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Business & Economy

Newcastle University programme offers huge boost to local small businesses

Scores of small businesses across the North East have experienced growth thanks to Captured, a programme run by Newcastle University Business School.

Captured is an innovative support programme for established small and micro-enterprises that matches owners of businesses with fewer than 20 employees with experienced managers from businesses, including Go North East, HSBC, Nexus and Virgin Money.

Dr Fiona Whitehurst, Captured’s programme lead, explained: “Captured works on the principle that experienced managers from larger organisations can be a valuable sounding-board for small business owners who might otherwise struggle to find time to step back and look strategically at their business.

“Smaller businesses tell us that they really value learning from experienced professionals who can help them clarify the vision for the business and focus their time to make sure they get the greatest impact.

“The managers from larger businesses say that the programme gives them a chance to reflect on their own managerial practice and make new contacts.”

For example, Martin, an accountant with a background in the corporate finance world, started his business, Laser-Ex Office Products in 2005, and the company steadily grew, but until Captured, Martin was finding it difficult to find opportunities to work on growing the business further. The fact participants are teamed up with someone from a larger organisation on Captured was one of the main things that prompted Martin to apply.

Following support from Craig Townsend, a senior manager working in procurement at Virgin Money, Martin has now been accepted on to Scaleup North East programme, and feels Captured was a vital stepping stone.

He said: “You have to show you have a growth mindset to be accepted on to Scaleup North East; Captured helped us lay the foundations and identify our real priorities.”

Chris and Megan Pentland, who run dance tuition company SalSeduce, and the Megan Louise School of Piano respectively, were newlyweds when Chris discovered Captured, and the pair now enjoy a more balanced lifestyle and more profitable businesses as a result of taking part.

Chris said: “The course was very personalised, and we’re fortunate that it came around at the time we both needed it. Our businesses were ready to scale and Captured really got me thinking about how to get the most out of my business and streamline it down.”

Since completing the Captured programme, Megan’s business has grown by 60 per cent, and Chris has been able to reduce his hours by outsourcing to trusted colleagues, boosting his profits as well as the time the couple can spend together.

Megan added: “Because of Captured we both have better processes in place, and a stronger network.”

Nina Walton, who runs Walton Marketing and Communications, took part in the inaugural Captured programme in 2015, and has since grown her business by more than 35 per cent, to which she credits to the support of programmes such as Captured.

She said: “I knew that creating a sustainable brand would take time, and that getting as much support and guidance from the outset was vital. There are so many elements to navigate when setting up a business, so having the opportunity to work with a mentor to talk through those challenges was very appealing.”

The scheme also has benefits for the mentors from larger businesses that give up their time to take part.

Craig from Virgin Money, who mentored Martin, said: “As well as being a great opportunity to get to know the business community better, I knew it would also help me build my network and improve my understanding of the challenges faced by small companies. It’s important as an organisation that we listen and learn from other businesses.”

Commercial director of Go North East, Stephen King has also been a Captured mentor and said his involvement has been helpful on both a personal and a professional level.

He said: “Captured has been beneficial for my own personal development, taking me out of my comfort zone and giving me the chance to look at my own business through a different lens. It’s also highlighted the importance of making time to step back from the day to day operations of running a business, to give yourself headspace and much needed strategic thinking time.

“Essentially it’s about getting the right balance of working in the business, as well as on the business, which Captured really helps with. It’s been great to be part of and I’d thoroughly recommend anyone considering it to take part.”