Angela Hicks, CEO of the North Somerset Enterprise Agency
The coastal town of Weston-super-Mare houses one of the region's newest purpose-built premises for enterprise development, bucking a trend of decline in the sector. The Hive provides modern, flexible office space and meeting rooms together with business support for enterprises within easy reach of the busy Junction 21 of the M5 motorway. The atmosphere at the newly opened facilities is as bright and professional as the team that operates it. Critical to the success of the Hive is its award winning Chief Executive, Angela Hicks. Peaches Golding OBE, Moon Consulting's Principal Consultant, caught up with energetic and committed Angela and reminisced on their long acquaintance and work of providing services and support for the newly established businesses in the region.
Angela, first let me congratulate you on the recognition by the Bristol Post and Bath Chronicle for your 'Outstanding Contribution to Bath and Bristol' in the Women in Business Awards 2016.
"What a great award. It is especially rewarding to fly the North Somerset flag. So many good things are happening here in this part of the region. The award was totally unexpected and it is a lovely accolade."
And much deserved, too. It's not your first award, as you were named the Property Personality of the Year in the 2014 Insider Property Awards South West and received the Chairman's Award 2014 from the National Enterprise Network in recognition of your 28 years of service to the sector. So describe your typical day in the Enterprise Centre.
"Our enterprise agency caters for start-up enterprises and fast growing businesses. At The Hive we have office space of varying sizes for our business customers all available on easy in easy out terms and with fast broadband included. We are also part of the West of England Growth Hub."
"My day can vary because I do a lot of back office activities in order to move the business forward. I could be writing an expression of interest, a bid or tender for some additional funding or just keeping my eye out to see what opportunities are around. Today I have two priorities. Firstly, I am working on a bid for grant funding to help budding entrepreneurs via Nat West and with the success of phase 1 of The Hive, I am putting a funding package together to develop phase 2."
"Secondly, I am working on a pilot business support programme for North Somerset Council with BIC Innovation as the lead delivery partner. North Somerset Council have prepared a bid to the West of England Learning and Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to create a SW Food Innovation centre. Announced by DEFRA last year, the new centre will provide technical support, food-grade incubator space and units that businesses can rent, advice on exporting, manufacturing or bottling and other facilities. Being so close to Junction 21 of the M5, the centre will attract businesses from around the region. I am particularly interested in developing the support that we can offer small enterprises within the Centre."
"As we are a small team, I also get involved in all manner of day to day issues. Although I have been here for nearly 30 years, there is always something to do that maintains my interest."
What is the present day climate like for entrepreneurs?
"Some entrepreneurs can find the economic conditions quite tough. They often need 1:1 advice and this level of support is not as prevalent as it used to be. Many enterprise agencies have closed down due to lack of public sector funding. The Hive is a social enterprise, so income derived from renting workspace at The Hive goes back to providing support to the wider community."
"We help around 130 businesses a year to set up and we have very good survival rates. Depending on their sector, new microbusinesses face their biggest challenges around raising finance, employing staff and building a team. Many new enterprises find that being self-employed can be very isolating. Sometimes there is not enough time to think strategically about the future."
"I believe that there is a role for government in providing funding to assist new, small businesses. It needn't cost a lot. Many just need advice on how to write a business plan covering elements such as sales, accounting, branding, management and administration. While most entrepreneurs may have a good idea for a new product or service, they may not have considered all the functions needed to grow a successful small business."
As a woman in business, what lessons will you pass on to younger, aspiring women?
"My advice to younger women is to just get on with things and not to worry about the labels that people may put on you, never give up! I have always followed my gut feelings but I have also listened to and received a lot of help from mentors and other line managers that believed in me and gave me opportunities to do more things. I also believe in having a good working and leisure balance, I put in a lot of hours, but also have a great deal of flexibility and autonomy which I have valued greatly whilst bringing up my family."
Angela, you've become a regional treasure. How would you describe your career progression?
"By chance I got involved with a community programme scheme called Bristol 1000 that was running in the late 1980s. I identified a female role model who was fair minded and was someone I admired. Within a short space of time I was asked by another person I respected in the project to take on the role of providing the business support side of the community project in order to achieve enterprise agency status. A key factor in my success was the provision of a business mentor through Business in the Community. After two years, I took on his role, then studied for a Diploma in Management Studies at Bristol University, obtained a further education teaching certificate and attended various business advisor training schemes. People saw something in me as a young person, they believed in me and I am so grateful."
"I also have great non-executive director support here at the Hive. John Brentnall on the legal side, Tony James on the accounting side and my Chairman Charles Walker all give freely of their time and provide good counsel and advice to me. I owe a lot to people like this."
What involvement have you had with Moon Consulting?
"Well, you and I have known each other since 1995, when you were on the board of Avon Training and Enterprise Council and I was working with Business Link on their enterprise contract with Phil Smith (now Managing Director of Business West)."
"I know Simon Quinn and Vanessa Moon through our mutual involvement with the SME group of the LEP. They are full of ideas on how to move the group forward and what we could be doing next. Simon is always so eloquent when he gives his views from an industry perspective. He has always maintained contact and been complimentary about the work of the Hive. Several of the events that Moon Consulting run have peaked my interest; they have made me think because the topics are so interesting. I also get the Eclipse newsletter, itself a good read."
Do you have time for any additional business related activities and interests?
"Yes, apart from running the Enterprise Agency and The Hive, I am on the Engine Shed Advisory Board, the SME focus group of the LEP, a member of the Local Strategic Partnership for North Somerset (involving the Police, education providers, health authority etc) a member of the West of England Initiative and a member of 5 local chambers of commerce."
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