Essex: Colbea creates opportunities for business creation
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
An initiative to encourage women to start their own businesses has been launched at Colchester Business Enterprise Agency. Sheline Clarke spoke to chief executive Bob Baggalley about the scheme and the agency’s wider brief to support and nurture fledgling businesses.
Colchester Business Enterprise Agency – or Colbea – has been supporting new businesses since its formation in the early 1980s.
It was set up according to the model established by Pilkington Glass, based in St Helens, Liverpool. To soften the blow of closing its factories, several of Pilkington’s board directors organised business counselling sessions to help employees become self-employed.
This successful initiative to encourage self-employment was adopted by the Government of the time and rapidly over 300 Enterprise Agencies were formed across the country to give the same free advice to anybody who wished to start up a new business.
Colchester was among the second tranche of these new enterprise agencies and more than 30 years later Colbea can claim to have helped thousands of business along their way.
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It operates from two centres, one in the heart of Colchester and the second, opened three years ago, at the business park close to the A12.
Heading the organisation from the very start has been Bob Baggalley who is always looking for ways of drawing down funds to provide more services to the ever expanding clutch of entrepreneurial businesses that seek Colbea’s guidance.
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The most recent successful funding bid involved a £10,000 grant from RBS to finance its ‘Small Steps, Big Changes’ campaign which will mean up to 100 women will each have access to a 12-month business training and start up programme worth £2,000 during 2014 and 2015.
“We have been overwhelmed by the response to this fantastic opportunity, and the sheer range of really viable businesses coming forward,” said Bob. “Securing this £10,000 Inspiring Women in Enterprise grant from RBS will enable us to help get up to 100 female-run businesses up and running in the next year and to support them as they grow.”
The first course took place in February and attracted more than 20 would-be businesswomen to the introductory sessions. Their business ideas ranged from coffee shops to interior design, marketing to education and from healthcare services to Colchester’s first doggy day care centre.
Attendees also heard from business owners HR law specialist Karen Woodbridge of Hornet Solutions, Katrina Wade of Colchester’s Bodyworks physiotherapy clinic, and Kate Everett of The Write Impression PR and communications agency, representing just three of Colbea’s business success stories.
Colbea business adviser Trevor Edwards and business coach Mandie Holgate presented the programme, which will include an extensive course of funded professional business support and training, office space in Colbea’s central Colchester business hub and a 12-month Colbea virtual office.
“We applied for the grant because we really felt we had something to offer,” said Bob. “We have been able to keep in contact with a number of ladies who have set up businesses and were willing to come back and help more women set up on their own.
“What makes this unique for us is that we can link it to our serviced offices, so we can offer start-up advice for women, help them with their business plan and also the opportunity to test trade from our offices, and I am really pleased that the funding bid was successful.”
The idea of running all female courses is nothing new and capitalises on the notion that women in a group tend to relate to each other and help each other along. Adding other women who have been through the process and can offer their experience to the learning curve is also beneficial, as is running the courses at times that make them available to busy mums, for example.
What all entrepreneurs will get from Colbea, be they male or female, is solid advice on how to progress and in some cases that advice may well be not to pursue the idea any further.
“We have to be strict,” said Bob. “We are impartial, independent and professional and we never move from those guiding principles. Of the people who come to see us for an initial diagnostic meeting with a business adviser, between 50-60% will be told this is not a good idea. “We are not driven by numbers and never will be; we have to be client focused and although sometimes it is hard, if we believe the right answer in no, then the answer will be no.”
This strict filter means that those entrepreneurs who do get a ‘yes’ are more likely to succeed and secure funding, should they need it.
“The banks say they are still lending but I think they are taking a much stricter look at the business and need to be happy it has everything in place including a solid business plan and a solid idea of how it is going to repay the loan,” explained Bob. “Perhaps, previously, that wasn’t the case so what we are doing for the banks is providing clients that have gone through the process. That way it is also less frustrating for the client who may go to the bank and be turned down.
“From a bank’s point of view they are reassured that if they get someone from Colbea then there is a genuine possibility that the business is going to be OK and that should help them attract funding.”
: : To find out more about Colbea and the Small Steps, Big Changes courses for women, contact Jane Green at Colbea on 01206 548833 or visit www.colbea.co.uk .