Roundtables: Manchester, London, Glasgow

Breakthrough’s Roundtable events have been taking place across the UK, providing businesses with a forum to discuss key issues, from funding to recruitment. Three attendees from the Manchester, London, and Glasgow Roundtables describe their experiences

Put a group of ambitious entrepreneurs into a room together and, once the ice is broken, you’re more or less guaranteed an animated conversation. From raising finance to marketing, and hiring key staff, business owners have a huge amount to consider and welcome any chance to compare notes with their peers. Add to that a bank committed to supporting rapidly expanding businesses and you have a real opportunity for an open, stimulating and constructive discussion about the challenges facing today’s SMEs.

Taking place in venues across the UK, the Breakthrough programme’s Roundtable events are all about interaction. Entrepreneurs who attend have an opportunity to learn about Breakthrough and the support it provides for fast-growth companies. However, all of the business owners taking part are encouraged to participate across a range of topics. And, as the discussions open out, the entrepreneurs learn from each other. Some attendees are quite far along the growth curve, others are just at the beginning. All have something to share.

Senior-level contact

Each Roundtable allows invited businesses to open a dialogue with Santander at the most senior levels. All events are attended by Santander’s UK CEO Ana Botin, and Head of Breakthrough John Williams. Mike Rose, a Santander Regional Director for the North West, attended the Manchester Roundtable and helped select the delegates. The flow of conversation was two-way, as he explains. “We brought together a team of 15 local SME CEOs to talk about access to finance their business needs, and what Santander are doing to provide the support they need. The Breakthrough Programme is a unique example of how Santander are thinking creatively to fuel businesses’ ambitions.” 

“We covered a lot of topics from funding and staffing through to some very specific matters about doing business in Scotland.” Gregor Lawson, founder and Marketing Director, Morphsuits

The presence of senior figures from Santander appealed to London Roundtable attendee James Eder, Founder and Head of New Business at The Beans Group, a company that helps brands understand, access and engage with the youth market. “The biggest challenge any business owner faces is time and you can’t go to every event,” he says. “The fact that Ana Botin was going to be there gave the event a lot of prestige and it was inspiring to hear her speak and to hear about her plans to support small businesses.” James was equally keen to meet his peers. “I saw it as a great opportunity to talk to other businesses,” he says.

Gregor Lawson, founder and Marketing Director of costume company Morphsuits, loved speaking to other successful business owners at the Roundtable in Glasgow. “There were a lot of very different companies attending, but it was amazing how we all seemed to be facing very similar issues,” he says. With just 10-15 businesses taking part in each, the Roundtables are geared towards participation; so staying silent wasn’t really an option. “I was asking myself, ‘what questions will I ask? What questions will others ask me?’” says Gregor. “But as it turned out we had some very good discussions with some very good people.”


As Gregor recalls, Santander provided information on Breakthrough and its plans to support fast-growth businesses, but also acted as a facilitator for the discussions. “We covered a lot of topics from funding and staffing through to some very specific matters about doing business in Scotland,” he says.

Having grown from a company with just three members of staff (the three founders) to an £11 million business, Morphsuits was further along the growth curve than some of the participants, and Gregor was keen to share his experiences. “I definitely went along wanting to contribute and share my perspective, and I think I did that,” he says.

Participation was also high on James Eder’s agenda. “There are some common issues that all businesses tend to face and I think I was able to make a contribution to that discussion,” he says. “The room was very diverse and I was one of the youngest there – and I think I brought a different perspective.”

Bringing it all back home

Looking back on the London event, James felt that he took away some important insights about the funding market in general and Santander in particular. “One of the things I thought about was how we as a company could be useful to the bank and keep them informed,” he says. “It was good to be introduced to the bank at a high level and I felt we could work with them in the future.”

Gregor Lawson also ended the Glasgow Roundtable feeling he knew more about Santander. “It was great see how Ana operated and the way she interacted with her team,” he says. “Equally important, I came away with a lot of business cards.”

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