VIDEO: STC members’ honest accounts of growing a business

Silverstone Technology Cluster

16th November 2020

Silverstone Technology Cluster members provided exclusive insight into the challenges they have faced in founding and running their businesses in a much awaited STC Business Growth event.

The virtual event heard from five entrepreneurs as they talked through their experiences of founding a business, growing it and then potentially selling it to a buyer.

 These included:

·       Paul North, Illuminis

·       Chris Kirby, Tomorrow’s Journey

·       Kieron Salter, KW Special Projects

·       Simon Dowson, Delta Motorsport

·       Jon Hilton, Lunaz Design 

CLICK HERE to watch a recording of the event. Below is a re-cap of who said what…

Chris and Paul reflected on the early stages of building their companies: Tomorrow’s Journey specialises in technologies in the transport/mobility sector; Illuminis provides businesses with performance analysis software.

This highlighted the differences in funding between angel investors and venture capitalists (VCs) to ensuring a new business understands what it stands for and is selling to customers.

“Venture capitalist funding isn’t ‘the streets are paved with gold’ that people might think – some of the VCs’ terms were horrid and would have caused us real problems. They are also a big draw on your time,” warned Chris.

Hosting the event was Shai Vyakarnam, a leading expert on scaling-up of businesses. Shai also warned against VCs trying to command every aspect of a business in conflict with the wishes of the original founders.

Paul recalled: “Early on we sent out 2,500 glossy fliers and had two responses! We were providing unique business intelligence tools but didn’t know how to sell it. Over time, we’ve grown to 20 clients who all like the product and we’ve proven it’s scalable – one of our recent customers is in New Delhi, India.”

Kieron and Simon explained how they had founded and then grown their businesses: KWSP is soon to open a new Digital Manufacturing Centre at Silverstone Park where it will become a neighbour to Delta which is a leading name in the design and build of high powered battery systems.

Both are from motorsport engineering backgrounds but, due to its volatile nature, soon explored different sectors when setting up their own businesses.

Kieron said: “The most enjoyable part of your business can be the early days – it’s like a baby: loveable! Then it starts to turn into a smelly teenager and answer back which isn’t so much fun.

“Working in advanced engineering – doing cool stuff – was our main motivation, above making money. In hindsight we would have benefited from being more strategic. Growth would have been quicker…”

He added: “We’ve always been privately funded, reinvesting profits into the business. Simply, I never wanted to be answerable to anyone else.”

 Simon, who has grown Delta with co-founder Nick Carpenter, said: “We’ve actually narrowed back down to the core technologies that we offer; otherwise it can be confusing for customers.

“Some routes have been planned – others based on ‘let’s have a look and see if any opportunities arise’. Sometimes these can look interesting but can be a dead end, but sometimes you have to go through that.”

He continued: “It can be quite difficult to market yourself because there are so many NDAs… Partnering up in a collaborative R&D project gives larger organisations the opportunity to learn about the value of your business at low risk to them. The you can commercialise that into opportunities as a customer.”

From F1, Jon and business partner Doug Cross founded Flybrid at Silverstone Park and later sold it for considerable profit.

He is now the acting Managing Director of another business at the estate, Lunaz Design, which converts luxury classic cars to electric power.

Jon provided ‘the essentials’ to successfully selling a business, including:

·       ‘No skeletons’: the buyer will find them

·       Ensure intellectual property is secure in the name of the company

·       Be sure contracts with suppliers are secure

·       Clarity on suppliers’ prices

·       Provide believable but optimistic predictions about the business’s potential

·       Prove it can run successfully without you

Other topics were also covered, including the ‘metric’ that each business owner used to rate their success. This ranged from profitability and balance sheets to employee wellbeing, productivity and diversity of projects.

Finally, Shai advised businesses to spend time analysing their respective market. He said it was important to “take a good look at how many potential customers are out there. In this pandemic we are either going to hemorrhage customers or acquire customers. They are the ones who are going to result in revenues and profits.”




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