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Would a share of £122m make a difference to your firm's plans on Teesside?

Joanne Whitfield – North East Fund Manager for FW Capital - on helping region's entrepreneurs


Moving from dream to fully-fledged commercial reality is a big step for Teesside entrepreneurs, as they build on the success and recognition the region is getting and lay new foundations for a sustainable future.

Businesses that have grown from humble beginnings in garages and spare bedrooms from Billingham to Stokesley and Stockton to Saltburn to become established operations, and that are still filled to capacity with aspirations and inventions that will drive their continuing expansion, need one very real asset as they press ahead with their plans – money.

Conversations about finance can be the first true test of the long-term sustainability of a business idea that has made it off the ground. Now the idea’s originators have to sit in an office and ask someone to agree with them to such an extent that they will actually offer them money to continue.

But Teesside was built on such confidence, boldness and persuasive powers – attributes that can now be applied to the funders just as much as the entrepreneurs.

As the fund manager looking after the region for FW Capital, Joanne Whitfield has built her confidence on years of talking to these businesses about their plans to be a bigger part of the Teesside scene and influence its future.

And she can make a difference. As part of its expanding regional team with offices in Billingham and Newcastle, Joanne has a game-changing amount of money to support the right ideas, spread across the £10m Tees Valley Catalyst Fund , the £102m NPIF – FW Capital Debt Finance , part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund which has just announced its 100th deal, and the new £10 million North East Property Fund for small developers and construction companies, which recently made its first investment into a Northumberland developer.

“Teesside is doing an outstanding job of raising its own profile at the moment, with so much development and investment and, as funders, we are committed to building on this momentum and providing a vital link for the next expansion or recruitment drive,” said Joanne.

“We have been closely monitoring which sectors are particularly popular and strong, with clusters of digital, process industry, advanced manufacturing and renewables companies regularly making the headlines for Teesside, so that we have a broad picture of where we can be of most help.

“Last year we secured the NPIF – Debt Finance, with a focus on Tees Valley amongst other areas across the North, and all the noise and the attention around that and the involvement of a key stakeholder like the British Business Bank, has lifted the region and given local businesses confidence because they know fund managers are now based directly on their patch.

“There had been a concern from local firms in the past that there was a lack of support or impetus locally to provide this level of support with such a depth of local knowledge. The SME community in this region is such a powerful part of the local economy as a big employer in its own right, so it is important to support them either as a whole or as individual entrepreneurs prepared for growth. Who knows how far those ripples could spread?

“These companies also form the supply chain that performs so efficiently that it is an attraction for bigger firms to set up here or move here, knowing that this network exists.”

The agility of the finance sector to scale up its understanding of what Teesside needs at the same rate as the local workforce grows is both impressive and vital.




They’re also working closely with businesses, advisers and other fund managers in the region.

“Because they are working together, the five areas, Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland have never been in a better position; there is an exciting positivity and a shared confidence in the marketplace because of all that good work going on in the background,” says Joanne.

“We’ve made our own physical commitment to the region, and through the funding we can offer, we’re in a position to influence and add to the prosperity that it will enjoy in the future.”

All that work needs boots on the ground, and FW Capital now has 11 pairs of them, being proactive and reactive to companies who are holding back from pressing the start button on their growth.

The Brexit process is, of course, a prime reason for that hesitation, but on Teesside we are saying ‘we can’t just sit on our hands – get out of the way and let us get on with it’.

“We will provide support, opinion and guidance on where we see the risks for businesses, whether they are affected by Brexit or not, to allow firms to make progress, and will give them all the assistance they need in advance of putting a funding application to us” said Joanne.

“It is a question of making sure they are positioned correctly and that they have a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C to make sure they optimise the money we can provide whatever happens. It helps that Teesside’s smaller firms tend to be more agile and can change direction quickly to avoid an obstacle. If we can give them access to the resources and confidence to do that, then there is a world of commerce out there waiting for them.”

Joanne and her FW Capital team recognised a good while ago that it can be complicated for a small firm looking at all the options for funding and wondering who to go to - was it the banks, the councils or the LEPs? Any hesitation can be fatal as contracts wait to be snapped up, so it was unthinkable that the delay might come from the finance sector itself.

Joanne agrees: “We took the step of offering to be a first contact. Our funds, particularly NPIF – Debt Finance, cover many needs, and we often have the capacity to provide support where traditional finance providers might not be able to, but if it’s not something we can help with, we’ll send them off to the right people because it is in everyone’s interest to keep a smooth flow of economically-sound companies making Teesside their home.

“As we grow, we have to have a joined-up regional ambition as well - for instance, with all the world-beating technologies we have, why shouldn’t Teesside do for renewables what Aberdeen has been doing for oil and gas?

“It’s exciting how we can collaborate and make it all fit together for the region.”