Opening the door to growth: How mentoring can help SME leaders thrive

By Norman Apsley OBE FREng, Chief Executive of Catalyst Inc and Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub mentor, pictured above

The UK has always been home to innovative, forward-thinking entrepreneurs but its companies can often find it difficult to reach their full potential. The government has indicated that the UK’s economic future must have science and innovation at its core, but how can we translate technological innovations into business success? I firmly believe that experienced business leaders can play a vital role by helping promising entrepreneurs make the leap from starting up to scaling.

The natural creativity and drive of innovators is enough to get most through to being a start-up entrepreneur, but when it’s time to grow they can feel like they have many hurdles to overcome. A lack of ambition, experience, connections or investment can hold even the greatest ideas back – and entrepreneurs often don’t know who to turn to for help and advice. An experienced mentor or an active support network of investors and industry partners can change this by bringing business knowledge, acumen and connections to the table, as well as being a valuable sounding board. A good network is more than just an address book, offering tips and advice based on their own hard-won experiences and successes. Growing a company can often feel like a long and lonely path so having a knowledgeable mentor and strong network can have a huge impact on an entrepreneur’s motivation. It also helps in learning the ropes of business leadership quicker, allowing for faster growth or repeated successes across a number of businesses.

This ‘bank’ of knowledge and experience is one of the reasons that the Enterprise Hub prioritised mentorship in its support of entrepreneurs. Recognising that funding is only part of the picture in helping entrepreneurs succeed, the Hub has provided 61 members with bespoke mentoring so far. One member, Michael Geissler CEO of Mo-Sys Engineering, has seen his company’s revenues grow by 70% in 2016, and the entrepreneur believes that the help and support he received from the Hub and its mentors help made this possible.  Michael said he was able to find this period of rapid growth “mind opening and exciting,” as he was able to focus on the business decisions that matter, due to the support of the Hub, rather than focusing on “putting out fires”.

At the Enterprise Hub we know that mentor support like this can be vital when entrepreneurs look to scale their businesses, and as a result we have set up the Engineering SME Leaders programme. The programme is designed to support leaders of our most promising engineering and tech ventures, helping them to not only survive but thrive. It offers four strands of activity over six months with the aim of helping SME leaders, who are looking to scale-up their businesses. The programme offers successful applicants Hub Membership, a personal business mentor matched to each entrepreneur’s own needs, access to workshops and masterclasses, and a grant of up to £15,000 towards specialist leadership training.

The programme first opened to entries at the end of 2016 and we have now welcomed our first cohort. These individuals are already making a mark in sectors ranging from aerospace and cyber security to renewable energy, and are on the cusp of even greater things. They are: 

Dr Peiman Hosseini, CTO – Bodle Technologies – Creating a pioneering new ‘smart material’ that manipulates lights at a flick of a switch, enabling display devices with dramatically reduced battery consumption.

Alastair Pettigrew, CEO, and Greg Francis, FD – BOXARR Ltd – Helping organisations save time and money by bringing together business processes in one place.

Dr Siraj Shaikh, Founder and Chief Scientist – CyberOwl – Providing a ground-breaking early warning cyber threat system through real-time analysis. 

Phil Horton, MD – Dulas Ltd – Providing consultancy that delivers maximum output from renewable energy schemes. 

Khizar Ali, CEO, Fabio Nisitano, Chief Engineer, Sheeraz Ahmed – Operations Director – ONLICAR –Applying Formula 1 technology to fleet management to improve performance and save money. 

Shefali Sharma, Business Development Director – Oxford Space Systems – Developing lighter, compact space structures to pave the way for lower cost commercial space ventures. 

Phil Redfern, MD – REACT Engineering Ltd – Changing how we clean up nuclear waste to improve environmental impact. 

Christine Boyle, CEO – Senergy Innovation – Creating and deploying a technology that reduces the cost of solar panels by 25%.

Daniel Thorpe, Business Development Director – Spiro Control Ltd – Helping factories increase production rates and lower energy costs through analytics.

Growing a company doesn’t need to feel like an uphill battle. With the right tools and a mentor to guide them, entrepreneurs can thrive. With continued support through schemes like ours, we can give UK entrepreneurs the skills to grow their companies’ into world leaders.

Entries for the next round are now open. To apply visit the Enterprise Hub website.