Winchester businesses: Eating our own lunch

There was no lunch… but participants in the first #Winchbiz session in the Wykeham room were keen to discuss how local businesses could support each other. Kevin Warren from Winchester City Council said his experience in business had shown that “if local people start talking to each other and trading with each other, then their business will expand exponentially.”

Fine, said Chris Cooper, a digital innovator, but how do we get people talking to each other? David Webb, a local businessman who also helps to lead the local Federation of Small Businesses, said practical problems were fear of competitors taking ideas – and the sheer demands of the day job. There was some discussion of the local networking Twitter chat, Hampshire Hour, and Webb suggested that this would not work so well if it was held during the day – people would just be too busy.

Hampshire Hour also brought up the interesting question of whether conversations need to be face to face. While the table recognised that there were many organisations that could offer advice and support, there was a general feeling that incubators, start-up spaces, and other physical places in which businesses could meet and exchange ideas – while doing those day jobs – were hugely valuable. Alex Barton, an Internet of Things expert, said just being able to “listen to phone calls” and “pick people’s brains” had been helpful when he was setting up.

Incubators and networks

Chris Cooper, who proposed the session initially, said this was fine: but he challenged the people in the room to say how many used local suppliers when they needed to find one. “How many have you looked locally?” he asked. And if not, what was stopping them? This shifted the discussion to how hard it was to find suppliers. Large firms could prospect – small firms might not be able to advertise. The idea of a business directory or map came up. Luke Hampson from Geovation said it was involved in doing this. “It’s all about showing what is out there and promoting ideas.”

Directories are good, people agreed. But how to promote them? Paul Culvert suggested a local “festival of business” might be another way for companies to show what they had to offer. Kevin Warren pointed out that the council supports the local farmers market; which brings even small producers into contact with customers.

Chris Cooper asked how to replicate it. Kim Dawson said that in Portsmouth there was a “meeting the supplier” event – that enabled small to medium sized businesses to network. This promoted more enthusiasm for a “festival of business” idea. Indeed, on a call around the table, almost all the session participants backed one: although security specialist James Leason suggested that it should be an off-shoot of a business network; and Chris Cooper said a network should have something like a directory that would enable local companies to “tell their stories” and demonstrate exactly what they had to offer.

Miranda Rock, who runs Hampshire Hour, said she loved the idea. “I think a festival is a great idea, if it is run by local businesses, telling other businesses about themselves. It could be really enjoyable.”

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