As Brexit negotiations continue to spark uncertainty within the UK workplace, the nation’s future as long-standing world business leader remains ever hazy – with London seeking to defend its position as financial capital of Europe. Yet despite these trying times, and acknowledgement of this bump in the road from most around the country, business continues to thrive in the face of uncertainty. ‘Adaptability’ becomes the new name of the game.
Where the UK’s second capital is concerned, there’s no denying that Birmingham has proven itself a truly transformative city. With the monumental redevelopment of Birmingham New Street – the busiest train station outside of London – and unveiling of the stunning shopping complex that is Grand Central in 2015, we now prepare ourselves to host the landmark gateway that is HS2 Curzon Street station in 2026. This paired with Birmingham Airport’s £500 million expansion plan to grow its passenger numbers by 5 million in 2033, and you could say things are looking up (you need only peer out your window to spot building work on the horizon).
While the future looks bright for Birmingham’s bread and butter industries, the city is still very much a hotbed for SMEs, with The Federation of Small Businesses’ ‘Celebrating Small Business Awards 2019’ now on the lookout for this year’s new contenders. But planes and trains aside, what makes the West Midlands the place to be for SMEs in 2019?
The Small Business Council
Rather excitingly, it’s this year that Birmingham forms its very first Small Business Council to represent the city’s SME community, advising the mayor and Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity on relevant matters. With the Deputy Director for Business and Diversity, Tene Dolphin, scouting out small business founders and supporters to join her for this two-year appointment, the ‘action-orientated’ council aims to analyse the current eco-system with aims to improve SME access to capital. Fifty per cent of the SBC must be minority and women business owners, with Dolphin striving to ‘open doors and break down barriers’ when it comes to growing a business. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin also hopes to better streamline processes for SMEs within the city: “Birmingham’s small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and the backbone of our city, and we look forward to hearing from them.”
Business Growth Programme
Whether you’re a fledgling or fully established business, Birmingham is a place that rewards big ideas. Part supported by the European Regional Development Fund and managed by Birmingham Council, the Business Growth Programme aims to back investment-ready projects from all sectors under the HS2 Supply Chain, the Green Bridge Supply Chain, Business Innovation and Business Development programmes. With SMEs now being shortlisted for this year’s £1 million of grant funding, past success stories include Telford-based VR Simulation Systems and their development of PTI simulators targeted at the rail sector. Also Staffordshire signage company Hollywood Monster with the investment of greener printing technology and Solihull’s Cox Exhibition Consultants Ltd in support of its expansion plans in Hockley Heath. With the Council’s achievements recognised nationwide, winning the ‘Improving Business Environment’ and ‘Most Enterprising Place in Britain’ categories at the Enterprising Britain Awards 2016, the story continues.
Entrepreneurs of tomorrow
If you’ve ever fancied yourself a Dragon’s Den contender, then Pitchfest 2019 could be worth keeping on your radar. Run by partners Aston University, University of Birmingham and Warwick University, Pitchfest puts small businesses in front of leading investors and innovators in a bid to boost their profile and potentially secure investment. With the opportunity to prepare and refine the perfect pitch, budding entrepreneurs present their big ideas before a panel of judges, after which they will receive valuable feedback. Taking place over a number of rounds, Pitchfest is a unique opportunity for start-ups to come face to face with Birmingham’s biggest stakeholders, with the chance to improve self-confidence and refine pitching skills in order to grow in the future. With £2,750,000 invested in SMEs via the platform so far, this year’s competition will take place in July and is open for applications.
Knowledge is power
It takes time and investment to nurture the big ideas (something not every small business will have immediate access to) and that’s where the University of Birmingham comes in. Offering specialised support to SMEs wishing to fulfil their potential, business owners and their teams have access to a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment to carry out their all-important testing and analysis, with the help of academic staff and doctoral researchers. In addition, The BioHub Birmingham – a fully serviced biomedical research laboratory – offers entrepreneurs affordable access to facilities and support in the development of innovative new technology. If it’s new recruits you’re after, the university’s Knowledge Transfer Partnerships connect start-ups with suitably qualified graduates. For a period of six months to three years, not only does this help entrepreneurs embed the right expertise within their business, but also provides graduates with invaluable experience – and prospects for the future.
Neil Lancaster is a partner at Adams Moore Accountants and Business Advisers - based in Tamworth and serving clients in Birmingham and throughout the UK, Adams Moore offers individuals and businesses a wide range of accountancy and business guidance services. Visit www.adamsmoore.com.