Part 2: Interview with a Growth Hub Manager
We spoke with Helen Miller, Growth Hub Manager for Leicester and Leicestershire Growth Hub (part 2 of 2).
In the second half of this interview Helen talks to the Business Finance Guide about the strengths and challenges in Leicester and Leicestershire, her advice for entrepreneurs, and about one of the business growth stories that has most stood out to her during her time in Leicestershire.
Read the first part of this interview here.
What would you say are the key strength sectors within Leicester and Leicestershire?
Well, textiles are a particular strength of the Leicester and Leicestershire economy. So, we’re looking to work with other regions that also have particular strengths in textiles, to look at how we can jointly build on that strength nationally and internationally.
In terms of other areas, we have an emerging space technology sector, and we’re talking to the likes of Cornwall around some of the opportunities that some space technologies offer.
Similarly, our area is known for its expertise in manufacturing, engineering, and life sciences.
Charnwood Campus in Loughborough is a designated Enterprise Zone and the UK’s first Life Sciences Opportunities Zone, which aims to create a cluster of businesses from this sector. But on a different note it’s also well known for its world class sports practices, with the world class sports facilities in Loughborough University.
What changes have you seen within Leicester and Leicestershire in the past few years?
There have been some really positive changes in the area over the past four or five years, with strong growth and investment in the area.
Unemployment has dropped, and the number of jobs created has increased, much of which is due to new businesses coming into the area.
What are the biggest challenges faced by businesses in Leicester and Leicestershire?
From both the business intelligence I’ve gathered and from talking to different intermediaries, I think that there are three key issues in our area.
The first is workspace, as there’s fairly limited workspace capacity in Leicester and Leicestershire.
The second is a skills gap within key sectors in this region, and that’s a problem that’s really exacerbated when national or local unemployment is low.
And finally, the availability of funding is quite often a challenge that the region is faced with.
You mentioned that one of the biggest challenges in Leicester and Leicestershire is a skills gap. What are the particular skills gaps you see within the region?
I actually think that the skills issue is national, as it’s not specific to Leicestershire, but it’s certainly worse in some areas of the country.
For example, in areas where there’s advanced manufacturing, like we have in Leicestershire, there are more often problems with recruitment into some of the more technical roles. That’s an issue that businesses do struggle with.
There are other sectors, like logistics for example, whereby attracting new talent into the sector can be tricky.
So, the challenge is trying to encourage young people to look at logistics, for example, as a good career choice. The Local Enterprise Partnerships have recently started to go into schools to try to inform staff on how they can encourage young people to match the needs of the local economy and what young people’s aspirations may be.
I think that it’s within those two sectors – technology and logistics – where we most commonly see skills gaps in Leicestershire.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur that is hoping to start out in Leicester and Leicestershire?
Just call us! (Click on the link here). We know the kind of people that can help businesses in the area, and we know the right kind of support that is available for them.
Some businesses speak to us around issues that we don’t directly have control over, like planning for example, but we certainly have great relationships with the local authorities around planning requirements and related issues, so we can help businesses to work with the local authorities in that regards.
In other cases, a person might have an idea, but they haven’t really done the research around it. Again, I’d advise that they just pick the phone up and speak to us because we work with over 60 partners in terms of public sector support, and we’ve got hundreds more in terms of private sector support.
So, if a business needs a specialist IP solicitor, for example, we can help them with those first steps as we’re in a really good position to make connections on behalf of businesses. That saves businesses time and a lot of research, so we can help out with what appears to be a difficult path when you’re starting out in business.
Are there any specific businesses that have stood out to you in the region?
I’ve only been working in the Leicestershire area for a few months, but in that short time there have been a few businesses that have really stood out to me.
One of those is a Leicester-based company called Micro-Fresh. The company was started in 2006, if I remember correctly, and they make the ingredient that goes into products, such as school shoes, to prevent the growth of mould and bacteria.
They add a lot of value to different products and they’re currently talking to John Lewis about further sales opportunities with them.
I think they’re a very inspirational business as their enthusiasm is still as fresh as the day they started, and they’ve managed to achieve a heck of a lot.
They had a fair amount of support in their early days, but we’ve been working with them more recently about their growth plans.
They’ve got their headquarters in Leicester, but they’ve opened more offices in China, India and Portugal. It’s a business that’s grown 30% year-on-year-on-year, and in order to continue that kind of growth they came to talk to us about some of the digital requirements they have in their business.
There are a number of programmes available that can help them to look at how they can improve their productivity, as well as some of the challenges that they were facing to get their brand better established.
So even though they are very successful, they’ve come to us recently to say that there are still some core issues that they need address.
Our Growth Hub has linked them up with the Digital Growth Programme’s experts, so they’re now talking to them about their software requirements, and what the right platforms are for them, as they grow to meet their sales demand and the changing needs of their customer base. In turn that’s helping them look at how they can become more efficient as a business.
They’re tapping into the range of different funding support programmes we’ve got available for businesses who want to have a grant to access some of the digital software, and also to learn what to do with it, in order to continue that growth that they’re on.
They’ve seen up to 30% growth over the last 3 years, which I think is really inspiring for lots of other businesses hearing their story.
I think Micro-Fresh are a prime example of a successful business that has come to us with what they thought was a specific need, but when we’ve spoken to them and looked into the details, we’ve actually been able to unpick the problem that’s holding back their growth and determined the best steps for them to take.
Find out more about the role of Growth Hubs and the support they offer in this recent article. Or to find your local Growth Hub, use the interactive map on this website.