This week Business News Wales meets up with NatWest Cymru’s regional Business Growth Enablers (BGEs) to find out how they are helping businesses and start-ups find success. We chatted to Gemma Collins, NatWest Cymru BGE for Cardiff & South East Wales.
So Gemma, tell us a bit about yourself.
Well I’m really proud to have grown up in the region and spent most of my working life here. From a young age I was fortunate to learn first-hand about the hard work that goes in to running your own business. My family has run a shop in my home town of Bargoed for more than 60 years and growing up in that environment really ignited my passion for small business. I started my career in journalism, working for local newspapers before moving to the BBC where I specialised in business. This has given me a strong understanding of the South East Wales ecosystem and the challenges and opportunities it faces. Being with NatWest as the Business Growth Enabler for South East Wales means I’m able to use this understanding to help start-ups and SMEs take their businesses forward to the next level.
What does a Business Growth Enabler do?
As a Business Growth Enabler it’s my job to work directly with businesses supporting them and helping their businesses grow. Crucially for businesses, the service is completely free and you don’t even have to bank with NatWest to engage with your local BGE. We’re just focused on helping Welsh businesses succeed. It’s a very proactive role and is built around opening doors and connecting people. This involves running free talks and events and working directly with SMES to help them access the insight and knowledge they need. One of the most rewarding parts of my role is being able to connect business owners with contacts who may be able to offer them support, collaboration or other opportunities. South East Wales has a first-class support network for start-ups and a strong community of professionals. It’s really fulfilling being able to help an entrepreneur tap into this infrastructure and see them reap the rewards.
What are the events like you organise?
They’re great fun and businesses get a lot out of them. Each event is based on a different subject area that’s important to a business being able to grow and achieve its goals. They’re about empowering people as well as giving them the opportunity to meet other businesses in sectors that can grow their sales. I staged a really good event in Cardiff back in July on the theme of resilience. The event was opened by Ross McEwan, CEO of NatWest, and had three keynote speakers as well as a marketplace of 14 organisations who work with and support SMEs. We had over 150 local businesses attend. I also chaired a roundtable event on the economic regeneration of the Valleys with Les Matheson, CEO of NatWest Personal and Business Banking. I think it’s important that as part of my role supporting SMEs, I facilitate these discussions and help bring together influencers and key stakeholders in the ecosystem.
What companies have you worked with?
Lots! It’s really exciting to work with companies across multiple sectors. I’ve been working very closely recently supporting a growing firm, Hayley Hanson, which produces luxury leather goods. It’s a great brand and one that has huge potential. Working with the company’s founder Hayley, I’ve helped her focus on the strategy needed to reach her goals and helped open doors to the wider ecosystem so she’s sat in front of the right people. Since then thanks to NatWest she’s exhibited at the Royal Welsh Show, received lots of media coverage including the BBC, and will be at the Southampton Boat Show later this year. Importantly her business is trading more and increasing its sales on a national level.
What is the South East Wales ecosystem like?
I’d describe it as a really exciting place to be right now. There are so many opportunities for SMEs and start-ups. It’s great to see more women starting and leading their own companies and as a bank we’d like to see more of them. Infrastructure projects like the Heads of the Valleys road improvement scheme and the removal of the tolls on the Prince’s Bridge make for a really optimistic future. Cardiff is recognised internationally, but equally as important are the Valleys, Newport and areas like Monmouthshire, which are all developing their own USPs and driving innovation. At NatWest, we’ve made sure we’re ready to help them access the support and funding they need.
What do you think the challenges are facing businesses in South East Wales?
I think regardless of the economic climate there will always be certain challenges that come with running your own business which entrepreneurs need to prepare for. One of the biggest is resilience. Entrepreneurs, business owners and managers are used to making sure their firms can withstand challenges and bounce back from the bad times. But to do this, those at the top need to be able to foster resilience too – and they need to ensure their workforce is fit, happy and capable of dealing with the pressures and stresses of the job. Alongside this I think it’s important that businesses are more aware of the threat posed by scammers. Some of the biggest businesses in the world have fallen victim to fraud and it’s crucial SMEs have the knowledge and resources to ensure they don’t get caught out. We help these companies so they are prepared and better protected.
If you’d like to learn more about how Gemma can help your business in South East Wales contact her at [email protected].