Coronavirus: Business advice & support COVID-19 Support

NEWS

An Interview with Vicky Hlomuka, Growth Hub Manager

15 June 2021

With lockdown restrictions in England continuing to ease and more businesses re-opening their doors every day, we caught up with Vicky Hlomuka, Growth Hub Manager to get her reflections on the last year.

From phones non-stop off the hook, 4,500 businesses supported, £675,655 Kickstart Grants awarded, and 158 new jobs created, in 2020/2021 SEMLEP’s Growth Hub has never been busier.

 

Can you explain, in a nutshell, what the Growth Hub does?

In a nutshell, the Growth Hub provides support to any business in the SEMLEP area, which includes Northants, Milton Keynes and Bedfordshire. We have a team of experienced and dedicated business advisers, who can really provide that 1-to-1 support for businesses.

We have a programme for scale ups because we really recognise the value of helping businesses owners to take their business from where they are now, to that next step if they want to grow and expand.

We run a range of workshops and webinars on different topics that range from marketing to finance, through to things like innovation and upskilling your workforce, as well as different grant programmes to help businesses to grow and diversify, and in the last year, to help them recover from the effects of Covid.

 

Why does the Growth Hub help businesses?

That’s a really good question. I think it’s because we really see the value to businesses of getting that external expertise. A lot of people go into business because they’ve got passion and experience in whatever that product/service area is.

But actually, to run a successful business, there’s so many other aspects you need to consider. For example, managing people, the finance, the marketing; that’s where we come in. We really recognise the value of external support and expertise in those wider aspects of running your business.

We’re really passionate about helping businesses find the right support. At the end of the day, a lot of our business owners are time poor. They don’t have the time to go out and check out different support and finance options. We feel we can step into that role and be that advocate for them. Understand what they’re trying to do and trying to achieve and connect them in with things that will help them to get there.

 

How has the Growth Hub adapted over the past year?

A lot! I think none of us knew what was coming in February 2020. We all had plans for the year ahead and then had to take a big deep breath at the end of March.

What’s incredible is how flexible and adaptable the team have been to the changes. When I think of things like opening the phones at the weekends, putting together grants schemes at very short notice (for example, delivering 251 Kickstart Grants and 41 Recovery and Resilience Grants), working together in partnership with other organisations (Providing 1657 referrals), I’m really proud. To come together as a collective to support businesses has been a really rewarding part of the last year.

You’ve just got to think on your feet. You’ve got to make those decisions and go for it. You’ve always got to be thinking about what’s next. And even now we need to be thinking that, because what’s relevant two months ago, may not be relevant now.

 

The past year has challenged businesses across the UK. In terms of the Growth Hub, what stands out for you as a memorable moment?

I’ll say two things. One, very early in the pandemic when the phones just went manic, and we had our “do whatever it takes campaign”. This is when I really saw the passion and commitment of the team to support businesses, opening over the weekends and going the extra mile to help business owners in distress.

The other memorable moment was, when we secured some funding to give out some COVID recovery grants, back in the Autumn. We launched them on a Monday morning, and I remember there were about 20 people in the organisation all working on the grants. We allocated the grants on a first come, first serve basis and had allocated the funding within about 40-minutes. It was the way the team came together in that moment of time.

 

Alongside your most memorable moment, what is the Growth Hub biggest success over 2020/2021?

For me, I think one of the successes was that I feel like we were constantly adapting and innovating our services to try and make sure we were able to offer the best services to the businesses. We launched the Kickstart Grants, but then we secured funding from the Getting Building Fund to deliver the Recovery and Resilience capital grants programme. The programme provides up to £50,000 capital grants to encourage diversification and resilience. To date, 41 grants have been awarded with a commitment to create 158 new jobs.

It’s the ability to spin all those plates and provide that holistic support, doing lots of different things – all with the aim of providing the best and most relevant support to our local businesses. More than anything, it was doing lots of different things at once, putting on 57 events with a total of 1265 attendees, supporting 152 prescale and scale up potential businesses through Growth Curve, delivering 10 cohorts of Peer Networks, the list goes on.

 

Over the past year, the Growth Hub has run a number of grant schemes. Can you tell me about funding available through the Growth Hub?

So, on the 17 June 2021, our Recovery and Resilience Grant Scheme will reopen for Expressions of Interest. The scheme provides capital grants to help businesses to diversify, so perhaps to look at a new product or service offering, but also, to build resilience in a business.

The programme offers capital grants of up to £50,000, funding up to 50% of a project cost. For example, if a business is looking to buy a piece of kit up to £100,000, we can provide up to £50,000 of that.

It’s great to be able to really help businesses to get back to growth, and to recover what they’ve lost during Covid.

 

And finally, what’s your top tip for business owners looking to the future?

I think, as businesses look to the future; there is an opportunity to build back stronger.

There are a lot of negativities around the pandemic, and the impact of the pandemic, but actually, my advice to businesses is to look to the opportunity.

It’s an opportunity to take stock, it’s an opportunity to look at areas they can innovate, change what they’re doing, make it more relevant and more efficient. It’s an opportunity to put plans in place for the next couple of years.

I would encourage business owners to seek some external support with putting those plans in place. This is the time to realise there are opportunities out there to support recovery and growth and to get that external support to do that.

 

For more information about the support available through SEMLEP’s Growth Hub, visit www.semlepgrowthhub.com or call 0300 01234 35.

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