ¼s exactly what the Entrepreneurs' Forum provides.
Inspiration comes not only from our own homegrown success stories highlighted at our conference in November but also national and international heavyweights at our May conference that brings together 300 to hear the likes of Nick Wheeler of Charles Tyrwhitt,Nick Jenkins of moonpig.com, insurance group founder Stephen Catlin, Will King of King of Shaves and many more.
We mark International Women's Day with a conference that brings together female entrepreneurs for a day of inspiration, and recognise the achievements of North East entrepreneurs at an annual awards ceremony, all organised by our executive director Nicola Short and her team. Our Lifetime Achievement award this year went to John Squires, who has built his family motor retail business into a half billion pound turnover phenomenon.
When it comes to mentoring it is hugely gratifying that our members take no persuading to give their time altruistically to support emerging talent. We even provide free training in how to mentor to give the most value to our stars of the future.
For the last five years we have set an annual challenge, If We Can You Can, to identify the newest talent and, with the help of our professional partners, put them on a shortcut to success. One of this year's winners was 16-year-old Leroy Allen, a hugely talented an ambitious young man who learned his business skills at school and is destined for great things.
Among our rising stars are Kevin Beales, whose online assessment and survey company The Test Factory has, in just four years, grown to a staff of 60 who deliver tests in 18 languages in more than 180 countries. And Brett Jacobson's Mediaworks, a young and dynamic business that is doubling in size year on year.
Our schools, universities and colleges are embracing an entrepreneurial mindset. The Forum is partnered with Gateshead College, a leading member of the Gazelle Group of FE institutions aiming to tackle failings in education by bringing the public and private sectors together and introducing an entrepreneurial approach across teaching and learning.Through networking and 'learning by doing' opportunities, they aim to inspire students to create jobs, nottake them.
Entrepreneurialism seems to becoming embedded in the North East psyche. Look at Nissan in Sunderland, Europe's most efficient car manufacturing plant, and the recently revived SSI steelworks on Teesside to see how things have moved on, how the region and its people have adapted to changing demands of business.
Perhaps stubbornly high levels of unemployment have contributed to creating a ready and willing workforce, but in any event it presents a commercially compelling argument for businesses seeking growth or relocation.
Those who are achieving success are doing so against a backdrop of slow economic recovery globally, rising costs, regulatory burdens and difficulties accessing funding. By continuing to grow and create jobs in spite of these challenges is perhaps cause for even greater celebration.
Some may ask what relevance this has to the rest of the country. In the past the North East was the engine room of the UK. Entrepreneurship and its products of wealth, jobs and prosperity may well prove to be the fuel that fires the engine once again.If you would like to know more about our unique and dynamic organisation, contact Nigel Mills or Nicola Short on 0191 500 7780 or visit www.entrepreneursforum.net
by Nigel Mills
Article from The New Statesman Magazine