SME Summit at the International Festival for Business 2014: Delegate stories

The latest SME Summit, organised by Santander and The Times, took place at the International Festival for Business 2014 in Liverpool. Breakthrough Business Editor Dan Matthews was in attendance and asked three other delegates what they got out of the day.

Taking place in Liverpool’s iconic Cunard Building, the event was attended by some seriously inspiring speakers including Santander UK’s CEO Ana Botín, McLaren boss Ron Dennis and Chancellor George Osborne, as well as delegates from nearly 300 fast-growth businesses across the UK. The schedule promised presentations, Q&As, and keynote speeches, as well as the opportunity to network and make business connections throughout the day.
So did the SME Summit really deliver? We asked three delegates, invited by Santander, for their opinions and what they considered to be highlights of the day.
Alex Trimnell, Managing Director of Muc-Off
Alex Trimnell heads up the growing bicycle care brand Muc-Off, which recently collaborated with Team Sky (the professional cycling team) to deliver its cutting-edge range of lubricants and cleaning agents.

Though a small business by comparison, Alex says he sees plenty of crossover between the approach of his business and that of Ron Dennis’s McLaren. Both companies seek to obtain a competitive edge through science, data and attention to detail, and both seek to capitalise on their intellectual property. “Historically, we’re a small business developing liquids for cleaning and lubricating bikes, but I’ve always had a plan to expand what we do with engineering and science,” Alex says. “We spent years building the business to prove its potential and move it forward.”
“There is so much dated technology on a bicycle and we think we can massively improve it,” he adds. “So hearing how Ron improves his business with quantitative data is really exciting. McLaren sells its technology to other industries and that’s what we’re doing too.”
Speaking about the event overall, Alex says that the presence of so many high-profile Santander personnel was proof of the bank’s “genuine commitment” to helping UK businesses grow and thrive.
Dennis Kehoe, Chief Executive, AIMES Grid Services
A theme of the SME Summit was how technology can drive innovation and grow a business. For Dennis Kehoe, Chief Executive of cloud services company AIMES Grid Services, this message could not have hit closer to home. “I’m here partly because today is about modern business and we are at the cutting-edge of many technological innovations so we have the right profile to fit,” he says. “Understanding entrepreneurship is about getting at the DNA of it, and you learn a lot of that from other people’s stories in a contextualised setting. Our growing digital ecosystem needs innovation, connectivity and scale and corporate finance is a critical part of creating that value chain.”

“Understanding entrepreneurship is about getting at the DNA of it, and you learn a lot of that from other people’s stories” Dennis Kehoe, Chief Executive of AIMES Grid Services 

Dennis is a former senior professor at the University of Liverpool and has successfully negotiated the many obstacles to growing a business, such as raising investment capital and acquiring premises. However, the Summit proved there was still plenty yet to learn. “Uncertainty drives innovation and creates opportunity,” he says. “How do you grow a billion-pound digital business? How do you achieve excellence in a really competitive environment? Uncertainty and fear are great motivators for entrepreneurs that have already experienced success.”
He points out that banks sit at the centre of economies and as such have the opportunity to become facilitators as well as finance providers. “There is an ecosystem of different businesses here with things to learn, and Santander is acting as a linchpin that can bring it all together and provide the fulcrum for new experiences. It’s a good fit for Santander.”
Stuart McNiven, Managing Director and founder of Dalby Offshore
Dalby Offshore is a UK maritime business based in the North of England and supplies support crew, technical and project management, and owns a number of high-specification vessels. They recently worked on the salvage operation for the Costa Concordia. Stuart founded the company in 2007 and was initially attracted to the SME Summit because of the packed agenda and exciting list of speakers. “I’ve come to learn that events of this magnitude are opportunities to find out new things,” he says. “With Santander the networking is always good too.”

“It’s indicative of Breakthrough and the way Santander work closely with smaller businesses and, as George Osborne stated in his speech, Santander are leading in respect of SMEs and others should learn from that” Stuart McNiven, Managing Director and founder of Dalby Offshore

Stuart says he paid close attention to the keynote speech by George Osborne, who outlined policies Stuart hadn’t heard before, such as the exclusion from national insurance payments of employees under the age of 21. As the company plan to recruit a number of apprentices in the coming months, this was deemed good news. He was also wowed by stories of start-ups becoming major corporates, such as Alistair Lukies’ mobile payments company Monetise. “It struck a chord with me because we’re at a new phase of growth,” he says. “We need to decide whether that growth will be organic or through acquisition and how will we get there: equity or debt finance or through initiatives such as Breakthrough?”
Stuart was also keen to network after the presentations had ended and welcomed the chance to rub shoulders with senior people at Santander. “It’s indicative of Breakthrough and the way Santander work closely with smaller businesses and, as George Osborne stated in his speech, Santander are leading in respect of SMEs and others should learn from that.” He added, “They are excellent at relationships and, with a CEO who has run small businesses herself, there seems to be a particular understanding of their needs, particularly for growth businesses like mine.”

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