Bank managers ‘lack affinity with business’

Martin Port
Martin Port
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TECHNOLOGY entrepreneur Martin Port has warned that the difficulty of raising new capital is stifling businesses with growth potential.

The Leeds businessman, who launches his latest vehicle-tracking venture today, said the “pressure is huge” on entrepreneurs trying to start up new companies.

He said bank managers have “no affinity” with small businesses and still behave like salesmen, in spite of recent mis-selling scandals. And he claimed that Government schemes to support SMEs are difficult to access.

Mr Port told the Yorkshire Post: “New businesses and businesses that are looking to grow have got no way of getting capital to do that. These businesses have aspirations to take people on, create profitability and pay taxes. Businesses are just being stifled.”

The seasoned entrepreneur looked for investors for his new company, BigChange, but ultimately decided to fund it himself.

Mr Port has a strong background in the telematics sector. He founded vehicle tracking firm Masternaut UK in 2002 and exited the business last year after its £100m merger with an industry rival backed by a US private equity giant, Francisco Partners.

“With my experience in telematics, we have developed an advanced intuitive joined-up solution that will fill a huge gap in the UK and global markets,” he said of his latest venture.

BigChange has created software to help transport, fleet and field service operators plan, manage and schedule mobile workforces.

It connects drivers and fleets “seamlessly” to the office using touchscreen computers, said Mr Port, who claimed that the software, which has been developed in Leeds and France, “can help predict when failures are going to happen and improve efficiencies in businesses”.

He added that users have “total vision” of what their drivers are doing. The service operates through various applications which run on the BigChange rugged mobile computer, manufactured by Israeli firm Micronet. Mr Port holds the European rights to Micronet.

Earlier this year, he became an investor and director in the Sheffield software company R2C Online. He has described the business as a “Facebook for vehicle owners and managers”. Mr Port took a significant minority stake in R2C, a platform to manage service, maintenance and repair for vehicles. R2C software runs on the BigChange computer.

Mr Port explained: “I am amassing complementary technology to the vehicle tracking market.”

The BigChange website goes live today. Mr Port said smartphone apps will follow next and he is working with Leeds translation services firm thebigword to sell the software into international markets.

The fleet management sector remains fragmented across Europe and is in a period of growth which is expected to last for some years, market research suggests.

Statistics suggest there are more than 35m commercial vehicles in Europe, but only around 2.5m fleet management units.

The BigChange is chaired by Laurence Vaughan, chief executive of the £3bn prestige motor group Sytner and a board member of its parent Penske Auto Group. Mr Vaughan also chairs R2C.

He said: “We are making it very simple for companies to benefit from our advanced multiple application service.

“BigChange will revolutionise the way companies manage their mobile workforce and my belief is that the company will gain market leadership very quickly.”

Mr Port said that BigChange could bring an end to paperwork for fleet managers and drivers.


Start small the way forward

ISRAEL is second only to Silicon Valley in California in innovation, according to Martin Port.

He said Israeli developers who create technology during national service are allowed to take intellectual property with them and start up new businesses.

Mr Port has some advice for UK entrepreneurs, particularly when it comes to funding.

“Try to use your own money or family money. On day one, don’t have a very fast ramp-up in terms of your business plan. Start small, prove your concept, go and win customers and develop your business out of your own cash rather than having to seek others.”