Businesses in North Staffordshire have snapped up £225,000 worth of funding after responding to a challenge to become more entrepreneurial.
In August last year Michelin Development – the business development arm of Michelin – threw down the gauntlet to North Staffordshire companies after the tyre giant’s loans fund arm revealed that the area was lagging behind when it came to new business development and start-ups.
The statistics from Michelin Development ranked North Staffordshire as the lowest of the four regions – the others are East Lancashire, Dundee and Ballymena – where the Michelin Development fund is available to firms.
Having only two years ago accounted for 48 per cent of all the jobs created through investment from the Michelin Development fund, North Staffordshire found itself in alarming decline with no new loans or jobs created within the previous 12 months.
But entrepreneurs and business people have responded to the challenge, with more than 30 companies applying for financial support. Overall, seven loans totalling £225,000 have been approved and about 95 jobs are expected to be created in the next few years.
One North Staffordshire business to benefit is SphereMania – an extreme sports company which offers adrenalin seekers the chance to career down hills and across water in giant spheres.
Owned and operated by born-again Christian Robert Price, SphereMania received approval for a £40,000 loan from the Michelin Development Fund to invest in new office space and create a number of new jobs at a former church in Cheadle.
Mr Price said: “We had gone to the banks for investment but in the current economic conditions there was a reluctance to lend, particularly to a more unusual business like ours.
“Without the loan from Michelin Development, we would not have been able to expand the business. The loan cash has helped to secure the future of 12 franchised families and create jobs, all of which have been drawn from the North Staffordshire region.”
With a 95 per cent share of the UK hill-rolling market, SphereMania is on target to achieve its ambitions of having six full-time staff and six part-time staff in place over the next two years.
Some of the money from Michelin Development has been used to create a youth church and leisure space, including a modest recording studio on the ground floor of SphereMania’s new office premises.
Another loan recipient is WF Property Preservation, which provides specialist surveys and remedial work on ‘problem’ properties, including damp proofing, dry rot treatment and timber treatment. The firm received a £20,000 loan to increase the workforce from two part-time to six full-time plasterer/technicians plus a part-time office administrator, to help finance IT office systems and buy training equipment.
It has provided the springboard to a series of new business gains, including a major contract from the Kier Group to work on properties within the Stoke-on-Trent regeneration programme.
Michelle Fox, director at WF Property Preservations, said: “The banks were just not prepared to take any chance during the credit crunch despite the fact we had a strong business proposal that was looking to create jobs and regenerate the local economy.
“Thankfully Michelin Development took a different view. They had a far more human touch and were particularly interested in the fact that we were looking to create new jobs and invest in the local region.”
Michelin Development manager Dave Smith said: “When we issued this challenge we did so in order to spark a North Staffordshire renaissance, returning to the times when the region accounted for almost half of the jobs created by our fund.
“Since throwing down the gauntlet last summer, the challenge has gone a good way to being met by North Staffordshire entrepreneurs and businesses, with the companies loaned to proving viable long-term business prospects.
“It shows the appetite for business is still there in the region despite the economic climate and the levels of interest the challenge has sparked bodes well for the economic future of the area.”
Michelin Development is in the next year looking to lend a further £1 million, help another 30 companies and create about 250 jobs. Interested parties should refer to www.michelindevelopment.co.uk to apply for a loan.