finnCap CEO Sam Smith recaps our Ambition Nation | Manchester Summit, where optimism and ambition abound amongst the North West's brightest entrepreneurs looking to supercharge their business growth.
Ambition Nation is, as the name suggests, a national initiative to fuel growth. You might consider it serendipitous that our North West launch came on the same day as the Autumn Budget, where much was pledged to be invested in national infrastructure, scaling productivity and SME growth across the country. Feedback from those leaders of growth businesses told us they want local solutions for local needs, tailored to their goals. What better place to start than Manchester?
Home of the realists
It was very important that we kick things off outside of London. Our Ambition Nation report analysed SME growth across the country and highlighted Manchester as a hub of activity. Manchester’s economy has grown faster than London over the last three years; it’s the third most active area of the UK for private equity investment, with over 1,300 scale-up businesses and around £300 million raised from 40 deals of £2-25 million this year alone; business leaders here are more optimistic on the global economy than London-based CEOs; 84% of Manchester businesses are expected to create jobs in 2018; and indeed it was mentioned not just the once yesterday that Manchester PLC doesn’t live in a bubble of optimism; it has a healthy level of cynicism – it’s for the realists and the pragmatists. One quote, from David Hall, Managing Director of YFM Equity Partners, stuck with me: “Manchester needs a bit more of London, but London needs a lot more of Manchester”. Either way, if you’re looking for ambition, you’re in the right place.
Watch our launch video for Ambition Nation below
The eighth floor of Westminster House on Manchester’s busy Portland Street played host to a packed room of some of the region’s most exciting funders and founders. The energy and positivity in the room was genuinely palpable – one glance at our Twitter feed will tell you. With Ambition Nation, we’re creating a dynamic community that inspires, informs and fuels growth for as many businesses as possible, telling the right investment stories to galvanise the right investors. And that starts in your own communities. Ambition is borne out of ambition, and hearing local stories of local growth journeys sets out a vision of the road to success that is both optimistic and realistic.
I’d like to personally thank all of our inspiring speakers this week, our partners, Eversheds Sutherland, our host Michael Hayman MBE and our phenomenally engaged audience.
A pool of role models
We heard first from Marcus Stuttard, Head of Primary Markets and AIM, London Stock Exchange. The LSE have been invaluable supporters of Ambition Nation and our push to inspire and create growth, and Marcus highlighted some salient examples of North West based businesses that have been inspired to use AIM to IPO and raise growth capital, including Strix, Ultimate Products and Footasylum. Having put their good foot forward, it’s these kinds of companies that provide a wonderful pool of role models for their peers who could follow similar paths.
City needs angels
Next on the agenda was our first panel discussion, focusing specifically on ambition in Manchester. Our panellists were Lynne Sheppard, Director of the Manchester Enterprise Centre, AMBS, University of Manchester, John Kershaw, Founder and CEO of M14 Industries, and Scott Fletcher MBE, Founder of ANS. There was a distinct buzz amongst our guests about the buoyant investment landscape that has unfolded in the North West, but as Scott Fletcher opined, Manchester has a habit of not shouting enough about its successes, which is having a knock-on effect. A key message to emerge from this discussion was that more angel investors are needed in the region especially in the technology sector, with more angels we will have more businesses being funded and, more to the point, being seen to succeed. This then will lead to yet more incoming angels, particularly those engaged with investment stories in tech, and perhaps then we start to snowball. We want businesses to inspire more and more confidence from investors, to get them thinking bigger and about investing over longer time horizons.
Lynne Sheppard shone the spotlight on the narrowing of our education for entrepreneurship, saying that students must be taught more skills in spotting opportunities. She was, however, encouraged that the ambitions of our entrepreneurs of tomorrow are very much driven by wanting to make a difference – local social responsibility for a globally responsible world.
Founder and funder
It was captivating to watch an exemplary investment story laid bare for our second panel discussion, as founder and funder shared the stage. Tom New, Co-founder of Formisimo, and one of Tom’s key investors, Rupert Wingate-Saul, Investment Director of AXM Venture Capital, discussed Formisimo’s growth journey and the decisions that brought them together. I struggle to think of a clearer expression of why finding the right type of investor is so crucial for creating growth. Entrepreneurs need to see someone they can trust, that has that same vision and willing to embark on the growth journey that they do. Tom and Rupert clearly shared that passion for the business and for innovative problem solving. Rupert also pointed out that ambition is only half the battle; one must have detailed objectives and a clear plan that are part and parcel of that investment story. Investing decisions, he explained, are often made on visualising a business that is truly solving a problem, rather than simply being a nice-to-have.
The running versus the funding
Our final panel sought to discuss the importance of inspiration, of learning from experience. Featuring Danny Hall, Partner at Eversheds Sutherland, Nick Horrocks, Director of GP Bullhound, Mark Mills, Non-executive Chair at Velocity Composites PLC, and Vanda Murray OBE, Non-executive Chair of Fenner PLC, the panellists upheld the Mancunian growth hub community – special mention went to The Growth Company, of which Vanda Murray is a member of the board – as a beacon of how a culture of motivation becomes so self-fulfilling.
Mark Mills made the excellent point that ambition never stops. It all starts with a detailed, granular plan, focused on the figures, which lays out very clearly how you will deliver; this in itself inspires ambition. Once you begin to grow, he said, you should always look to double on your success, double again and so on – but that running a company and funding a company is often the sum of two very different skillsets. Leaders have so many options for funding and should be encouraged to find advice, guidance and mentoring on securing the right type of investment. There’s no shortage of money, especially for tech investment, explained Nick Horrocks, but certainly a shortage of people that can recognise and advise what the right investment looks like. And as Vanda Murray very rightly pointed out, businesses will need different types of advice at different stages of their growth journey, and will need clear signposting to access it.
It is poignant that of the top 200 companies in the North West, 29 were new entrants in 2017. There’s a lot going on in Manchester right now, a real hunger for enterprise and innovation, and perfecting that regional best practice opens up ambitious connections across the country to deliver an ambition nation.
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