Money with mentoring makes success!
A partnership forged between two of the region's leading
business support agencies has already led to direct benefits
for a number of local small businesses.
South West Investment Group (SWIG), which provides 'complementary
finance' to businesses in the region, has teamed up with
the Plymouth- based Business Volunteer Mentors (BVM), for
the benefit of companies aided through its Business Development
So far, ten businesses that have received Objective One investment
have taken a Mentor on board, following a presentation about
BVM's services given to SWIG clients at the end of April.
The exercise is being repeated this month for companies in
The idea of business mentors is well established in the United
States but is relatively new to this country. The BVM was
set up in the UK as a national scheme and is now operating
in Devon and Cornwall, providing local small businesses with
access to a range of business specialists that can help support
survival and growth. The service is entirely confidential
and free of charge- the only qualification being that the
company must be referred by an organisation authorized to
make referrals to BVM, typically one that provides support
to businesses. The BVM office can advise business enquiries
on accessing the service.
There are currently around 30 BVM Mentors in the South West,
drawn from a variety of business and professional backgrounds.
Typically, the Mentors have considerable experience in a particular
industry, often gained from successfully developing a small
business from the spare room up to the factory unit.
Andrew Copp, who co-ordinates the BVM programme in Devon
and Cornwall, started talking to SWIG last year to explore
how BVM's services might benefit the 400 or so local
businesses funded though the public/private sector company,
which has offices in Truro and Exeter.
"It seemed an obvious link-up," he commented. "SWIG
have an excellent track record in nurturing business development
with financial support, and we saw an opportunity to improve
survival rates even more with the availability of mentoring
support. Many skills are needed to run a successful business
which are gained over a period of time and quite literally
on the job; mistakes are made in the course of this and often
fatal ones. Mentors can help sidestep some of these by bringing
in the experience and knowledge that a busines may not have and yet can neither afford to engage nor to
"We don't insist that our clients take the counsel
of a mentor," explained Peter Casey of South West Investment
Group. "There is already plenty of good advice available
out there through Business Link, the Enterprise Agencies and
others. There are times however in today's complex business
world when most firms will benefit from the input of an experienced
individual who has 'been there before', and the
advice they can impart is often invaluable."
Redruth-based Aquamacs specialises in the rental and maintenance
of aquaria and tropical fish. The rapidly-expanding business
was established when proprietor Stuart Mackenzie gained a
place on the government-backed New Entrepreneur Scholarship
programme, through which Aquamacs won the Regional Best Business
Award in 2002.
When Stuart first met with Dick Dennys, a BVM Business Mentor
last year, the two hit it off straight away. Dick saw the
potential in the business idea and also Stuart's real
enthusiasm and commitment for what had been his hobby for
a long time.
Through years of keeping home aquaria, Stuart had become
an expert in this field. To apply this commercially however
was a different matter, and turning hobby into business was
a long road to travel. Stuart had never been in business before,
and the organisational and financial logistics seemed daunting.
Dick on the other hand had been involved in the successful
establishment of businesses before and still had business
interests. He brought a stable influence as well as commercial
wisdom and experience to the project and helped to give credibility
where and when it was needed most.
With a financial boost from SWIG, the business has developed
and now boasts many satisfied customers, including business
reception areas, hotels, restaurants, car showrooms, dentists
and private nursing homes throughout the region.
"I have made a friend as well as a business associate,"
says Stuart. "I have never felt alone with Dick involved in
the business. I have taken on board his skills and experience
as we have journeyed together with Aquamacs. He has helped
me build up my capacity to develop and we now have a solid
base from which to grow into the next stage. I have been privileged
to have had the help I have had but would recommend every
new business like mine has support from a business mentor."
Tombodama (Japanese for 'bead maker') is an exclusive
fashion and bridal jewellery company, first established at
home by Julia Schofield four years ago. The jewellery range,
all produced by Julia, comprises bracelets, necklaces, chokers,
tiaras and hair adornments made using fine beads and semi-
Julia's first shop opened in Porthleven in 2001, and
a second opened in Falmouth last year. And whilst sales are
growing at home, Tombodama's name is growing internationally,
with orders increasing from overseas, especially the USA.
This has been helped by SWIG funding, made available for a
website upgrade and promotional costs.
Success of course brings its own challenges, and Julia sought
the advice of a BVM Business Mentor earlier this year to help
consolidate and focus her activities. The mentor introduced
to the business, Maurice Holder, has many years' experience
of running his own businesses as well as senior management,
and already this experience is benefiting Tombodama.
"My shoulders have already come down two inches, though
it's early days yet." says Julia. "Having a
vastly experienced business mentor who wants to understand
what you're trying to do and can advise on the implications
of crucial decisions, is sheer joy after the endless hard
slog in the dark which self-employment often is. I don't
expect solutions, but I know I'll get Rolls-Royce advice."
Unique Home Stays
Unique Home Stays is, as the name suggests, a unique business,
providing a co-ordinated collection of individual, distinctive
and beautiful 'home stays', personally hosted by
knowledgeable, warm and gracious local homeowners who offer
first class hospitality and welcome for visitors to Cornwall.
Sarah Stanley founded Unique Home Stays two years ago, with
the help of SWIG funding. Operating from Sarah's own
home near Newquay, the business now has over 30 properties
to its portfolio, including castles, priories, mills, monasteries,
rectories and stunning country and coastal homes. Visitors
are attracted from across the UK, Europe and the USA.
Terry Dowrick, a BVM Mentor with many years' senior
experience in the corporate banking sector, particularly in
the USA, has been advising the business from its earliest
Sarah comments: "Since starting Unique Home Stays I
have been encouraged and supported by Terry's help and
advice. It has been an enormous help having Terry looking
in from the outside where he has been able to look objectively
and keep my focus on developing the business in Cornwall whilst
preparing to expand into other areas of the South West, concentrating
on overseas visitors that are attracted to the high quality
cultural opportunity of staying in unique privately hosted
St Piran Supplies
In a small business there is usually little chance to talk
through ideas with someone who is truly independent of the
business. However, without talking ideas through with someone
competent and confident enough to express an unbiased opinion
it would be all too easy not to spot the flaw in a business
Neill and Jane Wood at St Piran Fishing Ltd turned to the
BVM not because they were seeking solutions to a problem,
but because they felt very happy with their plans and wanted
the opportunity to test them to be sure they had not been
kidding themselves on any points.
St Piran Fishing Ltd is a distributor of fishing gear, set
up as a sister company to St Piran Supplies Ltd in Redruth,
a thriving business wholesaling waterproof boots nationally
that received help from SWIG in its early stages. The new
company's future looked good, but as the Woods were entering
new territory, they wanted the reassurance of someone who had 'been
"We were delighted when we met Jon Davies from the BVM,"
says Neill, "as he not only had a wealth of experience
to draw upon but also showed a great deal of interest in what
we were doing. As a result of our meeting with Jon we have
gained the comfort of reassurance that our plans are sound,
as well as gaining some valuable suggestions relating to the
development of new products. Jon remains on-call as and when
we need him, giving a feeling of security thatwould otherwise
For further information contact:
South West Investment Group
Trevint House, Strangways Villas, Truro TR1 2PA
Tel: 01872 223883
Fax: 01872 242470
Business Volunteer Mentors
Enterprise Plymouth Ltd, City Business Park, Somerset Place,
Plymouth PL2 2BD
Tel: 01752 211211
To contact any of the businesses mentioned for further information,
please contact John Peters or Peter Casey at South West Investment
Objective One Partnership Office
Truro TR1 2UD
Tel: 01872 241379
Fax: 01872 241388
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