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
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
“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.”