‘Match-making over a glass of wine’
BY PETER WHITEHEAD
PUBLISHED 26TH APRIL 2012
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With the formal presentations out of the way, the eating and drinking can begin – along with the serious business of the day.
Between a bite of sausage roll and a sip of wine from a plastic glass, deals are outlined and offers made and accepted. This is why few people leave before they have made the most of the casual-sounding “6.10-7.30pm networking and nibbles” session that rounds off our afternoon’s match-making agenda.
Called Pitching for Management, the idea is that up to six small businesses are given eight minutes each to explain what their company does and to set out the professional expertise it now needs to help it grow.
The event is an imaginative mix of the Dragons’ Den television series format (in which entrepreneurs bid for a cash injection from rich investors) and mass speed dating – except those bidding for attention are seeking senior recruits with finance, marketing, or other director-level skills, both to provide expertise and to impress potential investors.
Each pitch is delivered to a room full of just these sorts of people – experienced executives looking for a second career opportunity or a non-executive position, entrepreneurs, business angels, venture capitalists, portfolio holders, interim managers and others. A short presentation is followed by questions from the audience about the business plan, the people involved and what the company can offer in return for their input.
Little appears to be happening: many are taking notes but I assess the chances of these small but promising businesses finding exactly the expertise they need among an audience of about 50 to be pretty slim.
But how wrong can you be? The end of the formalities signals the start of the approaches and introductions. Again, it is difficult to see exactly what is happening – to the naked eye it looks very much like a small, relaxed networking session.
It is only when I ask attendees why they are there that it becomes clear just what is happening.
I attended a Pitching for Management event in Guildford, Surrey, one of a series that visits more than 20 UK towns and cities, from Glasgow to Exeter, and Cardiff to London. Edinburgh on May 9, then Cambridge, Plymouth and Birmingham are on the schedule for the next few weeks.
During the introduction, we are told that we could, by becoming involved with the businesses about to make their pitch, end up as shareholders in a future Google. Ears prick up and all eyes are on James Siu, business development manager for MarketInvoice. Is his company a future Google?
It sounds ingenious – a platform that enables businesses that are short of cash but waiting for payments to auction their invoices and raise immediate finance. Mr Siu needs “two people to get the message out”: a head of marketing, who would receive a salary and a share of the equity in MarketInvoice; and a marketing manager, to be offered salary only.
The presentation attracts plenty of questions, mostly about exactly how the business works; no one asks about the roles being offered.
Next up is Robin Dunford-Green, a director at Continuity-Solutions.co.uk, which offers simple, fast and low-cost business continuity packages. He is after a business partner able to attract finance and help with marketing.
Chris Eldridge-Hinmers follows him. He seeks finance expertise and someone with a good understanding of online social media to develop HQ Compare, an interactive website enabling sports fans to compare their fitness levels with those of top footballers. He describes it as “a competitive way of tackling obesity”.
Last, there is Dominic Farmer of Cisiv before us, explaining how his company’s data collection and management tools can play a part in the complex world of pharmaceutical research, focusing on large-scale studies of drugs already in use. Cisiv needs a non-executive chairperson to help steer it, along with a full-time business development director.
It is now 6.10pm and little match-making appears to have taken place. But this is, of course, a private activity and once the “nibbles” session is under way serious discussions begin. I track down two of the afternoon’s presenters and each has made contact with three or four people who have the potential to assist their business.
What seems to excite them more is that they are being offered a variety of valuable expertise that goes beyond their original pitch.
Modwenna Rees-Mogg, who founded Pitching for Management, which has just announced a partnership with Executive Headhunters, an established search firm, says: “The guest list includes some of the region’s most talented business people. They love the fact that they can assess which businesses they can offer the most to, without the usual rigmarole of paperwork, lunches and interviews usually associated with finding a position.
“We have case studies of companies achieving 10-fold growth after hiring the right senior executives.”
Catherine Drew, a partner with law firm Charles Russell, hosting the day’s event at its Guildford office, says: “The message from the investment community is that you must have a strong enough team to command equity and debt finance. Pitching for Management neatly solves this problem.”