Coventry and Warwickshire is blessed by having two entrepreneurial universities – and I say that not only as chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP), but also as a business owner.
My firm The Emerald Group – an IT company based in Leamington Spa – has first-hand knowledge and experience of how the University of Warwick can assist local companies at key stages in their commercial growth journey.
We enrolled on its Business Ready programme which predominantly helps businesses overcome barriers to growth, allowing them to reach their potential – and ultimately the potential of Coventry and Warwickshire.
The programme has been really successful for us on all fronts. We had an information exchange session with the programme co-ordinator and the good thing was that she stayed with us throughout the whole process, but then brought in colleagues with specialist knowledge as and when it was appropriate.
The initial session was really useful because sometimes, as a business owner, you don’t know what you don’t know. You have an idea where you might have issues, but I found those mapping sessions really, really useful in pinpointing those barriers.
We then looked at a mix of areas. We addressed sales because while we were very good at selling into existing customers, we were not marketing ourselves strongly enough to new customers.
Marketing wise, we were connected with Leamington-based Glued, and Rob from the company took myself and my fellow directors through where he felt we were, and how we position ourselves.
None of us are marketeers and the tool threw up that while we were good internally with embedding our values and what we were good at, we were not so good at translating that into something which could be understood in the market place.
I also undertook a programme on managing risk. It’s one of those things that probably most SMEs are not practiced in because, understandably, they are concentrating on growth and it often gets left “on the pile”. While the sessions were very good – they also allowed me to meet other owners in a similar position and that in itself was very valuable.
We then had bespoke programmes on marketing and one on customer service, which we put every member of staff through, and that was brilliant. Often these programmes work with just the senior team but to have something that every member of the team could go through and feel the tangible benefits from, was great.
We worked with Business Ready for about six months and we saw real benefits from it. In fact, as a result, we have gone on to work with Glued and the firm who did the customer service training.
As well as aiding development of the business, it also provided me with a business support network of like-minded people in a similar position, and I have used that at times when I wanted to discuss certain issues before making decisions.
It certainly allowed me to look at the business from a more strategic point of view – almost lift my head up from the day-to-day to look at the business as a whole, its growth and its development.
Having a university with the overall offer of University of Warwick’s Science Park is immensely important to the local and regional business ecosystem. There is so much for local businesses – of any size and sector – to tap into to help their growth and development.