Goldman in launch of alumni network to support small firms

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GOLDMAN Sachs is launching a national alumni network for graduates of its pioneering programme to support small businesses in Britain.

The investment bank piloted the support scheme in Yorkshire in 2010 to help SMEs and social enterprises achieve their growth potential.

Goldman Sachs, which is funding expert business education and support services, has since rolled out the programme to the North West, the Midlands and London.

Business Secretary Vince Cable, who met with Yorkshire graduates last week, said: “It’s important that businesses have access to the right advice and support to develop their operations and help them grow.

“More than 99 per cent of UK businesses are small and medium enterprises so I welcome Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses UK initiative as a real contributor to the wider support available.”

The programme has enrolled around 400 participants, including 135 in Yorkshire to date.

Michelle Pinggera, the bank’s chief of staff in Europe, Middle East and Africa, said many of the businesses are cooperating together across the regions with “huge commercial benefits”.

“There is evidence that if you can widen that network there will be more opportunities,” she said.

Goldman Sachs enlisted five academic partners including Leeds University Business School to deliver the scheme and provided mentors to the businesses on the pilot scheme in Yorkshire.

The programme covers practically-focused business and management education, delivered over 12 sessions lasting around 100 hours, and also creates networking and peer-learning opportunities.

Ms Pinggera said: “I do believe that coming together with a group of like-minded people, people who are enthusiastic and excited about building their businesses, creates a safe environment where people are comfortable enough that they can share ideas and get honest feedback from people who have similar challenges.

“You don’t feel threatened by the environment. You can be a bit more open and radical about ideas that you might have when you are surrounded by people who genuinely want to help you.

“If they can plug into a network that have had similar learning experiences then it is very helpful as you expand outside your home city.”

The national alumni network will develop a schedule of regional and national conferences, themed workshops and online platforms.

The bank will continue to run the scheme as long as it remains relevant and in demand, said Ms Pinggera.

She is mentoring one of the Yorkshire businesses, an eco-friendly disc packaging company called Wewow.

Ms Pinggera said: “I have learned a lot. I learned about the challenges that people face when they are not in a large-scale organisation.”

She added: “We have learned a lot. We did this because we wanted to find a way in which we could contribute to the overall economy in a country that we have a large business. We believed the best way to have impact was to engage with small businesses.

“The results we have seen so far have proved that if you provide the right kind of support and right kind of environment to businesses that are established and do have the potential and desire to grow then you can really unlock that potential for the benefit of all.

“We have been really pleased by the impact of the programme in a really short period of time. We are still in relatively early stages of the programme in the UK.

“To see the kind of results we are seeing from job creation to revenue growth to international trading is really incredibly encouraging.”

According to the bank, around 70 per cent of all participants have added net jobs; more than 60 per cent have increased turnover and 50 per cent have increased profitability.

One of the first graduates, Viv Parry of Leeds-based bakery business Handmade Exquisite Cakes, said the programme acknowledges the need for “intellectual input but also emotional support”.

The former PwC accountant added: “There was massive value from the debate that flowed out of the lecturing. There was an opportunity for people in dramatically different businesses to bounce off each other ideas about their own businesses.

“If you speak to someone who has graduated from the programme you suddenly understand that all the problems you have are not unique. They are critical to all businesses, however diverse they may be.

“Being alongside business owners with a big can-do, will-do attitude is very empowering. On top of that you have the networking opportunities.”