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Ideas & Observations

Live: Q&A with Neil Gardiner, managing director of N17 Growth Partners

Spinning plates is part and parcel of Neil Gardiner’s busy working week but how does the multi-tasking managing director of technology catalyst firm N17 Growth Partners stay ahead of the game?

Your role with N17 requires you to take a hands-on approach within the organisations you’re helping to grow. How do you spin so many plates, so effectively?

It might look like I’m the one spinning the plates but I’m actually the person who’s responsible for helping to build fantastic teams and helping those teams to identify which plates need to be spun…and when! I’m proud of the fact that N17 offers far more than a one-size-fits-all consultancy model and it’s true that we’re very hands-on when it comes to supporting growth. We have an experienced team of industry specialists who can focus on key priorities, map out tangible action plans, help to resource them and then help to roll them out. They’re the ones spinning the plates day-to-day, working together with a shared goal: identifying and supporting an exciting route for the growth and development of organisations everyone would love to see thrive. As N17 adds to its varied portfolio it makes sense that my over-arching role as managing director, as well as the roles I play within the various organisations we support, changes and evolves. I’ve had a series of positive meetings with interested parties across our network during the last few months, which have really gathered pace over the last few weeks. As a result, we’ll be announcing a number of key strategic moves aimed at improving the strength and depth of our resource to facilitate an acceleration of the growth we are seeing across our portfolio.

N17 Growth Partners prides itself on building tech businesses that directly improve people’s lives. Tell us more…

It’s just over three years since N17 laid out its vision to make a difference in this sector and I am proud to say we have built a really positive reputation in that short time as a result of our approach. From the outset we have been committed to assisting socially conscious and socially responsible businesses in the scalable technology sector. We want to work alongside businesses that can demonstrate a commitment to positive social outcomes as a result of their operations. For example, in Sleepstation and GiveToLocal our live portfolio includes two organisations at very different stages of their growth and development and two organisations tapping into very different audiences. Nevertheless, there is a commonality there in terms of the positive difference both can have to communities across the UK and beyond. Sleepstation and GiveToLocal are underpinned by user-friendly, scalable technology that’s proven to make people’s lives easier and better. We are in the final stages of adding another complimentary business to our portfolio, which is scheduled to be in July, and we’ll be releasing details on what will be another exciting addition to the N17 stable very soon.

Can you shed any further light on that new addition?

All I can say is that it fits perfectly into the N17 model. Again, their opportunity for growth revolves around scalable technology that can have a swift impact across a very large, addressable market. We’ve identified really exciting potential in this firm and we’re all confident that we’re perfectly positioned to help the organisation in question realise that potential. This one is a prime example of where N17 can add value, helping to define the route-to-market strategy and opening doors through our network with investors, funders and strategic partners to put a very impressive founding team in a room with the right audience at the right time and with the right message. I can’t tell you how excited everyone at N17 is to bring this like-minded organisation on board. It aligns perfectly with our ethos, our aims and, importantly, our interests.

Why does N17 stand out from the crowd?

I confidently talk about the fact that we’re nothing like a standard investment house or your average transactional consultancy-based model. We’re the very opposite of that. If I had to point to one core principle that the difference stems from, it’s that we don’t embrace a failure rate in our portfolio. To put it simply, we don’t take the approach of backing a lot of horses in the hope that one will come through. We don’t get involved if we can’t see a clearly defined route to success. Without exception, the clarity in that route comes from N17 providing input and adding in skills and expertise in certain areas to round out the team and ensure they are well positioned to excel. We’re proactive with our portfolio and there is actually a real demand for that, for real support for firms setting out to grow. And I suppose that’s where people might get the impression that I’m spinning all of those plates! It’s also important to point out that we’ll never back two horses in the same race: there’s exclusivity when it comes to N17. It’s something that we are more than happy to offer when we have taken the time to determine, with confidence, that we’re backing the right horse, in the right race, with the right resource to make waves. We make sure that the organisations we work with benefit from our full focus and that the result of our involvement is the execution against plans and the agreed strategic vision being delivered.

GiveToLocal and Sleepstation are two North East-based organisations making a big noise in 2021 — the former nationally and the latter also internationally. Can you update us on both?

Sleepstation and GiveToLocal sit at the heart of N17 but they require very different focuses. Sleepstation is an established name within the digital health sector and its online service, which is now worldwide, has been an embedded NHS service for almost nine years. A lot of our focus now at N17 is on taking a very well-established product into new markets and ensuring it has greater visibility at a time when more and more people require help with their sleep. Sleepstation already has a fantastic international footprint but there is so much more that can be achieved. GiveToLocal is at the other end of the scale but the focus on growth is the same. Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, the last 18 months have been about developing and establishing a product that is tailor-made for the sectors it is here to support — a product that we have tested and we know really works. We’ve built very strong connections with communities in grassroots sport and the SME sector during the Covid era. And we have a series of campaigns launching in July — in conjunction with a number of national governing bodies and spanning 21 sports — that will require significant support with a view to substantial growth. It’s projected that GiveToLocal could quickly reach the point of employing more than 200 members of staff, which would include the creation of a significant number of jobs in the North East. Needless to say, N17 is looking forward to a particularly strong finish to 2021 and we’re excited by the challenges ahead.