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Innovative fund finders now wanted elsewhere!

A FUNDING signpost service launched in North East Lincolnshire has been revealed to be a sought-after model, as more than £9 million is tapped into by 83 businesses, aiding the creation of 131 new jobs.

Innovative fund finders now wanted elsewhere!

The snapshot of initial success was given as Investment Hub NEL celebrated its first birthday, having been brought forward by the local authority as a niche answer to an identified need from the SME community.

Sharon Wroot, director of finance at North East Lincolnshire Council, provided the back-story to how it came about, telling how her council peers are keen to adopt. 

She said: “I have been involved in the Investment Hub since the start. I was fairly new in post and my boss, (NELC chief executive) Rob Walsh, asked me to create a finance strategy. The role of the council was starting to change, we were starting to recognise the role of a local authority needed to change if we were to achieve any ambition for growth, and a big part of that was creating relationships. These were not just public, but across the private sector too.” 

Explaining how she was a local woman with lots of local contacts, she had frequently heard people calling for support, with many not understanding why the local authority couldn’t directly lend. 

“We tried to understand the issues, and part of it was that small and medium sized businesses, don’t necessarily know where to go and what help there is for growth.

“We are quite unique in terms of numbers of SMEs, they just operate under the radar and often their success is phenomenal. There was  a perception that lenders didn’t want to lend, austerity had hit and that no-one wanted to know.   Through our wider network we knew that wasn’t the issue, it was the support and enabling a connection between the two, to allow them to achieve their growth ambition, create more jobs, create wealth and confidence in the local economy, giving us more chance of realising our growth ambition.”

She was introduced to the recently retired and vastly experienced Barclays and Handelsbanken manager, Anthony Winn, who had also just completed a stint as chair of the North East Lincolnshire area council of the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce.

“It is very unique this model, and we are a little bit competitive in the public sector and a lot of colleagues want to borrow this model in the region,” she said. “They haven’t got an Anthony or a Sarah though, so I’m winning,” she added, referring also to Hub manager Sarah Brattan.

Praising Mr Walsh and Mrs Wroot for “the foresight to create this, support and sponsor it with incredible enthusiasm,” Mr Winn said: “When we started up in 2016 we strongly felt there was a big, big need for it. It is an absolute minefield for business. There can be dozens and dozens of potential sources, but they may not do the sector, may be for start-ups or mature business only.”

He told how he feared struggling businesses may take of their time, but said: “The great majority of businesses we spoke to are progressive, expanding or looking to relocate, looking to build the business and take more employees on. We have helped with expansion, business relocation, and found grants out there that weren’t previously known about in North East Lincolnshire. We have also found a number of funders who are really keen to do business in the area and have seen it as a positive area that they have struggled to get a foothold. They are keen to assist, they have got funding available. 

“It has been a really, really great success and we feel it has offered quite an insight into business economy in North East Lincolnshire. As well as businesses, we have talked to funders and local professionals, and our conclusion is the business economy is in great shape. This leads us to have a good degree of optimism for the future.” 

TESTIMONIALS were given by Tony White, of Grimsby’s Fast Form Systems; Cleethorpes jeweller Karen Webb-Meek, the In The Pink owner who set up her own brand, Dollie, and Adrian Rowlands of Enviro Gy.

Mr White, who launched in late 2014, taking a construction aid concept to market in spectacular fashion, said: “Any local business should tap into this. A lot of resources are out there that we wouldn’t necessarily know about. Invoice finance has given us the funding for the next stage of growth.”

He has taken on new premises, pictured, and 14 staff in the past 18 months, sending his form-work product securing £400,000 of exports to the US and hopeful he has just doubled that on a recent visit.

“They are an enormous help, We are a mature start-up now but we would have struggled in the early days. If we hadn’t had the support we would still be scraping around looking for finance.”

Finance Yorkshire helped him initially, and now Investment Hub NEL has introduced him to NatWest’s financing. 

Grimsby-area businessman turned inspirational speaker, Richard Askam, was invited to address the celebration of achievement with more than 100 guests. He said: “It is wonderful to be in an environment like this in a little town. I am a Grimsby lad born and bred, I live here still, and to see a room full of people celebrating opportunity and possibility in front of us is fantastic.” 

Mr Askam took on his father’s wine business, transforming it from off licence to catering wholesale delivery, before embarking on gifting and personalisation of products. 

“I have been asked before ‘what does Grimsby need?’ It needs belief, and that is in this room,” he said. “I can see it happening. Stuff like this puts the grease on the wheels, and it is something I wish I had in my working life!” 

Explaining how he took some investment from venture capitalists “which turned out to be a really bad move,” he added: “Where were you in 2013?”

Closing the event, Mr Walsh said the area had moved beyond the cusp of something happening, and now it was about a genuine sense of belief. 

He said: “Success of the Investment Hub is part and parcel of the realisation of strength and opportunities in the economy. It is great to see it grow. It epitomises what a council should be about, enabling, intervening when we should, and getting out of the way when the time is right too.”

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