An established oxymoron in my business book is the concept of sound, creative advice from a Civil Servant. This is a breed without entrepreneurial experience. They haven’t felt the pain, have they?
My company makes a very clever British invention that has set a new gold standard in urology diagnostics; so clever in fact, that in 2009 its first incarnation beat both Microsoft and Apple to Best of Show at the Design Week Awards. Not long after this accolade, we received interest from the USA. I called UK Trade and Investment and was allocated an International Advisor to help establish an appropriate strategy to tackle the healthcare market in this huge territory. A very young woman duly arrived and after much deliberation and musing about our medical device’s possible advantages at Festivals, she suggested that we put it on QVC. She was shown the door.
Times, it seems, have changed. Yesterday I met the new generation UKTI International Advisors and found them to be informed, experienced, considered and firmly rooted in the culture of enterprise, innovation and good business practice. More than this, they have surrounded themselves with entrepreneurs who have done it, done it well and who are happy to pass the baton of success to another wave of innovators.
Explore your Business Potential: this somewhat understated clarion call arrived via email, from UKTI a few weeks ago. Given the recent emergence of business openings for us in Spain and the USA, the call had pertinence and weight. I drilled into the invitation and liked what I found – this wasn’t just relevant, this spoke directly to me and to my business. This was serious stuff.
Classrooms and I have never been comfortable companions. Spying the rows of spindly chairs facing a large screen in the oddly ornate setting of the St Ermin’s Hotel, misgivings mounted and I gave myself until midday to stick this out.
Unwitting of the conflict in my head, the UKTI folk greeted me warmly. I blinked at this group of efficient women and affable men and wondered quite how the day would pan out. I was directed to an upstairs area where, observing my compatriots I considered my conundrum over an exceptionally good coffee. Coffee, I have found, is the bellwether to any occasion and this one augured well.
Of the modules on offer I had opted for four: The Road Ahead; Communicate Effectively Overseas; Maximise your Profit and Free up Resources. These may not excite you but they certainly tickled my fancy and kept their promises. Each hour was thoughtfully crafted with our Facilitators presenting insight, advice, new ways of thinking and a widening horizon that shifted into wonderful focus; they spoke to (not at) us, bestowing a vision of hard won but implicit success and gave us the tools to achieve it. By lunchtime I was fizzing with delight, realising that this remarkable resource was open for business not just today, but tomorrow, next week, next month and long after that.
My unlucky brush with an inexperienced Advisor five years ago destroyed any faith I had in Government support; the benefits lost to me since then are too many to mention but suffice to say, I will seize them now. For here are people who understand my company’s huge international potential and who want to help us achieve it; experts to guide us into our ripest territories, research and introduce prospective partners, help with business strategy, actuality and delivery.
The surprises didn’t end there; our Facilitators were really rather entertaining. Robert, the charming and erudite twin of Melvyn Bragg; entrepreneur David with his pearls of wisdom concerning the making of profit; and Andrew who brought alive the very real need for cultural and linguistic research around our intended markets.
Our fascinating and lively day was punctuated by a talk with supremo James Averdieck, founder of Gü, who took us on the seat of pants journey we all want to replicate, the tale of an idea come good, of precocious talent, stress, sleepless nights and ultimate success. From James we learned that anything is possible if you want it enough; an apt message for an ambitious audience.
The day drew to a close and I emerged into the sunny St James’s street with a spring in my step and plans aplenty. A firm strategy is now on the agenda; with next generation product launched, volume manufacturing underway, a highly experienced sales team for the UK and Ireland taking effect, Forte Medical can start to prepare itself for the world.
The right bits of it, in the right way, of course.