Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at North East Local Enterprise Partnership
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Behind the Business with the North East LEP

Bdaily goes behind the business with Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at North EastLocal Enterprise Partnership, the organisation supporting economic growth and investment in North East England.

What key challenges has your company recently faced?

To achieve our economic vision, the North East needs more growing and productive businesses yet the traditional sources of funding to support growth and productivity improvement have significantly reduced. This demands a new and enterprising approach.

Recognising that the barriers to growth and improvement for small businesses still exist andanticipating change, the North East LEP has developed plans to develop a vibrant, entrepreneurial lead ecosystem that will utilise technology to reduce its cost base, drive financial sustainability and better connect members of the business community to one another.

As with any transformation the major challenge is in capturing people’s hearts and minds; helping them to recognise the need to change and supporting them to adapt to the new environment. One in which there is a reduced reliance on the availability of public funding and grants.

What is your biggest achievement over the past 12 months?

During 2015/16 the LEP’s Business Growth Programme has developed a sound base on which to build. We are now really focused and clear about what we need to do and with the Growth Hub at its heart, the North East now has a framework on which to mobilise the area’s collective energy and resource to create a world class, entrepreneurial and innovative landscape that will raise aspirations, inspire belief and connect people with the growth and finance support that will enable businesses to start, scale up and improve.

I’m particularly pleased with the level of support and engagement received from corporate partners who play a crucial role in supporting the delivery of the business growth programme. The involvement of business and corporate partners is critical to adapting to the new world and supporting business growth and improvement.

The North East LEP’s role is to create more and better jobs through supporting business growth and a key achievement is the introduction of the North East Growth Hub, which has already developed an online community of over 500 people who will help SMEs develop and secure competitive advantage.

The Growth Hub is the single point of access to the support and finance businesses need to grow and improve. For the first time ever, the North East’s business community has a comprehensive and real time resource that generates peer-to- peer engagement and interaction. In addition to the community, the North East Growth Hub has created a database of over 250 business support programmes and identified in excess of 2,000 business improvement events that are taking place across the North East.

What is your most important focus for the coming year, and what do you hope to achieve?

We will create a world class, entrepreneurial and innovative landscape that inspires belief and connects people with the business growth and finance support that will enable businesses to scale up and improve. This will be achieved through:

  • Continuing to develop the North East Growth Hub - negrowthhub.co.uk. To provide access to business growth, finance support and to create a vibrant online community that sparks conversations, connections and collaboration.
  • Continuing to work with our partners to develop the business growth ecosystem and to develop a simplified and customer focused model for business growth and finance support.
  • Promoting an entrepreneurial and growth orientated mind-set that encourages businesses to scale-up, innovate and trade outside of the North East.
  • Providing targeted support for businesses that have the aspiration to grow but face barriers in making the transition from a developmental to a growth phase (or from working ‘in’ to working ‘on’ their business).
  • Providing targeted support to businesses within the North East’s areas of Smart Specialisation and those that hold the ambition to scale-up.
  • Enabling peer-to- peer support through the Growth Hub community; working with membership organisations and encouraging participation in and increased demand formentoring.
  • Creating an environment in which businesses have access to the capital required to grow and improve.

What excites you most about your industry and business?

Unleashing people’s potential is what really excites me. The North East is oozing with incredible stories of ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary things, it’s incredibly inspiring.

What drives me is creating the landscape where entrepreneurs recognise the rewards for their hard work; a landscape that inspires people to realise their potential and provides the support and self-belief required to do so.

What do you wish you’d known when starting out?

That culture eats strategy for breakfast. It’s incredibly important to work in a culture and with people who match your beliefs and values.

What will be the “next big thing“ in your industry, and how do you plan to handle it?

There is no straight line to the future and in our industry we are always subject to the ebb and flow of public policy. It’s important therefore that we let ends drive means and remain focused on the delivery of the region’s vision and strategic economic plan.

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