ERDF project case study : Innovation agency

Supporting designers to capitalize on their design talent

The Innovation Agency project aimed to assist Designer Fashion SMEs to capitalise on their intellectual property talent and assets moving away from a solely wholesale model to a new model working across wholesale, e-commerce and consultancy, collaborations and licensing. This aimed to future-proof their businesses while enabling growth during difficult economic times. The £1,980,000 project has engaged with 300+ businesses pan-London and supported designers to capitalize on their design talents through innovative new products and services. The ERDF contribution amounted to £990,000.

Key targets achieved: 32.7 innovation jobs created, 79 jobs safeguarded, £1,682,053 increase in Gross Value Added

How ERDF has helped an SME

Katie designs and produces jewellery for the affordable luxury market, using precious metals and semi-precious stones. She heard about the CFE support programme through word of mouth and started on the Market Entry programme around 2 years ago and quickly progressed to the Pioneer programme. She received support in range planning and creating collections with her brand. She found the support very helpful with access to a wide range of personally tailored advice and this put her business “on track”.

A member of the CFE team contacted her about taking part in the Building Brand Equity pilot. In reflecting on why she wanted to take part, Katie said: “we were at the stage of expanding and needed access to finance. The business was at the stage where I could find the time to concentrate on this – I was lucky to have other people in the team”. The business was growing, and Katie needed access to mentoring and to improve her skills in understanding the investment process and how to access investors.

Although her business was successful, she faced a number of challenges at the time. Her cash flow was tight and access to finance in order to move developments forward more quickly was critical. These developments included bringing in key team members, developing her product portfolio and expanding into different markets through trade shows and e-commerce. The pilot programme started with some workshops. There were around 15 businesses in the workshops and she found it helpful to be with others in the same boat.

Once she started the one-to-one mentoring sessions she found things became much more focused and individual to her business. She received specific business advice on what she would need to show investors, how to tailor her business plan and also how to ensure that outside investors could understand her “story”. She admits that putting the business plan and financials together was very hard.. Although not in her comfort zone here, she found it rewarding: “It was great to be made to allocate time to this. I find financial work difficult…and boring…. and I have to admit I was horribly reluctant to do this. But it really paid off. It helped me clarify my vision for where we wanted to be and how to get there. Yes, the focus was on investment, but ultimately it was very holistic”. After all the preparation, the programme organised for her to go in front of investors. Katie feels she is not a natural presenter, but she received coaching and support in what to include in her pitch. In her first pitch to around 12 investors she had some interest.

 Since engaging with the programme there have been solid benefits:

  • Turnover has grown by 52%
  • Staffing has increase by 50%
  • Stockists have increased to 29 and she has opened in new territories in the Middle East and Asia and has started working in the US and Japan. Her stock is also in every Harvey Nichols store.

Katie sees these as really good outcomes: “the Building Brand Equity programme definitely made the business much, much more focused and gave us access to venture capitalists; people we would not normally come across. It’s built my confidence enormously in new areas such as finance and we are now very clear where we want to go”.

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