In the face of uncertainty, our ambitious entrepreneurs hold the key to the economic success of the Thames Valley. Paul Etherington, EY Partner and Head of Mid-Market across the South, explains why.
It’s an exciting time for the region, with the Thames Valley forecast to grow faster than all UK regions outside of London, and Reading predicted to storm ahead as the UK’s fastest growing location for economic growth until 2021, according to EY’s Regional Economic Forecast. Looking at the business community in the Thames Valley, it’s easy to spot the large corporates and educational institutions dominating the region. However, there is one group that can sometimes slip under the radar which we simply cannot afford to ignore – entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs represent some of the fastest-growing companies in the region and many are facing down uncertainty with the confidence and ambition to push ahead. Whilst companies often err on the side of caution in relation to their growth plans, more than half of UK entrepreneurs are expecting to increase their revenues by 50% in 2019 according to EY’s Fast Growth Tracker. Not only do these businesses set an example to the wider business community on how to overcome uncertainty, and achieve rapid growth, they can also be powerful allies, especially if relationships are forged early on. These businesses also have a positive impact on the wider community, similar to Germany’s Mittlestand, providing employment, economic contribution and fuelling inclusive growth. In this region, we have a sector-based clustering of entrepreneurs and fast-growth businesses around technology, life sciences and advanced engineering – all IP-rich and high value-add sectors contributing to the economic prosperity of the region.
In order to support our region’s entrepreneurs, it’s important we understand what inhibits them from achieving their growth goals. The inability to access appropriate funding was found to be one of the biggest blockers to expansion for entrepreneurs, according to EY’s research. However, there are more sources of capital available to fast-growth, entrepreneurial companies than ever before which means entrepreneurs have much more choice to find the source of capital right for their business. Despite this, business leaders of some of the UK’s fastest-growing companies still said funding was their biggest blocker to expansion – quoted by 51% of the 390 founders and executives interviewed as part of the Tracker. Start-ups can struggle in particular, as some investors seem unwilling to take the chance on businesses that are still in the seed stages of growth, perhaps because of the level of risk involved.
The Thames Valley has huge growth ambitions over the next few years and it’s clear entrepreneurs are an important part of the puzzle if the region is to stay on top. However, entrepreneurs cannot achieve their own growth ambitions alone and its important they have a strong network to support them, especially through these uncertain times. There are some fantastic entrepreneurial hubs, initiatives, and local events specifically targeting local entrepreneurs to offer advice and networking opportunities across the Thames Valley. The Brittlestand Symposium for example – named after ‘Mittlestand’, a German word that refers to small to medium-sized enterprises – brings together business leaders from across the region to debate the issues challenging mid-sized businesses. At EY, our Entrepreneur Of The Year programme has been recognising entrepreneurs for over 20 years who are leading emerging and developed businesses, and contributing to the economy’s growth and success. It also provides the entrepreneurs with access to a wealth of insight and advice, as well as an opportunity to network and promote their brand in the local market.
The Thames Valley still has a long way to go in supporting and harnessing the potential of its entrepreneurial community. Successfully supporting this community of ambitious business leaders will in turn help our region achieve its overall growth ambitions. To do this, we must continue to actively engage with the entrepreneurial community, decipher and tackle the challenges they face, and actively help them to unlock their growth ambitions.