South East INVEST, comprised of Invest ESSEX and Locate East Sussex, received a favourable mid-term review to give their European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) project a further boost on the back of a strong year for business in the region.

Invest ESSEX and Locate East Sussex joined forces in the middle of 2017 under the Let’s Do Business Group (LDBG) banner to support the capacity of SMEs to grow in regional, national and international markets as well as to promote inward investment in Essex, South Essex and East Sussex. Both organisations employ SME Business Managers to advise and assist small businesses and the feedback was a huge credit to their efforts.

Highly recommended programme

Standout figures of the ‘EBS Mid-Term Evaluation of the South East INVEST Project’ revealed 89% of businesses interviewed for the review had their expectations exceeded while 92% of businesses interviewed were very likely to recommend the programme.

Furthermore, businesses questioned for the report allocated 53% of their employment creation and turnover increase to the support received from South East INVEST. At the project’s mid-term stage, key stakeholders report it is on track to deliver or exceed its intended impacts.

This is a fantastic endorsement of the work carried out and delivered by everyone involved and a real credit to those who have worked directly with the businesses engaged on the programme.

David Rooke
Location Services Director
Invest ESSEX

Helping SMEs grow

Government evidence suggests that 67% of SMEs have an aspiration to grow over the next two years, but in reality, only 20% will achieve that aim due to barriers to growth – not helped by continuing Brexit uncertainty. As a result, the support given by South East INVEST representatives is crucial.

Invest ESSEX and Locate East Sussex offers business loans, grants and funding to support business growth plans, with access to specialist advice and up to 12 hours of free consultancy. A full impartial assessment of finance needs is provided by these SME funding specialists (ex-senior corporate banking professionals) to help review all options in finding tailor-made solutions for the business. A dedicated ‘aftercare’ service also continues to assist growing businesses long after their initial investments in Essex or Sussex.

Alternative to bank loans for SMEs

Recent findings by Oxford Economics & Funding Circle stated that small business lending from banks have significantly decreased 10 years on from the 2008 financial crisis. The report highlighted that lending to SMEs in the UK accounts for only 2% of banks’ balance sheets.

SMEs are vital for economic growth across the UK as they equate to 99% of all UK businesses in comparison to larger organisations which make up 0.11%. Despite their positive impact on the economy, banks are unwilling to offer finance to SMEs and often collect more in repayments than delivering new loans and overdrafts to SMEs.

Applying for bank loans is becoming increasingly time-consuming and difficult, particularly with the rise in declined applications SMEs face. Alternatively, more small businesses are turning towards lending providers that offer business support services which drive business growth.

Accessible loans for small businesses

LDBG grew its coverage as a loan provider to start-up businesses and businesses unable to access bank finance by extending its offer to Essex in 2018, having initially launched it in Sussex. Through this extension, Invest ESSEX are able to support business growth and offer start-up loans to qualifying businesses across Essex.

We are thrilled that, through Invest ESSEX, we are able to boost the prospects for start-ups within the county. They can apply for an unsecured figure of up to £25,000, with no arrangement fee, to support business cash flow where funding from high street lenders cannot be found.

Graham Marley
Chief Executive
Let's Do Business Group

Essex as an attractive location

These positive results come on the back of another recent report that portrayed an encouraging picture of business in the South East, and Essex, in general.

The EY (Ernst & Young) UK Attractiveness Survey 2019 – released at the start of June – may have revealed that inward investment had dropped last year but the South East declined less than most with their -2% drop bettered only by Northern Ireland and Greater London.

Meanwhile, the survey also saw Essex produce an 86% increase in completed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) projects, revealing Essex completed 26 successful FDI projects in 2018-19 (including four combined with Kent) compared to 14 in 2017-18.

Invest ESSEX celebrated its second birthday in operation in June 2019 and is looking forward to supporting many more local SMEs in the months and years ahead.

To apply for a start-up loan or for more information, click here: www.letsstartup.co.uk.