Regional Scale-Up Report Worcestershire: How to grow your business sustainably

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Kevin Brent, who runs BizSmart, based in Bromsgrove, has helped hundreds of businesses plan their growth in a successful and sustainable way.

Of the three companies covered in this feature, he highlights UniqueIQ and Sign Solutions as having reached the 8-12 employee “staging post” he refers to in the scale-up journey.

“Recognising that the next one was around 20 to 25 people, they needed to decide whether to focus on short-term profits or longer-term scale and value by pushing on – and if scaling up, how to navigate the financial “valley of death”. Sign Solutions decided external funding would minimise the risk and time taken. The other featured company, Graffica, scaled organically through strong partnerships to build proprietary software and effectively create two businesses in one.

“Recognising the next staging post in your scale-up journey, and planning how to navigate the valley of death in between is essential. Having a structured approach to scaling and access to a sounding board of your peers can give you the confidence and support to spread your wings.”

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A unique idea secures investment funding for growth

How do you support your remote and mobile workforce as they go about their daily work? It’s a question being asked more often, in particular by local authorities having to stretch their social care budgets even further.

Enter Unique IQ. Founded in 2003 by David Lynes, this Redditch software company serves the health, social care and cleaning sectors.

Unique IQ is now growing at a phenomenal rate as its key products, the IQ:timecard and IQ:careplanner are being more widely adopted by major home care franchises such as Home Instead and high-profile charities including Marie Curie and the Carers Trust.

The IQ:timecard management software for remote workers enables businesses to monitor, schedule and manage field staff via a centralised system. The IQ:careplanner is a home care scheduling and care planning software.

Necessary form-filling takes precious contact time away from the care worker with their patients. Unique IQ’s systems can free up the care worker’s time by enabling them to dictate rather than writing their notes, and monitor patients’ medications in real time, rather than writing notes which may not be read in time.

Last November, Unique IQ secured £250,000 of scale-up investment from venture capital firm Midven, which is managing part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund.

David said: “The investment allowed us to nearly triple our workforce. Now we employ 22 and have expanded our sales, marketing, finance, administration and customer support teams.

“Now we are more proactive and we’ve won some significant contracts.”

The company is on a five-year growth strategy, which includes expansion overseas – it already works with clients in Ireland, Switzerland and the USA. By growing existing contracts as well as securing new ones, David predicts company turnover will increase eight-fold within five years.

“I own and run the business, and for nearly 15 years I’ve worked long days and hard nights, but in the last 18 months it’s really taken off and we have renewed our enthusiasm as we see the benefits for hardpressed care workers in particular.”

Hear hear for Sign Solutions’ UK expansion plans

Most of the 11 million deaf or hard of hearing in the UK don’t view it as a disability, they just get on with their lives, but many do rely on interpreters to access essential services that hearing people take for granted.

One company which has helped them since 1998 is Sign Solutions, based in Alvechurch, Worcestershire.

Clare Vale is Sign Solutions’ Managing Director. “British Sign Language interpreters are based across the UK, but it’s impossible for them to physically provide communication support in several different places at the same time.

“In 2014 we introduced our Interpreterslive video interpreting service, which enables instant access to an online British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreter. Deaf people can now have equal access to products and services, such as in a hospital accident and emergency department, council reception or retail store.”

Sign Solutions’ video interpretation app allows deaf people instant access to an interpreter, relaying their message via voice to the individual the deaf person is trying to engage with.

The company can also put a secure video link on an organisation’s website, to increase its accessibility.

A deaf person can click on the website link to launch a video call with an interpreter who will translate their British Sign Language into English to the organisation answering the call. The company also offers deaf awareness training and BSL translations.

With the deaf or hard of hearing community making up more than 10 per cent of the UK population, the demand for Sign Solutions’ services is growing.

Earlier this year the company won scale-up funding from venture capital firm Midven, which is managing part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund.

Prior to the investment, turnover was around £1.4 million and that had already grown by 25 per cent. Sign Solutions now plans to triple in size over the next five years.

Graffica flies high supporting air and rail transport management

Graffica was founded in 2000 to develop software to support the air traffic management industry. The Malvern company’s most important customer is EUROCONTROL, the pan-European civil-military organisation responsible for air navigation services and safety across Europe.

Other customers have included NATS (formerly known as National Air Traffic Services, the UK’s main air traffic services company). Graffica also supports simulations for major airports across Europe, including London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Milan Malpensa.

There is significant opportunity for this business to scale up. Although operating in a relatively niche sector, according to co-founder Mike Vere, if present air transport trends continue, the International Air Transport Association predicts that by 2037, passenger numbers could double to 8.2 billion.

“Our main objective is to help the transport industry develop, apply and integrate new software systems to help them use their resources better,” he said. “Early in our work with EUROCONTROL, we developed operational and simulation tools and software for them to carry out their own research and development, and to improve and monitor Europe’s airspace.”

Graffica has begun diversifying into the rail sector, which has its own unique challenges that could be helped by Graffica’s software systems, says Mike.

The company, which turns over more than £2 million, has increased its headcount and now employs 35 people.

“In our industry we must invest in our own research and development to produce the software tools to support our customers. but the reward gives us the impetus to grow to the next level,” said Mike.