Oxfordshire’s economy is thriving, with around 30,000 active businesses. Being an SME in the county means being in the biggest group contributing to its economy. OxLEP Business is at the heart of this huge SME community as the county’s Growth Hub and provides support to business owners and entrepreneurs.
Amongst the challenges SMEs face is accessing all the skills, networks, insights and funding which they need to fuel their success. OxLEP Business plays a part in providing opportunities to SMEs to make the connections and acquire the resources and help needed.
Helen Brind, who manages the Growth Hub, says OxLEP Business understands the problems faced by small businesses: “We want to support their ambition. In the last 3 years hundreds of people have attended our workshops on marketing, finance, new product launches, branding and many other topics. This is part of the help we can give in providing insights and skills which help businesses to be successful and more effective. Most businesses who approach us have also had valuable one-to-one support, others have been awarded grants to fund their ideas and plans.”
A series of programmes provided by OxLEP and its partners are tailored to the needs of Oxfordshire’s small business community. They have helped start-up and growing businesses to launch, find new markets, innovate and grow.
The Innovation Support for Business (ISfB) programme helps SMEs to access the kind of support that is typically difficult to secure. Without it, companies often find it difficult to develop and bring to market their ideas and cutting-edge products or services.
Through the programme, companies get a tailored package of support including introductions to the most useful networks, experts, facilities, research collaborations and for some, match-funding to speed up the journey to commercial readiness.
According to Helen Brind, innovation is vital to the future prosperity of the economy. “SMEs have a crucial role to play and they are very often highly innovative. Through our partners, we can make connections and help to accelerate the whole cycle from concept to product.”
Companies have been supported to create improvements to their own operations and to develop new products and services. Recently these have included artificial intelligence-driven products such as legs for robots, perfectly tailored clothing created using a single photo and specialist project management applications for the publishing industry.
OxLEP also has a new programme launching later in November 2019. It will focus on socially-minded enterprises and scale-up businesses.
As Helen Brind explained: “There are specific challenges common to every business experiencing significant or rapid growth. Our new programme – eScalate – will be addressing some of these challenges, including access to the right types of finance and other resources essential to building capacity and achieving rapid growth.”
In the same programme, there is support for one of the most significant parts of the emerging Oxfordshire economy, socially conscious enterprises. Commercial activities which have community and other local benefits or a ‘force for good’ as part of their mission are increasingly delivering valuable services and providing significant employment.
There is more information about support for SMEs in Oxfordshire at www.oxfordshireLEP.com/business