Evening Standard SME XPO: Now’s the time for London’s entrepreneurs to level up

·4-min read
Top tips: speakers will give advice at our  XPO  for  small businesses and start-ups... from being a florist to baking cakes (Getty Images)
Top tips: speakers will give advice at our XPO for small businesses and start-ups... from being a florist to baking cakes (Getty Images)

Holly Tucker knows how important small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are to the London economy. The co-founder of online retailer Notonthehighstreet says: “They’re the backbone of this city. Ensuring more can survive and more can be set up is more important than ever.”

More than one third of staffers want to quit their jobs in the next 12 months and start up their own business, she says. That could increase the number of SMEs in the capital from 1.1 million to as high as 1.5 million.

Tucker, 44, is using her start-up Holly & Co to encourage more people to set up their own small businesses. Next February she will be spreading the message at the SME XPO, the Evening Standard’s new networking exhibition and conference for SMEs (firms with one to 249 employees) which takes place at Olympia. Some 120 speakers will offer 120 hours of learning on investment, scaling-up, sustainability and more. The event is supported by the Department for International Trade and Cisco, among others. Speakers include Ali Parsa, the founder of $4 billion tech start-up Babylon Health, and Kike Oniwinde, founder of the BYP Network, as well as Tucker.

“We’re seeing a shift towards SME start-ups that’s going to keep growing,” Tucker says. “To make sure as many as possible succeed we’re going to need events like the Evening Standard festival.”

All businesses currently face a huge range of challenges: from navigating Brexit to coping with the shift to digital to rebuilding post-pandemic. The SME XPO will be an opportunity for entrepreneurs at the forefront of these challenges to shares tips and tricks — and learn from shared mistakes.

Tej Lalvani, best known as a former investor on BBC’s Dragon’s Den, is among the speakers at the SME XPO. Lalvani, 47, is the chief executive of Vitabiotics, the maker of supplements including Wellman and Wellwoman. He says SMEs are crucial to innovation: “They pick up on change and new ideas faster than large firms. They are the key to bringing innovation into the market.”

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Making it easier for more people to set up businesses will be a key message of the conference, he says, and the conference “will help to provide clarity” on the huge range of issues facing founders.

Lalvani will draw on not just his own experience of entrepreneurship but also that of his wife, Tara. During the pandemic, she launched Beautifect, a tech-enabled portable beauty device that simulates different lighting environments to allow women (and the occasional man) to do their make-up more accurately, in less time, with less effort.

Debbie Wosskow, 47, was named the Evening Standard’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018 and is the co-author of “Believe Build Become — How to Supercharge your Career”. She will speak specifically to women in business when she delivers her messages to the conference from the stage and in break-out sessions.

“My mother used to say: ‘You’re never going to meet the man of your dreams in your kitchen.’ And I think that’s the mantra for business, too,” she says. “Opportunities to connect are the most important thing that you can do for your career. Your career is about your network. Moments of organised serendipity at conferences can change your life.”

It was at a party that Wosskow met her co-founder Anna Jones, former CEO of Hearst Magazines UK. The pair set up AllBright, a platform for women to connect, upskill and supercharge their careers.

 (Getty Images/Image Source)
(Getty Images/Image Source)

Spencer Craig, founder of Pure, the healthy food-on-the-go chain, says support networks are crucial when starting a business and make events like SME XPO all the more important.

“It can be quite lonely starting a business,” he says. “It’s important to go to conferences and events and hear stories.“ Despite recent travails for SMEs, Craig will tell the SME XPO that there has never been a better time to start a business.

“People are changing their behaviour — how and where they work and when; how they travel; what they eat; where they consume media,” he says. “Digital consumption of pretty much everything has accelerated as we see in online orders. Digital advances also make it easier to set up a business — doing it online, accepting payments online, distributing worldwide, marketing via social media.”

He adds: “I feel we’re coming out of the woods and can breathe again. I hope the same will go for many other SMEs and that the Evening Standard XPO can help to support and accelerate that.”

* SME XPO, from the Evening Standard, is a networking event for SMEs. It will take place on February 23 and 24, 2022 at Olympia London. More than 150 SMEs will be represented and some 120 speakers will offer 120 hours of learning on investment, scaling-up and sustainability. Contact sam.north@esimedia.co.uk for commercial opportunities or SMEs can register for free at www.smexpo.co.uk

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