Goldman Getting Small Business Moving

Posted by editor 23/04/2013 0 Comment 2693 views


It is a cold Wednesday afternoon in Blackfriars, London, but the atmosphere in a large meeting room in the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre is hotting up. A debate has broken out over the best way to effect change in a business. And seeing as the room contains representatives from 20 or so of the UK’s hottest small to medium businesses, it is as good a place to have that debate as any.

This is a session of 10,000 Small Businesses (10KSB UK), a Goldman Sachs initiative for potential high-growth businesses. It is a mix of lecture, peer-learning, mentoring and practical activities all centred on the potential high-growth businesses these people are currently running.

The fortunate participants are chosen through a rigorous application process, and at no cost are guided by the efforts of the business academics of four different UK institutions of AstonBusinessSchool, University College London, LeedsUniversityBusinessSchool and ManchesterMetropolitanBusinessSchool depending on their location.

The project borrows the spirit of one Goldman Sachs created in Africa called 10,000 Women, which focused on the business aspirations of women in the developing world, and is the passion of Michelle Pingerra, a veteran of 22 years at Goldman and now Chief Of Staff.  

“A lot of entrepreneurs are serial entrepreneurs so this is an investment in the entrepreneur,” says Pingerra, holding forth from a meeting room on the vertiginous 10th floor of Goldman’s London headquarters. “They have to be someone who has a passion for what they are doing and who has a vision and an opportunity to grow. Ultimately we are looking for this programme to be a net new jobs creator.”

So, in conjunction with the SaidBusinessSchool at Oxford a programme was created to be delivered through the network of academic institutions specifically designed to fit into the lives of already busy people.

“To get small business owners to take time out of their busy lives we had to offer something that had immediate impact on what they were doing,” she says. “We heard they didn’t want academic training, they really wanted to hear from someone who had similar experiences in business.”

Although initially this was a scheme aimed at for-profit businesses it became obvious that there was another constituency who could equally benefit. Pingerra takes up the story: “We were meeting lots of social enterprises who were explaining the problems they were having – planning for growth, decisions around space, human resources and access to capital – and they were the same as purely commercial businesses.”

So although there is no quota, an amount of social enterprises have benefitted from the seven-month courses. One of these is My Time, based in the West Midlands, a counselling and mental health support organization whose founder Mark Lilley was on the 10KSB programme at AstonUniversity in 2011/12.

“We had just received some funding from (social investment fund) Big Issue Invest and we had that investment to grow, so the course was an opportunity to look at that part of the business plan,” says Lilley, explaining how he used the course to help reframe My Time’s operations. “And we needed to get our marketing right, and our costs right.”

My Time also identified new products and services through the course, and specifically through its networking opportunities: “We’ve met companies we wouldn’t otherwise have met. And I had a conversation (with another 10KSB participant) who worked in IT and they asked if we had ever thought about putting our methodology into a programme or an online service… we have since gone on to develop with Worcestershire County Council  one of the first online children centres, aimed at families suffering domestic abuse or post-natal depression.”

Professor Mark Hart of AstonUniversity is working with his second cohort, which means he has worked with 55 businesses up to now on the course. Previously his department had been involved with workshops and short courses for local companies but 10KSB offers everyone the chance to form longer relationships: “This (programme) creates a peer-learning environment for a long period of time – 12 seven-hour sessions over four months. This develops a lot of trust in the room and the sharing of challenges and solutions is one of the most striking things. It’s something I’ve never observed before.”

Goldman Sachs’ response to news that the networking and peer-learning aspects of 10KSB UK has proved fertile ground has led them to create a formal 10,000 Small Businesses UK National Almuni Network to be made up of the over 400 businesses that have taken part. They have even gained the attention of a clearly-impressed Vince Cable, who described the whole programme as a “real contributor to the wider support available (to SMEs).”

With a growing number of growing businesses benefitting – from tech companies to property, recruitment, design, travel, and across training, brewing and many, many more – Professor Tim Barnes from UCL thinks Goldman Sachs has stepped in to support an underserved community: “This was definitely a real potential area and we (on the academic side) had seen that we didn’t have the opportunity and resources to do this from either the private or the public sector.

 “But (the programme) combines a number of important elements: it is a decent length of time, with real one-to-one advice with mentors and long-term support… we are working with people for whom we can really put in and do the best job we can.”

Pictured: Chris Ives and Viv Parry, two participants who combined their beer and cake-making skills having met on the 10,000 businesses program 


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