An Interview With Clair Hameed and Dot Wiernikowska from the Speed Plus Business Start-up Programme

I am pleased to be able to present the following short interview with Clair Hameed and Dot Wiernikowska from Staffordshire’s Speed Plus Business Start-up Programme. When I founded Black Tap Brewing Company with my wife back in 2012 we went through the Speed Plus programme and found the advice, resources, funding and other support incredibly helpful and without it I would suggest that we would have failed to launch successfully. That is why I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to interview these wonderful ladies who (with their team) made it possible for us to realise our dream and launch Black Tap.

I would encourage you to either apply directly to Speed Plus for support or contact them for advice on where other similar support might be found. You have nothing to lose and you will find they are incredibly accommodating. We ended up with a significant amount of start up funding (grants), business mentors, networking opportunities and many more benefits when we signed up.

In this interview we cover:

  • The Programme, what it is and how it has helped launch over 400 small businesses in the UK since 2002.
  • What the most common causes of launch failure are and how to avoid them.
  • What the key skills and attitudes are, which are essential to success.
  • The importance of proper planning.
  • Availability of grant funding and where to look.
  • How to apply for the Programme (should you want to), eligibility criteria and what the application process looks like.

Here’s the interview …

Can you introduce yourselves and what your roles on the Speed Plus Programme are?

Our team is made up of Clair Hameed, Programme Manager, Dot Wiernikowska, Projects Officer and Cath McCabe, Project Co-ordinator.  We run a business start-up support programme for graduates, students and staff that are interested in starting a business.

Tell me a bit about the Speed Plus Programme. What is it and what does it do? 

Our new project will be called Be Inspired Staffordshire University or biSU as we refer to it.  We take on cohorts of Graduates/staff & students that wish to start a business.  We provide them with training, a business mentor, business clubs, information & guidance and a grant to spend on their business.

How many companies have you managed to support through the business start-up phase so far? 

The University has been supporting start-ups since 2002.  Between 2002 and 2005 we only worked with cohorts of 6 businesses at a time.  Later we started working with larger cohorts.  In total we have supported nearly 400 businesses who took part in the scheme and thousands of others who did not but came to us for advice or signposting.

I bet you get some pretty diverse start ups coming to you for support. What are some of the most interesting ones that stand out from the rest?

Over the years, we have had a wide range of businesses.  Some examples are belly dancers, a chap that produced plus sized lingerie, ceramicists, a bush craft business, manufacturers of rugged IT, designers, jewellery makers….the list is immense.

Speed Plus
Me, graduating from the Speed Plus Business Start-up Programme, having successfully launched Black Tap Brewing Company.

I think it would be good to talk about the overall number of start ups you’ve processed and the number of them who seem to make it through the first year or two. As a bit of a guestimate, what percentage of businesses seem to survive the first 12 to 24 months? 

That’s an interesting question.  Generally 70% of all of our businesses stay in business for 12 months by the 3 year mark this goes down to 60% which is still higher than the national average.

From what you’ve seen, what do you think the most common reasons for start-up business failure are? 

There are many reasons that start-ups fail.  A very common reason that we see is disagreements in the partnership.  Many people go into business with a friend or two, but then find that they have different ideas of what they want to achieve.  Another common one we see is cash flow problems. Cash is King, as they say.

Do you have any tips for avoiding these issues?

I would say discussion and planning in advance is crucial.  Putting together a business plan helps you to understand your market, your products, services and the direction you want to go in before you spend any money.  Putting together a cash flow forecast and regularly updating it also helps.

Business Planning Course 468 x 60

Do you find that certain ‘types’ of people seem to make it through to successful launch? If so, what sorts of attitudes, skills and character traits are most frequently displayed by the successful ones?  

There are a number of things required.

Passion – they have to be passionate about their business and preferably their business should be something they know and love e.g. making craft beers. Perseverance is another trait. The journey of a start-up can often be a rocky one so you have to keep on going.

Resourcefulness – you need to make the most of what you have, this means if you have accountants, designers, solicitors in your network, use them.  Having an open mind helps because sometimes you have to be open to change and re-think what you are doing.  You also have to be willing to learn.  When you are a small business you have to wear many hats and develop many skills.  You may be a great jewellery maker but unless you can market your business,  keep your finances under control, network etc. then you won’t get very far.  Often some of these  skills you have to learn put start-ups out of their comfort zone.  But you do need to learn them.

Are these things that can be learned and then applied by people who may not already possess them? 

I believe they can.  That is what our programme does.  Some people naturally have these things but others lack confidence or need a little more nurturing and that is where the business mentor comes in; to help them move their business forward and develop themselves.

We have a lot of subscribers wanting to set up their own commercial brewing businesses who lack the cash or other resources to get going. What advice would you give these guys?

There are not many grants around at the moment.  The process for applying for funding can be a lengthy one.  Lots of providers are still waiting to hear whether their bids have been successful or not.  As this year rolls on, we will have a better idea of what kind of support is available.  The Government start up loans are available to apply for and our biSU programme is available to apply for to ANY graduate from ANY university wishing to start a business in Staffordshire.

If you are not in Staffordshire you should approach your local Chamber of Commerce as they will have an idea of what funding or support is available in your area.

How important is it to develop a professional business plan and supporting financial forecasts when going for grant and loan funding?

It is not essential to develop a business plan and supporting financial forecasts when applying for biSU, but it does help and it makes your business planning stronger.  We get our businesses to work with their mentor to make themselves investment ready.  If you are applying for some other grants or loans, it is essential to have these documents.  Lenders don’t like to take big risks so the more informed realistic information you can provide in the business plan and cash flow, the better.

What does the current climate look like in respect of the availability of grants, low interest start up loans and other forms of support in the UK? 

Because things are changing at the moment, projects are finishing and others about to start, it is difficult to say.  In 6 months’ time we will have a clearer idea.

What’s the current eligibility criteria for the biSU? And, are you open for applications?

In order to apply you must:

  • Be a graduate, student, staff member or associate of the university.  If a graduate, then it can be from ANY university.
  • You need to be domiciled in the EU.
  • You need to be not trading and prepared to register as a sole trader or Ltd company once on the scheme.

Yes we are open to applications, the application deadline will be some time in the late Summer with a view to starting on the scheme in October.

What does the application process look like? 

Ideally people should get in contact with me by email or by phone on 01785 353809. Alternatively, they can book an appointment to see me for a chat before applying.  They can also go to our website and contact us from there.

Applicants will need to complete an application form and send it in to the team.  Following that, we ask applicants to come in and deliver a short presentation about their business idea and answer questions from the panel.  Within a week they are notified of whether they have been successful.

And lastly, what does the future look like for Speed Plus?

Certainly for the next three years it is looking bright and we are looking forward to working with at least 160 more businesses.

NOTE: We offer brewery start up consultancy services and can help you prepare a business plan and supporting financial forecasts that are essential for raising brewery start up funding. We can also help you with preparing pitches and applications in order to go for whatever funding you are after. This is low cost, zero commitment, pay-as-you-go consultancy at just £75 per hour. YOU control how many hours, YOU control how much you spend.

brewery consultant

Further reads, links and other awesome shit:

Check out Speed Plus here.

Read our article on Brewery Start-up Funding.

Read our article on the importance of Business Planning.

Join our new Facebook Group and meet with others planning on setting up and running their own brewing companies. Share advice, experiences and resources.

If you liked this article then please share it with other brewers and newbies by using the social media share icons below. We want to share free brewing knowledge with as many people as possible and we can only do that if people share our content.

You can also join our mail list to receive notification of new blog posts and loads of FREE stuff including massive discounts on our range of online courses, exclusive interviews with commercial brewers and much more. I won’t bombard you with junk mail … I email out on a monthly basis only.

Join our mailing list

* indicates required

Clair Hameed and Dot Wiernikowska from the Speed Plus Business Start Up Programme on Funding and Business Start Up Advice!