Entrepreneur urges firms to compete in global market

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SMALL and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) “should look beyond the shores of Britain” in the face of the difficult economic climate, according to entrepreneur Deidre Bounds, who from a bedsit built her business i-to-i into the world’s biggest gap year company.

Mrs Bounds, who sold her £10m turnover business to TUI Travel for an eight-figure sum in 2007, after founding it in Leeds 10 years previously, was speaking to the Yorkshire Post at an event at Weetwood Hall in Leeds, run by Connect Gazelles, a business support group for fast-growing SMEs.

She said: “It’s not just British companies competing with each other, we are competing with the world. I’m a great believer in the global marketplace and we should be thinking bigger.”

Connect Gazelles is a membership group “for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs”, which provides support, advice and mentoring from many of Yorkshire’s leading business people, named the group’s Entrepreneurs in Residences.

So far Connect Gazelles, which was launched by not-for-profit company Connect Yorkshire at the end of last year, has 50 members across Leeds and Sheffield.

Mrs Bounds, who is an Entrepreneur in Residence for the group, and was giving a talk at the Connect Gazelles event this week, said access to finance, the bureaucracy of employing people and lack of confidence are among the key challenges faced by SMEs.

Others supporting the group include David Grey, group managing director of the OSL Group, Jonathan Straight, chief executive of Straight plc, and IT entrepreneur Peter Wilkinson.

Mrs Bounds said companies should see a recession as an opportunity “to restructure if necessary and innovate”.

Nick Butler, chief executive of Connect Gazelles, said: “I think that the companies that are struggling are those who have their heads stuck in the sand and thought if I don’t do anything things will get better.”

He explained: “The idea is that the main purpose of Gazelles is to encourage growing companies to continue to grow, create jobs and create wealth, which is what we badly need in Yorkshire.”

He said he is keen to attract more women to the group, while Mrs Bounds spoke of a lack of women running their own businesses. She said this may be because men have a higher tolerance to risk than women, adding that it is “a waste of skill and talent”.

Mr Butler said the fact that Connect Yorkshire is not-for-profit is key, adding that it exists “for the right reasons”. Connect Gazelles is aimed at fast growing SMEs with a turnover from £250,000 up to £20m. Membership costs £300 plus VAT per year, or £30 plus VAT per month.

Leeds University sponsored the event held by Connect Gazelles at Weetwood Hall on Tuesday.