GM Business Connect spoke with Janine Smith, Director of GC Business Growth Hub, which is part of the Growth Company. The Hub provides specialist funded support to drive growth in small and medium enterprises across Greater Manchester. Janine is leading PROGRESS21 Business, one of the first large scale in-person business events since early 2020, taking place at Manchester Central on 23 September. We asked Janine to explain more about the landmark event:
What is PROGRESS21?
“The Growth Company has developed PROGRESS21 in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Greater Manchester. Across three events, Business, Global and Careers, we endeavour to increase confidence and prospects for all of the people, businesses and places across our city-region. At the Growth Company we have a clear vision to enable growth, create jobs and improve lives – PROGRESS21 will see us doing this across the three events.
“At PROGRESS21 Global, we will consider how to promote Greater Manchester on the global stage to meet our international ambitions and ensure continued investment in our region. At PROGRESS21 Careers we are bringing job seekers together with prospective employers at a Job Fair Plus, as well as providing advice on skills, health, welfare, and wellbeing. At PROGRESS21 Business, we will be doing what the Hub does best – creating opportunities for businesses to expand their network, seize opportunities and eliminate their barriers to growth.”
Who will be speaking at the event?
“The packed agenda includes speakers from scale-ups to larger organisations including Just Strong, Siemens, NatWest, Creative Apparel, and many others. They will be joined by representatives from organisations such as the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, the British Business Bank, the North West Productivity Forum, the Confederation of British Industry, the Department for International Trade, and the Federation of Small Businesses.”
What are the main concerns for businesses?
“We know that this has been an exceptionally challenging time for business, but we have also seen buoyancy within sectors and businesses that have been able to grasp the opportunities that have arisen. Finance and cashflow continue to be the biggest challenge. Our latest Greater Manchester Business Survey, found that whilst more than half (55%) of local businesses expect their profits to increase this year, more than a fifth (21%) are still reporting difficulties managing their cashflow with almost half of businesses (49%) continuing to face challenges because of decreased sales.
“We have a situation where optimism is returning for many businesses across the region but effective cashflow management, access to finance and sales prove to be a common challenge for many. This is especially true for start-ups and smaller firms which don’t always fare well against larger and more established organisations. PROGRESS21 Business’s dedicated Finance theatre, will help business leaders get to grips with the new funding landscape and consider investment and finance that will future proof their business. Our Sales theatre will highlight opportunities to reach new customers, be they online, in the public sector or overseas.“
What about the workforce?
“We know that some sectors are facing a real skills shortage. Greater Manchester’s Hospitality and Tourism sector has some 3,000 jobs unfilled currently. Our Business Survey found that 28% of businesses are facing challenges with their workforce, ranging from recruitment, retainment and development, through to the challenge of building an inclusive workforce, or operating in an agile way in the long term. The People theatre will be addressing all of these challenges, as well as considering our collective responsibility to manage health and wellbeing – I’m excited that we will be running a session on mindfulness to help our business owners and entrepreneurs learn to make some space for their own wellbeing.”
What are the opportunities?
“Our two remaining theatres have been designed to help businesses realise new opportunities. This includes Digital Transformation and Innovation where we will explore digital technologies, AI, sustainable products and innovative thinking, with a firm eye on the efficiencies or revenue streams that these can offer business. In our Net Zero theatre we will be looking at sustainability and how businesses can improve their green credentials, whilst considering some of the opportunities this presents. There will be 24 business sessions in total, covering topics that will help our businesses identify expansion opportunities, as well as ensure resilience in the long term.“
Why should a business take time out to come to PROGRESS21?
“It can often be tricky to find time to step away from the day job but PROGRESS21 offers a focused, one-day opportunity to do exactly that and for the right reasons. This will be a unique chance to consider the multi-faceted opportunities and challenges that are ahead as the country recovers from the pandemic, and importantly to receive tailored guidance, support and signposting to help any business based in Greater Manchester to achieve its objectives.”
Who should attend?
“Entrepreneurs, business founders, leaders and representatives of businesses from across the region are invited to join us, to hear from our speakers, visit our business exhibition and network. I know that any business attending, even just for an hour, will leave with new contacts, new prospects and new ideas.”