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10.07.03
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 Funds.

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 Devon.

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 ignore."

"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."

CASE STUDIES:

Aquamacs
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
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- precious materials.

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 days.

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 homes."

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 plan.

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 there before.'

"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 be lacking."

For further information contact:

South West Investment Group
Trevint House, Strangways Villas, Truro TR1 2PA
Tel: 01872 223883
Fax: 01872 242470
email: info@southwestinvestmentgroup.co.uk

Business Volunteer Mentors
Enterprise Plymouth Ltd, City Business Park, Somerset Place, Plymouth PL2 2BD
Tel: 01752 211211
email: denisek@epl.org.uk

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Editor's notes:

To contact any of the businesses mentioned for further information, please contact John Peters or Peter Casey at South West Investment Group.

 

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Jason Clark
Communications Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Castle House
Pydar Street
Truro TR1 2UD
Tel: 01872 241379
Fax: 01872 241388
jason@dclark.co.uk

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