The spirit of James Cook should encourage our SMEs to think globally, according to Greg Carter. Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright reports.
A SMALL business that is starved of cash and customers soon runs out of steam.
Greg Carter learned this lesson as a six-year-old in Yorkshire, where he sold lemonade and biscuits on the pavement outside the family home.
After such an early display of entrepreneurial drive, it’s hardly surprising that he has gone on to establish Growth Street, a specialist lending business for small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMES).
The former Ampleforth College pupil, who studied psychology and physiology at Oxford, has always been interested in what makes business people tick. A love of calculated risk taking is part of most SME owner’s DNA.
Growth Street recently announced that more than 1,000 investors had signed up to lend to profitable UK small businesses through its platform. It only opened its doors to retail investors in late 2016.
“Fast-growing ambitious firms in Yorkshire and across the UK often face a key challenge, which is having confidence that they can access cash when they need it,’’ said Mr Carter, whose CV also includes a stint at online gambling company Betfair.
Growth Street gives SMEs tools to grow their business. Its GrowthLine facilities work just like overdrafts: they’re revolving lines of credit that let you draw down funds from within your limit and pay them back as often as you like.
“For us it’s about using technology to understand the business and using fantastic people within Growth Street to get the story behind the numbers,’’ said Mr Carter.
“We’re looking to build our presence across the country, including Yorkshire over the next year.
“We use our technology to keep our operation lean and focused on providing services to companies.
“One of our clients is a great business in Hull called SHEilds Limited, they are an education provider of health and safety training courses, not just in the UK, but internationally.
“They’ve got 30 people in Hull and they also have offices in Dubai and Johannesburg to help export their services internationally. They are a great example of a fast growing, modern British business exporting services around the world.
“We’re looking for really passionate business owners who are looking to grow their business that have been maybe let down or disappointed by banks, who didn’t understand where they were trying to take the business.
“Business owners face an unprecedented number of challenges because they are worrying about their customers, employees and about their suppliers, the last thing they need to worry about is access to finance. That’s where we really look to provide support and confidence.”
Growth Street is also calling for more regulation and price transparency in SME lending.
Mr Carter said: “At the moment there’s no APR (annual percentage rate) or equivalent in SME finance. APR has its flaws but it’s a way for consumers to compare like with like.
“That doesn’t exist in the SME world; that makes it hard for businesses to choose the best finance product for them.
“We’ve been calling over the last year for an APR for SME finance which we think would improve competition.
“The Competition and Markets Authority published a review last year, which was in part in response to our appeal.
“So small loans up to £25,000 to any business, whether that be a limited business or a sole trader, must now carry an APR. We think that is a step in the right direction to improve business finance.”
Some commentators fear that Brexit uncertainty will cast a long cloud over UK firms of all sizes. But Mr Carter believes there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
He said: “We’re huge supporters of SMEs in the UK and we’re hugely optimistic about the prospects for the British economy, that’s why we’re looking to invest over £100m in the next year for those SMEs to grow.
“Although we’re a fintech business, we are very much a people business. We use technology to get the best out of our people. We’ve got people who are ready to take your call who understand your plans for growth.”
He believes the spirit of Yorkshire’s greatest adventurer should embolden our region’s firms as Brexit approaches.
He said: “The people in Yorkshire have a heritage of industry and risk taking. James Cook from Whitby sailed around the world. It’s that history that inspires optimism and confidence in the future.
“On average, Yorkshire was in favour of leaving (the European Union) and I think that represents a mark of confidence that the people have in the future of Britain and the world.
“Our customers are certainly taking advantage of the global economy; exporting all around the world and Growth Street are keen to support that.
“It’s important to recognise that where the UK has its real strengths is in the exporting of services. Our economy is dominated by services. If you look at where we have a trade surplus, it is in services.
“One of the things that’s going to be very important over the next few years, as we transition out of the EU, is a focus on the exporting of services and looking to make links around the world, to make it easier, for small businesses in particular, to export those services.”
He added: “At Growth Street we have a real understanding of service-based businesses; where traditionally banks have shied away. We are very keen to offer support.”
The former junior lemonade salesman has come a long way over the last quarter of a century.
Name: Greg Carter
Title: CEO, Growth Street
Date of birth: October 28 1985 in Northallerton
Last book read: Architect of Prosperity, by Neil Monnery - a biography of Sir John Cowperthwaite, the man whose policies transformed Hong Kong from a barren rock to an economic powerhouse.
Favourite film: Apollo 13, the ultimate story of triumph in the face of adversity.
What was your first job: Selling lemonade and biscuits on the pavement outside my house aged six.
WHAT is the thing you are most proud of: Seeing one of our earliest business customers grow fourfold in just three years.