Rising to the challenge
Like many growth hubs across the country over the last few years, Hertfordshire Growth Hub has had to provide more support for more businesses whilst simultaneously increasing value for money. While the key objective of the Growth Hub is to advise high-growth businesses with the potential to deliver jobs and significant economic benefit, today the service also needs to support SMEs at all stages to identify and capitalise on new opportunities through what continues to be an uncertain landscape.
With 63,000 companies in Hertfordshire – 91% of which are micro-businesses – the Growth Hub needed an agile, dynamic and more efficient way to meet the increase in demand for help.
A tailored digital platform
The answer came in the shape of Exemplas Connect, developed for the public sector by Exemplas, which has 30 years’ experience of providing business support to SMEs. A white-labelled, configurable digital platform, Exemplas Connect became an integral part of Hertfordshire Growth Hub in May 2020. The platform empowers the county’s business support ecosystem, bringing everything local businesses and support providers need into one easily accessible place.
Automated diagnostic and triage
One of the biggest advantages of Exemplas Connect is its ability to automatically diagnose, understand and triage the individual needs of thousands of businesses, any time day or night, reducing demand on resources.
The platform then takes these companies on a specific journey, connecting them to the right support matched and tailored to their needs. This could include events, tailored resources in the exclusive Knowledge Bank, access to an ecosystem of Growth Hub partners and suppliers that can provide business support, referrals to other businesses through an online Marketplace or in-depth, one-to-one support from a Growth Account Manager.
Through the platform’s intuitive adviser interface, businesses can live chat with their Growth Account Manager, who can see what their clients are looking for on the site, set tasks and assess progress, ensuring they’re getting the most out of their support journey.
“We’ve had some challenging targets over the last 18 months and thanks to Exemplas Connect, we’ve not only met them but have been able to meet the significant increase in demand for business support, including handling over 800 Expressions of Interest within two hours of launching the Kick-Starting Tourism and Restart and Recovery SME Covid-19 Grant Funds. Exemplas Connect has provided us with the agility needed to respond to a rapidly changing business environment”
Sian Ryan, Head of Service, Hertfordshire Growth Hub
Easy to implement, easy to run
Exemplas Connect was easy to integrate and customise, thanks to its cloud-based architecture and white-label design, with the Growth Hub team requiring only minimal training to get quickly up to speed.
Critically, the platform allows all elements to seamlessly interact through one streamlined backend system, whether that’s the operational team for admin and reporting, advisers or marketing team.
The self-service nature of the platform means it’s saved hundreds of hours of administration time. For example, the team no longer needs to constantly update event, company or business support details – businesses can simply do it themselves.
Nor does the Growth Hub have to spend huge amounts of time gathering evidence, metrics and support documentation required by Government, as Exemplas Connect helps do it for them. Previously, the team would have to physically visit clients to collect signatures to evidence support under the scheme funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). With the introduction of Exemplas Connect, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government agreed that digital signatures, as well as the reporting and time tracking, are sufficient – a saving equivalent to £100,000 a year.
“From day one, Exemplas Connect has transformed what we do and how we work with our ecosystem of partners. We can now support thousands more businesses than we ever did before, connecting them to resources, events, funding and other support providers and companies in Hertfordshire, 24/7.”
Liza Armstrong, Business and Strategic Development Manager, Hertfordshire Growth Hub
Responding to client needs with speed and agility
The data and live reporting produced by Exemplas Connect is enormously beneficial to the Growth Hub team. Not only does it allow them to clearly and accurately evidence all their activity, but it also provides instant insight into trends, empowering them to quickly tailor support.
Shortly after the first Covid lockdown, for example, Exemplas Connect data showed that many businesses were concerned about the wellbeing of their staff and were seeking support. This insight enabled the Growth Hub to reactively respond by launching a dedicated Wellbeing and Resilience Programme.
The programme has been so successful that it gained attention from the Department for Work and Pensions, as well as Public Health bodies from across the UK, generating interest from local authorities and other growth hubs.
The Growth Hub was able to secure immediate funding as part of its response to Covid and rapidly launch a Respond, Adapt and Strengthen Grant. The grant was fully subscribed within hours, resulting in more than £305,000 being dispersed to local SMEs.
“During the early stages of the Covid crisis, the Growth Hub experienced a 400% increase in enquiries from businesses looking for advice and support. There’s no way we would have been able to handle those without Exemplas Connect.”
Sian Ryan, Head of Service, Hertfordshire Growth Hub
“Registering on Hertfordshire Growth Hub was easy. After answering a few questions, I gained access to other companies on the Marketplace and details for all sorts of funding and support programmes. We registered for a Respond, Adapt and Strengthen Grant, and the Growth Hub got in touch immediately to help us with our application. The Knowledge Bank is also great – lots of really useful guides, videos and business advice available 24/7 when I need them.”
Rowan Wallis, Freedom Destinations Ltd
“Skills Support for the Workforce, which is co-financed by the European Social Fund and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, helps support SMEs to access funded training to upskill their employees. Through the Hertfordshire Growth Hub, we have been able to get the word out to local businesses about the funded training. Registering as a partner on the website was free and easy, so was adding details about the support available. Businesses can get in touch with us through our Marketplace listing and we’ve had referrals too – it’s fantastic to have direct access to the local SME market through the Marketplace.”
Matt Clark, Partnership Coordinator, Serco UK & Europe
“Our ambition has always been to develop Hertfordshire Growth Hub to become the best growth hub in the country. And we have made great strides towards realising that ambition and whilst we are not quite there yet, the progress made in the use of technology has empowered the team to service so many more businesses than we had the capacity to do so previously. Providing clients with access to the support, advice and funding opportunities they need, quickly. Importantly, it also provides all the data we need to demonstrate our impact to stakeholders in the region.”
Tim Burton, Partnership & Delivery Manager, Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership
“Even before Covid, we recognised the increased demand for digital access to business support. This, coupled with the need for us to continually innovate and support our clients to meet their objectives, gave us the impetus to create and invest in Exemplas Connect. Designed specifically for the public sector, Exemplas Connect can augment existing services. We’re excited about the platform’s potential and its ability to transform the business support landscape.”
David Moule, CEO, Exemplas