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‘A life-changing proposition’

Partnership is crucial to business. Without collaboration, ideas go unconverted and growth stories go unwritten. Ensuring firms avoid such situations is the Scaleup North East programme, which matches owners’ expansion plans with the knowledge, expertise and insight of entrepreneurial partners. Here, Steven Hugill speaks to partners Angelina Bell, Craig Huntingdon, Jon Symonds and Tony Brooks, to find out more about the RTC North-delivered venture, which, having already helped companies win millions of pounds of work, is now looking to support hundreds more across the North of Tyne area.

 

Companies should be:

– Businesses, including start-ups, which are scaling or can demonstrate significant growth potential
– Based in the areas of Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne or the Gateshead Metropolitan Borough

– Ideally in the following sectors, although others will be considered:

– Digital and technology
– Health and life sciences
– Low carbon and green growth
– Creative industries
– Advanced manufacturing

The following sectors are not eligible for support:

– Agriculture
– Fishery and aquaculture
– Banking
– Insurance

Firms must demonstrate a growth rate of 20 per cent over two previous years, or high growth potential, demonstrating growth of above ten per cent and forecasting future growth of at least ten per cent, with increase in employment.

For more information, visit www.scaleupnortheast.co.uk

 

The commercial world is a capricious place.

Amid such pitch and roll, it pays to have a steady partner to help turn the wheel.

For many companies, Scaleup North East is that trusted right-hand person, the first mate to prospective captains of industry keen not only to steer towards calmer waters, but chart courses to expansion, profitability and wealth.

The programme – funded by the Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, with the North of Tyne Combined Authority acting as lead organisation – is delivered by RTC North partners Angelina Bell, Craig Huntingdon, Jon Symonds and Tony Brooks, who use decades of combined entrepreneurial experience to map out growth journeys.

Tony says: “We’ve been there; we’ve seen and done it, we’ve had difficult moments and enjoyed successes too, so we know what it’s like.

“And coming from such a place of authority allows us to empathise with owners’ situations and ask the right questions to start conversations.”

Craig (pictured, below) adds: “That is the programme’s differentiating factor.

“We use our experiences and apply our knowledge to help owners broaden their strategies for success, by finding ways to overcome barriers and take advantage of opportunities.”

And the model has rich form.

Previous iterations of the programme – rolled out across the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s footprint – helped firms create hundreds of jobs, win more than £19 million of new work and raise in excess of £16.5 million over the last two years.

Those numbers, though, are primed to rise further still, with the venture offering support to 300 businesses – sole traders, micro, small, medium and large firms and social enterprises engaging in economic activity – throughout the North of Tyne area, across sectors including digital and technology, health and life science, low carbon and green growth, creativity and advanced manufacturing.

“The way we help businesses is so very different to other schemes,” says partner Jon Symonds of Scaleup North East, whose parameters include companies being able to demonstrate a 20 per cent growth rate over a two-year period.

He adds: “Crucially, it isn’t a transactional programme.

“We can work up to 40 hours with a client, which allows us to go far deeper than just surface scratching.

“That is a lot of intervention time, and, as partners, we’re also able to use our respective networks of support, across areas like outsourced HR and corporate finance, to further help businesses.”

Another differentiating factor of Scaleup North East is its diversity of delivery.

Shaped by an initial discovery session between business and programme partner, unique, pliable blueprints are then formulated to flex with every change and circumstance.

“Scaleup North East isn’t someone going into a company and telling the boss how to run a board meeting; it operates at a completely different level,” says Tony (pictured, below), who grew an electrical engineering firm from a two-person operation into a multi-million-pound, blue-chip contract organisation.

He adds: “We work in many ways, one of which is to agree three areas of focus with a client, which could be anything from organisational structure to business development, HR or finance.

“And then, once those have been fixed, we agree a cadence over a set period of time, signing each off as we go through the programme.

“We also host a lot of events, like bootcamps and workshops, and try to introduce companies we believe would benefit from such connections,” adds Tony of Scaleup North East.

“The level and breadth of support is so varied,” says fellow partner Angelina Bell (pictured, below), who held senior travel industry management roles from her very late teens and latterly co-founded a building surveying business.

She says: “We can meet a company once a month, or work on a more intensive basis to solve a pressing problem.

“There are times when a business has formed a strategy but has then come across challenges.

“Often, this is because they’ve reached their knowledge and experience ceiling, and it is where the support of Scaleup North East is so invaluable.

“With our collective knowledge and expertise as partners, we’re able to look at each business individually, assess their situation and properly plan longer-term outcomes.”

And with such relations, says Craig, come closer bonds, which essentially place Scaleup North East partners – and their expert counsel – as de-facto extensions of an organisation.

He says: “Managing the cadence of a company’s focus can be quite intense up front, almost project- orientated to a degree.

“But from those initial connections, over time, you become a trusted advisor, which provides massive value for a client.

“For them to be able to pick up the phone, on something like a lease query, for example, and have a sounding board in the form of a Scaleup North East partner is huge,” adds Craig, whose CV includes the international scaling of a wall covering manufacturer after leading a management buyout in his early 20s, and a decade as supermarket Aldi’s trading director.

Furthermore, says Angelina, such intimacy plays a pivotal part in removing potential obstacles between business protagonists and partners, with the latter’s experiences – good and bad – providing compelling and, at times, comforting case studies.

She says: “The insight and honesty we are able to deliver is key to the relationships we build.

“Many business owners often think, ‘I can’t get to the next level because of ‘x’ problem’ – but, through our experiences, we show them they can.

“I learned things the hard way in business, to the point I have quite a lot of battle scars.

“I know what it’s like to be promoted very quickly at a young age, and to have the responsibility of overseeing branches and regions as I did in the travel industry.

“I was also one of the first women homeworkers and I know too the challenges of starting a business, having set up a building surveying firm linked to energy efficiency with my husband in 2007.

“We quickly scaled the latter on a national level, but then got stung and nearly went bust overnight.”

Equally critical, says Jon (pictured, below), whose career began in corporate and retail banking in his native South Africa, is how such conversations can spur fresh direction in leaders.

He says: “A business owner may sometimes be emotionally unaware of their capabilities, whether that be the reality of an opportunity or the denial of the reality.

“And that is where our empathetical approach is so important,” adds Jon, who previously sat on the operating board of former FTSE 250-listed energy efficiency product firm Eaga and latterly delivered UK-wide consultancy support for a decade.

He says: “By talking to owners, and working to understand the dynamics of their situation, something that might start relatively innocuously, like wanting to access a new market, becomes something far greater around leadership and a complete revisit of strategy.

“We’ve done some amazing things with Scaleup North East, and we have genuinely changed the lives of business owners and the people they employ.”

Craig adds: “Businesses know what they do – they’re already brilliant at it.

“What they need is that extra layer of expertise, which is what Scaleup North East provides.

“We show them the art of the problem, and how to find the right answers for success.”

The North of Tyne Combined Authority is a partnership of three local authorities – Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council and Northumberland County Council – and the North of Tyne elected mayor. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is a central pillar of the Government’s Levelling Up agenda and provides £2.6 billion of funding for local investment by March 2025. The fund aims to improve pride in place and increase life chances across the UK, investing in communities and place, supporting local business, people and skills. For more information, visit: www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-shared-prosperity-fund-prospectus